The PR Director

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 07, 2018

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Submitted: February 07, 2018

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The PR Director

 

The elevator door opened and out stepped Clay Henderson, dressed in a freshly tailored blue suit.  His hair was slicked back more than usual and he wore a bright orange pocket square that matched his tie. The whole ensemble, replete with suede belt and shoes, was far more expensive than anything he’d ever bought before. Under normal circumstances he would’ve scoffed at the outfit- something worn by smarmy salesmen or real estate agents- but he wanted to look the part for the first big meeting in his new role. The fact was, Clay Henderson was ‘the newly appointed Director of PR for Truss Communications, a prestigious public relations firm in downtown Boston’.  He thought it had a nice ring to it.

Mr. Henderson walked past the reception desk and towards the office bullpen with an air of rarified confidence: he had toiled in the trenches as a low-level business development associate for only one year prior to his meteoric rise, and now was a company leader. But when Clay turned the corner and faced the dozens of employees scuttling around the cubicled room- a room that felt faster and louder than he remembered- his self-assurance waned. Suddenly the pocket square felt stupid. Clay was only twenty-three years old, and as the youngest department head of a major corporation east of Silicon Valley, he was terrified.

 

The real truth was that Clay was utterly ill-equipped for such a distinguished position. At best, he had a spotty track record at Truss Comm and a tenuous grasp of public relations in general.  Not that it was his fault. He had kept getting miraculously promoted thanks to sheer coincidence and a series of gaffs (mainly by Andre Truss: Founder and CEO), and had never had the chance to learn from the ground up.

As for his first promotion, Clay was mistaken for Jay Penderton, another entry-level employee with a similarly boyish disposition. Jay had caught the attention of Andre Truss by conceptualizing an ad for Cabin Fire Whiskey, whereby an old man runs into his burning home and forsakes his plasma screen TV to retrieve a large bottle of whiskey. The ad brilliantly highlighted Cabin Fire’s iconic, fire resistant steel bottles. Truss was so blown away that he marched straight to where he thought Jay sat, which was actually where Clay sat, and proclaimed him Senior Account Manager on the spot. On his way back to his own office, Truss stopped by the desk of an employee who- he thought- had emailed a crude suggestion to promote SLAY  hunting gear by killing and gutting a live deer in the middle of the Prudential Center. The idea had been Clay’s. The person who got fired had been Jay.  When Andre Truss was made aware of his mistake later on, he was typically haughty. “These types of decisions are made for a reason,” he said.

On another occasion, after a particularly tedious day of crafting press releases for Energy Sphere Wellness Balls, Clay summoned his courage and marched purposefully into Truss’s office with the intention of quitting, but was caught off-guard when he saw Truss tied to his desk chair, wearing nothing but  underwear and sobbing into a bottle of vodka. Apparently the previous appointment had been with a couple of handsy henchman who were dispatched to recoup an unpaid gambling debt.   Clay was torn between getting help and sticking to his plan of quitting, so all he managed to mutter was “I could…leave”.   Given Andre Truss’s state of mental and physical vulnerability, he took this as a clear attempt at blackmail. Before Clay could say anything else, Andre had responded, through chubby tears,  “Alright, alright. Fifty percent raise and we forget about this. You got balls, Penderton.”  Clay had nodded wordlessly and backed slowly out of the room. He never found out how Truss got untied.

But the latest and greatest promotion, the one that catapulted Clay to the top of the Truss Comm flow chart, came about because the female CEO of their newest client, Action Vac!, demanded to work exclusively with him. Out of nowhere. Despite fervent pleas from her own people, Regina Becker refused to deal with anyone but Clay Henderson. Clay thought it was a mistake because he had never spoken a word to her before, but by this point had learned not to question such serendipities.  It went down like this: Regina had flown in for a meeting with the previous Director of PR for Truss Communications to discuss a grassroots PR campaign for their newest vacuum: The Vortex. Regina walked out in disgust despite a surprisingly tasteful presentation on vacuuming hair out of public gym locker rooms and shower drains.  In the middle of Regina’s romp to the elevator, she spotted Clay getting a sip of water and stopped in her tracks.

“You,” she said. “What do you do?”

“Uh, marketing stuff, I don’t know,” Clay said, taken by surprise.

Regina eyed him intently. “Well I do, blue eyes. You’re the new head of project.”

Clay wasn’t sure what project she was talking about. He was intimidated. “Cool.”

 

Eventually, nervously, Clay straightened his tie and made his way down the hallway to the meeting room where the bigwig sharks, including Regina Becker and Andre Truss, waited to see what he was made of. Clay knew it wasn’t much. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t understand how public relations even worked. Why would people pay a third-party company millions of dollars to think and speak for them? Couldn’t they do that for themselves? Or pay other people less money?  He also thought about Malcom Gladwell’s ten-thousand hour theory:  anyone can become an expert in a given field if he or she spends ten-thousand hours perfecting his or her craft. After a year at Truss Communications, Clay figured he was at about ten hours. He was also ten minutes late for the meeting.

#

At the same time Clay Henderson took his green mile walk to the conference room, a hooded figure trudged a similarly straight path through the middle of sprawling Eastside Park.  It was a crowded day, and though the figure lugged a hefty vacuum cleaner on its back, few people took notice- a drifter toting a random appliance was hardly a surprising sight to the denizens of the park.  But that was precisely what the person carrying the vacuum cleaner aimed to do: surprise them.

The figure headed directly for a large statue atop an amphitheater at the park’s north side (a myopic public planner had confusingly named the four quadrants of Eastside Park the north, south, west, and east sides), around which various sunbathers and tabloid readers lounged.  The vacuum clanked loudly on the stairs of the amphitheater as it was lugge, the word ‘VORTEX’  shimmering in purple letters on its shaft.  As soon as the figure reached the foot of the statue, it took off its sunglasses.  Then it took of its hood, and a large, unmistakable afro burst forth into the air. Sonny Daze smiled mischievously- a natural reflex-  as he looked up at the giant, oxidized figure of Bartholomew Pinebough.

 

Bartholomew Pinebough. Famed founder of the ‘One Earth’ project. Lobbyist for the trees. Defender of living creatures. The human responsible for dozens of largely green initiatives over the decades, including the installment of Eastside Park. He was beloved for his bold, obstinate stances against the ever merciless machine, and was thus eternally memorialized as a six ton statue.

He was also still alive.

Pinebough, which was his genuine birth moniker, had become such a celebrity that he successfully campaigned for the erection of his own effigy. Unsurprisingly, it only took five minutes of deliberation to be approved by the city council.  Either no one noticed or no one cared, but the conservationist had never been called out on the fact that his memorial had a sizable carbon footprint:  it was a monstrosity made of imported materials, and had been artificially coated to achieve the sea green appearance of oxidation. Pinebough thought it made the statue look dignified and longstanding. The spray-painting was done under the cover of night, and took three different hour-long sessions and several hundred gallons of  ‘Connor’s Chemical Coat’ until completion.  For the next week, a lab technician in downtown Boston was swamped with dozens of cases of dead birds, who had all been mysteriously riddled with synthetic chemicals.

 

Yes, Pinebough was certainly a legend, but Sonny Daze was no slouch himself in the eyes of the public. Granted, it was a different public.  He smirked at the statue, and working quickly, plopped the vacuum down and pulled a silver tube of superglue from his pocket.  He unscrewed the top and liberally coated the mouth of the vacuum, then stood on his toes and ribboned more glue onto Pinebough’s wide-set crotch.  A  teenager in an NBA jersey was the first to notice.  White Kobe Bryant looked up from his cellphone and did a double-take, not at the defacement of the statue, but at the defacer.  “No way!” the teenager shouted. “It’s Sonny Daze!”  In a matter of minutes, a crowd of people had gathered to catch a glimpse.

#

“You sure you want Penderton?” Andre Truss asked Regina Becker.  “He isn’t exactly qualified.”

“It’s Henderson. And what do you give a fuck?” she retorted. “You’ve already got the contract and I already payed your fat ass.”

“Good point. Fuck it.”

“I plan on it.”

The CEOs were sitting casually at the conference room table, flanked by a handful of corporate underlings from both Truss Comm and Action Vac!. The underlings were quite acclimated to the brash banter and were quiet, if not bored.

Just then, the opaque glass doors swung open, and Clay entered the room. “So sorry I’m late.”

“Well, what do you got?” asked Truss.

“More like who do you got?” Regina corrected.

Clay was flustered by the suddenness of the questioning: the sharks were even more aggressive than anticipated.   He scanned the room for some encouragement or friendly face, but the underlings, who coincidentally looked like seals in their shapeless grey suits, did their best to avoid eye contact.  He coughed loudly. “Well, um, we locked down a contract with Sonny Daze.”  The underlings flopped uncomfortably in their chairs.

“Sonny Daze,” Regina echoed.

Andre Truss squinted in confusion. “That crude comedian?”

“Uh, yes sir,” replied Clay.

“For vacuums?” Truss asked, still squinting.

“Sonny Daze,” Regina repeated.

Clay didn’t know what to say. He resorted to babbling.“He’s, um, a really good comedian. People are super into him these days. He does these pranks-“

“A comedian for vacuums?” Truss interrupted. “I’m failing to see the plan. How much is he going to cost?”

“Shut the fuck up for a second,” snapped the female CEO.

Everyone sat in uncomfortable silence.  Clay thought he was going to lose his job.  Andre Truss, steaming from the emasculation he just suffered, also thought about having Clay lose his job.  The underlings thought about how there would still be about two hours before the catered lunch. But Regina Becker, abetted by lust, thought that maybe Clay’s idea was a good one. “I love it,” she said finally.

The tension in the room dissipated. Clay considered that maybe he could do the job after all. Truss cooled off a bit and seemed intrigued. Even the underlings were comfortable. Then, the phone rang.

#

“Hey hey hey, what’s up corporate cocks?” Sonny Daze inquired. “It’s your newest spokesman, just checkin’ in.”

Andre Truss and Regina Becker stared at the conference phone, speechless, as Daze’s derisive voice boomed over it. Clay put his hand over his face. The underlings seemed interested for once in the conversation.  “Hello? I assume I’m on speakerphone. Care to respond?” Daze asked.

Truss eventually regained his composure, stood up at the head of the conference table, and cleared his throat.  “Yes. This is Andre Truss, CEO of Truss Communications. I’d like to know just who you think-“

“Dude, I’m done talking to you. Where’s my man Clay at?”

Truss looked as though he could strangle a child. The underlings glanced at each other nervously, hoping not to be the collateral damage of his inevitable blowup.

“Hey Sonny” Clay peeped.

“Hey man, how’s our girl with the tits?”  The tension in the room was palpable.

“I- I don’t know who you mean.”

“You know exactly what I mean,” said the comedian, “that busty Becker chick.”

Clay stared intently at the phone, his face turning crimson, and didn’t dare to look up. If he did, he would have noticed that Regina actually looked quite flattered.

Sonny Daze broke the silence. “Alright, enough of the pleasantries. Wouldn’t it be better if we could all see each other? Go ahead and turn on that big TV at the end of the room. Channel thirty two.”

Truss, somehow stunned into compliance, grabbed the remote and pressed the power button. After a few seconds, an image appeared on the screen. Everyone in the conference room stared intently.

Sonny Daze stood in front of the Bartholomew Pinebough statue in Eastside Park,  surrounded by dozens of buzzing bystanders and massive television cameras. Seemingly floating above him was the Vortex vacuum, affixed tightly to where Pinebough’s giant genitals would be.  Dangled around Bartholomew’s neck was a large sign that read  ‘ACTION VAC’S VORTEX SUCKS DEEP!’ in large, red letters.  Sonny stared at his handiwork proudly. He had debated earlier on changing the ‘DEEP!’  to ‘DICK!’, but figured that was too on-the-nose, even for him.

“Action Vac’s Vortex sucks deep!” Daze shouted into a camera, his arms raised like a gladiator. The crowd around him cheered.

“More like sucks bleep!” the kid in the Kobe jersey yelled. The crowd cheered again.

Clay wondered why they bothered to bleep out the cuss, given the crude nature of the stunt, when he noticed a familiar emblem in the bottom right corner of the screen- a gloved hand holding a microphone.  They were broadcasting live on network cable.

#

Everyone in the conference room was silent except for Andre Truss, who huffed and snorted as if he were choking on his customary cigar. Neither Clay nor the underlings had ever seen him so furious.  To the same effect, Regina Becker was through being flattered and was thoroughly pissed. This comedian asshole was going to affect sales. She grabbed the remote, turned off the TV, and slowly paced to the end of the room. Without warning, she twirled and chucked the remote, which nearly took the head off of a Junior Account Manager and shattered against the wall. “Where the fuck are the cops?” she demanded.  It was a fair question. The answer was that the portly cop who was supposed to be patrolling the northside of the park had been secretly mowing down on corndogs and snowcones underneath one of the public footbridges, oblivious to the commotion. “Better yet, why in the fuck is Sonny Daze the spokesman for Vortex!?”  Regina no longer loved the idea. Clay was worried.

“I thought..” Clay looked at the underlings. “We thought that he could spice things up a bit with the ad campaign. You are called ‘Action Vac!’ after all,” he said.

Mt. Truss finally erupted. “You spiced it up alright, fucktard!” Andre blurted.  “Dry rubbed it to hell with pepper and shit!”  One of the underlings, a bespectacled Comm Director, chuckled audibly.  Truss swiveled his head and eyed the woman darkly. “Is something funny to you right now? YOU’RE FUCKING FIRED!”  The Comm Director’s jaw went slack.

“You can’t fire my employee, Andre,” Regina said.

“She’s yours? All these idiots look the same to me.”

The Comm Director exhaled and adjusted her glasses.  As she did, Regina walked over, grabbed the glasses off her face, and snapped them in half.  “You’re still fired, Susan. Now get the fuck out of here.”

 

As soon as the doors swung shut behind ex-Comm Director Susan, who was now blind, Regina spun on her heel and faced the room. “Well- what are we going to do about this situation?”

“Obviously we pull the plug immediately. Sonny Daze is terminated. Breech of contract,” Truss said. “Then sue for defamation.”

The simplicity and logic of the plan appeased Regina, who had forgotten that Truss was a capable CEO about five percent of the time. It was no coincidence that these occasions always regarded how to come out of a shitstorm looking clean.

Just then, a Truss Comm corporate lawyer entered the room, as if he’d been waiting for the perfect moment. He coughed gently. The underlings regarded him with varied expressions of admiration and pity. “I’m afraid that’s not possible,” the lawyer said.

“What do you mean?” asked Truss. The lawyer looked at Clay, then shrugged and sat down in an empty chair.

“He means that Sonny has full creative license. It’s in the contract,” Clay said.

“Why the fuck would you put that in the contract?” Regina demanded.

“It was the only way he’d do it.”

“Of course it was,” said Truss.

Regina paced slowly around the conference table.   Each time she brushed against the underlings, they slunk feebly in their chairs; the scene resembled a great white circling helpless prey. “There has to be a way to void the contract.”

“Impossible,” the lawyer replied, shaking his head.  “Mr. Daze has one of the best legal teams in the country. Upholding a contract that they wrote is a piece of cake for them.”  It was true: TV personalities retained some of the best lawyers in the world due to the fact that live television was, by nature, unpredictable. One never knew what type of legal difficulties one might get into. Some individuals, like Sonny Daze, even sought the trouble out. His team of lawyers was composed of a bunch of Harvard Law Graduates who also happened to be freelance comedy writers; they were creative and thorough.

They wrote the contract!?” Truss spat. “Why did they write the contract?What do I even pay you for? To fuck up and then give me the bad news?”  The lawyer shrugged again and looked down at the ground.  Truss strode over to Clay, who tapped his fingers nervously against the conference table. “Do you have anything to say for yourself? This is your project after all.  Any ideas?”

Clay didn’t know what to say. So far, his entire plan had backfired miserably and was on the verge of total collapse.  He opened his mouth to respond, when he was saved by the abrupt ringing of the conference phone.

Truss strode over and grabbed the portable receiver, opting to make the conversation private.  “Andre Truss here,” he said firmly.  All eyes in the room looked on eagerly.  “Oh, hello sir. ” Truss’s tone shifted noticeably. Clay wondered who the guardian angel on the other side of the phone was- he or she had likely saved his career.  “It’s an honor to…well it wasn’t our intention…“ He bit his lip and listened, not one to be interrupted.  “I don’t think that’s necessary- uh, yes sir.” He slowly hung up the phone, wheeled a chair over and sat down wearily.

“Well?” Regina demanded. “Who has you talking like a such little bitch?”

Truss sighed. “Bartholomew Pinebough. He’s flying in on his private jet  tomorrow morning- and he’s not happy.”

“Shit.”  At that, Regina grabbed her cellphone from the table and swiftly exited the room.

“That’s kind of ironic, right?” Clay mused, absentmindedly. “I mean, he’s supposed to be this go-green dude, but he’s taking a private jet? Not exactly environmentally friendly.”

“How dare you question him,” Truss said. “That man has done more for all of us than you could dream of, Penderton.”  Even an unscrupulous CEO like Andre Truss had to respect Bartholomew Pinebough-  the allure of the man was boundless.

Clay shut his mouth and resumed tapping nervously on the conference table. The underlings sat with their hands folded and wondered where the catered sandwiches were.  Regina’s shadowy outline screamed something at someone on her cellphone.

#

Three pairs of bug-bitten legs slogged single-file through dense, boggy underbrush somewhere in an undisclosed patch of South American rainforest.  The snakes and critters that retreated from the trailblazers’ swath could see from ground-level how different the three were: The first set of legs was lean and bronze and ran down to broad, naked feet that moved nimbly through the wet brush. The next was pale white and attached via cankles to red Kenneth Cole drivers, which stumbled at every step. The third and largest pair stemmed from tan, muscular calves, which bulged impressively from state-of-the-art, knee-high hiking boots.

The forest was quiet, save for the squelch of the trio’s footsteps and the booming voice of the last man in the line- Bartholomew Pinebough.

“Absolute asininity,” he bellowed into an unwieldy satellite phone.  “On what was promising to be such a lovely Tuesday.”  He paused to step over a rotted, maggot-filled log.  “Grotesque- what’s been done to my likeness. Luckily my publicist found me down here and alerted me to the news.”  He patted the shoulder of the portly man in front of him, who was dressed more for a day at the pier than the Amazon. “I’m now forced to suspend my search for the rarest species of salamander in the world- with nearly mythical regeneration properties, mind you- and fly to Boston at once. You’ll be hearing from me, Mr. Truss.”   Pinebough collapsed the antenna with his chin and clipped the phone to his backpack.  The publicist, holding onto a branch for balance, turned to address him. “We’ll be in the city by nine tomorrow, thank God. I brought you clothes.”

“Do you have any for Lawa?”

“I do not.”

“Well he can have mine.”

Lawa was the small, nearly naked man who deftly lead the troupe; he looked like a skinny teenager who’d been born and bred by the rainforest, even though in reality he’d been raised in an urban town miles away from it. He never conveyed that fact to the white men who sought his wilderness guidance. As the two white men talked, Lawa stopped with a squelch at a fork-like split in the forest and slowly began rotating in a full circle. The ritual meant nothing of course, but he felt it was high-time for a display of proprietary Amazonian intuition. An intense ray of sunlight gleamed through an opening in the canopy and illuminated his hand as he gently, meticulously rubbed the trunk of a thick tree. He took a few steps to his right, and performed the same ritual with another.  He stood in silent contemplation for a few seconds, the golden glow of the sun illuminating the red paint on his bare chest, and finally nodded east, toward a small village with an airstrip.

“Incredible,” Pinebough remarked. The conservationist was thrilled by the prospect of bringing a tribesman back to America to learn from his oneness with nature.  Lawa, who had known where the airstrip was from the start of the journey after covertly studying a map, was likewise eager to join the wealthy American: Pinebough had more money than any white man Lawa had ever seen before, and despite his fibbed credentials, the tribesman vowed to protect and guide his employer. He considered himself a true professional. The publicist, also a professional, wasn’t as keen on Lawa tagging along. He was dealing with enough of a PR nightmare, and thought that having an uncivilized Amazonian in tow would only make matters worse. As it was, he walked up and handed Lawa a pair of slacks and a dress shirt to make him as presentable as possible.  Lawa accepted the threads eagerly. The trio mucked on.

#

Clay sat in the passenger seat of Regina Becker’s BMW and stared out the tinted window into the waning sunlight. Regina drove fast and in silence.  Clay found the rhythmic whizzing of  traffic and the buzzing of the engine calming, and used the rare moment of clarity to recount the day:  After the call with Pinebough, Truss and Becker begrudgingly agreed with Clay’s suggestion to take a break upon the arrival of the catered sandwiches (which earned Clay major brownie points with the underlings and a literal extra brownie for dessert).  Then, the entire Action Vac! and Truss Comm contingency attempted to get ahold of Sonny Daze again. They didn’t know what they would say if they got through to him, but they couldn’t think of anything else. They called him and his entire entourage. They called his publicist. They called his lawyers. They even tried calling the kid in the Kobe jersey, whom an intern had recognized from her Intro to Communications class at Emerson. Not a single person answered or offered anything useful, with the exception of the Kobe kid, who extended an invitation for the intern to ‘suck him like a Vortex’ after class that Friday.

After hours of fruitless tail-chasing, Andre Truss finally relented. “That’s enough for today,” he announced to the room. “I need to think. Alone.”  Everyone knew that meant ‘get blind drunk in my office and hope a solution comes to me’, so they obliged and left.

 

As the Beamer sped uptown, Clay noticed that the city looked clean. Eerily clean. For a split second he thought he saw a maid vacuuming the sidewalk with a Vortex, but she disappeared from view as Regina banked a brisk, illegal left turn. Obviously the maid wasn’t real. The stress of work had his brain playing tricks on him- and this after only the first week. Clay had no idea how people worked for forty to fifty years and didn’t die sooner. That’s why he needed to ride his good fortune out as long as he could, make as much money as he could. That’s how he justified the immorality of what he thought he was about to do with the cougar CEO next to him. His client.  Clay figured he had about a 50/50 chance of getting fired after the events of the day, and found himself lucky to have made it to the end with his job intact; perhaps if he played his cards right with Regina, she would vouch for him.  Who knows, maybe Andre Truss would come up with a plan to spin Sonny’s antics into a positive. Maybe Truss would make another error in judgement and keep Clay on. Maybe Clay would luck out again.  Whatever happened, he was glad to be outside the stiff walls of the office, and hopefully inside the soft walls of Regina Becker.

#

The reason the city looked so pristine was because it had indeed been thoroughly cleaned by Vortex vacuums.  Sonny Daze had insisted on it. He decreed to his production team that only Action Vac! products be used in their stunts. Like Lawa, Sonny was a professional: he had signed a contract and was going to honor it, even if, like Lawa, it was under false pretenses.

Sonny’s crew hired maids and cleaning ladies from all over Massachusetts and supplied them with Action Vac! Vortexes and scrubbing pads, with the instructions to spread out amongst the entire downtown area and work intermittently so as not to raise suspicion. All day long, pairs of maids took turns cleaning and scrubbing the city, and ducking into their old Nissan Sentras to smoke cigarettes. After each block (and there were hundreds), they emptied the vacuums into large garbage bags, placed the bags in their cars, and drove to an unmarked storage warehouse behind a Hertz car rental office on Commonwealth Avenue.

It was at this location that Sonny Daze and a loyal crew worked diligently to prepare for their biggest spectacle to date.

 

Inside the warehouse, dozens of seamstresses, most of them the mothers of the Latina cleaning maids, busied themselves in an assembly line along a row of sewing machines. Between their hands they passed disposable Vortex bladders- bags which had once been lobbied against by Bartholomew Pinebough in lieu of reusable cloth ones.  The seamstresses used exact-o-knives to split the bags, then arranged them flat to maximize surface area, and finally sewed them together like some sort of giant quilt. The handiwork involved was undeniably impressive. The process, though arduous, was facilitated by the cheeriness with which the seamstresses worked; they were getting paid at an impressive rate and were spurred by rhythmic Spanish music that blared over the hum of the machines.

“Me encanta la cama!” Sonny Daze sang with the music proudly, his Spanish flowing through gritted teeth that held a lit cigarette. It was more of a shout than a melody.  “Digame necesita mi corazon!”  He gyrated his hips and improvised a spastic salsa, all the while shoveling pounds and pounds of garbage into a vast storage bin near the entrance of the warehouse. The seamstresses couldn’t get enough- this guy was a riot!

Across from the storage bin, and lending much-needed color to the otherwise drably decorated room, sat a humongous cylindrical vat of red paint. On one side of the vat sat an equally gigantic airbrush. On the other side, were dozens of large canisters that looked to be filled with some sort of gas.  Just as Sonny scooped a shovel-full of dirt, fruit peels, and cardboard refuse into the waste bin, the service garage at the rear of the room opened with a groan. In walked a small contingent of nerdy, well-dressed individuals. They were aeronautical engineers.

The leader of the group, a man with thickly framed glasses, approached Daze. “All of this to spite some vacuum company, huh?” he asked. “What’d they do, not clean your carpet good enough?”  A couple of the nerds chuckled, but Sonny merely shrugged and blew a ring of smoke.

“Not really, their products are pretty good actually. They asked for eyeballs, so I’m getting em’ the only way I know how.”

The man shook Sonny’s hand and laughed. “Twisted. You’re like the Joker- just want to watch the city burn.”

“The world burn.”

The lead engineer stopped laughing. “Jesus man.”

“That’s the line: Some people just want to watch the world burn.” Sonny shoveled another heaping pile of trash into the bin, which was now nearly full. “But I’ll take the reference as a compliment- I’m a comedian after all.”

The group of engineers chuckled again, and the man with the thick glasses patted Sonny on the back. “That you are.”  He then turned to address his geek squad. “Alright gang- let’s make ourselves a blimp.”

#

Clay woke up and was disoriented at first due to his complete nakedness.  He could tell from the smoothness of the clean sheets on his balls that he wasn’t in his own bed. His head hurt. Then the night came back to him in bits and pieces:  Glasses of expensive wine with Regina, dozens of oysters with Regina, late night TV with Regina, and of course— wild yet submissive sex with Regina!  Clay rolled over and found the other half of the kingsized bed empty, not that he was surprised. He didn’t take Regina Becker as a cuddly morning-after lover.  But did she ditch him completely? His question was answered when she walked into the room wearing nothing but a silk robe.  “Good morning-“ Clay started, but he was briskly interrupted by the CEO.

“No talking,” she said.

“Sorry. Did you not enjoy-“

“Last night was fine.” Clay was relieved to hear it. “But the only person I like to hear from before 8 AM is Matt Lauer.”

This surprised Clay- he figured her for more of a Brian Kilmeade fan.  Regina turned on the high-tech TV and Clay looked around the hotel room; it was the nicest one he had ever been in.

#

Bartholomew Pinebough also found himself in the confines of a luxurious setting- though his wasn’t a hotel room. It was the cabin of an impressive private jet, which he had affectionately named The Sparrow.  He wasn’t tone def to the irony of owning and operating a private jet as an environmentalist, but The Sparrow’s practicality outweighed the indignity of its hypocrisy.  Indeed, the current circumstances were enough of a justification.  Pinebough wasn’t a bad person at all, and he truly did love the environment and want to protect it; he just happened to love himself and his brand as well. Besides, the more influence he had, he told himself, the more good he could do for the world. Wasn’t it God who taught us to love ourselves above all others?

Pinebough wasn’t the only person who desired a hasty arrival in Boston:  his publicist was just as eager to extinguish the negative press that had befallen them. He was truly a team player.  The publicist rocked his legs anxiously in his leather seat, in stark contrast to the ever-stoic Lawa who sat perfectly motionless across the aisle in his new dress clothes.  Both men faced their employer, who hadn’t yet changed his attire. Bartholomew was ensconced in a rear-facing seat, resembling a flight attendant for Air Malaria with his swamp-inspired getup.

“I believe we’re getting close, thank God,” said the publicist.

“Good,” replied Pinebough.

Just then, the narrow door to the cockpit slid open and the pilot popped her head into the cabin. She spoke loudly above the indecipherable gargle from The Sparrow’s state-of-the-art communication system.  “Bad news, I’m afraid. We’re getting reports of a rogue aircraft in the Boston area. All commercial and non-commercial flights have been grounded and we’ve been ordered to divert to Bradley International.”

The environmentalist sat in contemplation for a few moments. “We keep going as planned,” he finally ordered.

“But sir-“

“What’s the point of having a private jet if we’re bound to the same autocratic, regulatory flimflam as everyone else? Keep going, we’re almost there.”

The pilot tipped her cap and slowly shut the cockpit door. The publicist grew more nervous at mention of the rogue aircraft, but knew that citing potential terrorist or foreign military invasions would be fruitless to the fearless Bartholomew Pinebough.

Exactly two minutes later, the shroud of a large shadow enveloped the jet, and the bright cabin was flooded with darkness. The publicist panicked. “What the hell is that? Is something above us?”

“Relax,” said Pinebough. “Probably just a big cloud.”   Then, the pelting began. Immense pelting. The jet shook violently, as if being rocked by giant balls of hail.  Lawa wondered if there were volcanoes in Boston.

#

The image on the television screen was strangely beautiful at first:  a large blimp gliding soundlessly, peacefully through early morning skies, just above Boston’s skyscrapers. The only blemish to the picture was a large ticker on the bottom of the screen, which read  ‘Breaking News: Unidentified Blimp in Downtown Boston’.  Clay and Regina watched in awe, only comforted by their silk robes and the thought that terrorists wouldn’t commandeer a blimp. Sonny Daze didn’t cross their minds at all. That is, until a few seconds passed and the tranquility of the scene was broken by the unfurling of a giant, quilt-like banner  from the base of the blimp. On the banner, in vivid, red spray paint, was written:  ‘Action Vac! We’ve Got The Biggest Dirtbags in the Business!’  Clay looked fearfully at Regina. He didn’t know what to say. She sat in silence as well,  her jaw clenched. Then, a hatch opened underneath the belly of the blimp. Then, tons of refuse started raining down onto the city below. Then, a jetliner zoomed into view below the blimp and flew straight through the debris. Then, Clay’s phone rang.

#

By the time Clay Henderson arrived at the office it was dark outside. Andre had needed the entire day to recover from his hangover. Why he had called Clay at eight in the morning to schedule a meeting for eight in the evening was perplexing to the overwhelmed PR Director. It had the effect of rendering said employee a nervous wreck for the entire day. Was he going to get fired or not? Surely Truss was the type of boss to fire over the phone- he was rash with nearly all of his major decisions. Or maybe Andre relished firing people in person?  Clay hadn’t dared to look at any media all day for fear of what he might find- the fallout from Sonny Daze’s latest stunt must have been costly to Action Vac! and Truss Communications, and possibly human life. Clay hoped no one had died, but he didn’t know; he had spent the day with his head buried in the proverbial sand, but more literally, buried in the pillows on his sheetless bed.

When Clay entered Truss’s office, Andre immediately rose from his desk.  The CEO hesitated, then addressed his employee in a surprisingly measured tone.  “When I turned on my television this morning, I knew. This was the last straw.”  Game over, Clay thought. I gave it a hell of a run.

“I understand, sir-“ he started to respond, but Truss waved him off.

“Let me say what I’ve got to say.  I’m stepping down as CEO of Truss Communications.”

“What?”

“Don’t wanna deal with the shit anymore. And I’ve already picked my successor. You.”

What?”  Clay knew it had to be some sort of game. This was Andre Truss’s unusually cruel way of terminating him. It was confirmed when Truss grabbed a stack of papers from atop his desk and approached Clay. Definitely walking papers.  Probably a resignation letter that Clay had to sign to save face for the company. Truss handed him the stack, and the top sheet was indeed a letter of resignation. But it had already been signed by Andre Truss himself.

“To show you how serious I am,” Truss said.

“But I don’t understand,” said Clay. “Didn’t I botch the entire project?”

“Look at the next packet. Numbers from the last forty-eight hours.”  Clay did as he was told and flipped through the sales numbers while Truss continued speaking. “All-time record percentage increase for a client. I’ve never seen anything like it in such a short period. And it was all thanks to your vision— your cojones.”

Truss’s voice seemed to echo from some far away place as Clay perused the numbers. Unbelievable. Andre went on to explain that Sonny Daze’s crude stunts had made the Vortex by Action Vac! the number one selling vacuum for college dorm rooms, frat houses, and other similarly dirty, immature establishments across the country- ‘kids being fucked up these days and whatnot.’ What neither Truss nor Clay knew was that Daze’s cleaning lady project, and the vast number of Vortexes he purchased for it, had significantly inflated the figures, which were certainly not sustainable. At this point, it didn’t matter.

“Sir, with all due respect, I’m not sure I’m capable of being CEO,” said Clay flatly.

“Nonsense.  You’ve already got Action Vac! in your pocket. I know Regina can ride you hard, but it’s well worth the price.”

“I’m quite aware of that, believe me…but I don’t know the first thing about running a company. I’ve got Action Vac! today, but what about tomorrow?”

Andre smirked and placed a reassuring hand on his protege’s shoulder. “What if I were to tell you that the Bartholomew Pinebough wants Truss Communications- we’re keeping the name, by the way-  to represent him now? That’s two huge accounts dropped into your lap.”

Clay could not wrap his head around all of this information. “Pinebough? Doesn’t he hate us?”

Andre explained that quite to the contrary, Pinebough had proactively reached out to make amends with Truss Communications. Bartholomew had fired his own publicist after the poor man had suffered a mental breakdown when he thought their jet was being shot down by heavy artillery fire. Plus, Pinebough needed to rehab his image beyond merely the Eastside Park incident:  After The Sparrow got entangled in Sonny Daze’s blimp stunt, and people realized that  the world’s most famous conservationist was the owner and operator of a gas-guzzling private jet, they were naturally annoyed. “It makes sense. I mean, the man is supposed to be a conservationist,” Truss said. Clay resisted reminding his boss that he had scoffed at the same sentiment the previous day.

“What about Sonny Daze?” the heir apparent asked. “I can’t control him and the contract isn’t up for another year…”

““Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s dead.”

“What!?”

“Don’t you watch the News? Pinebough bumped into that Daze asshole at the hospital after they both crash landed. Apparently Sonny tried to shove a Vortex onto his junk.”

“And he actually died from that?”

Truss looked confused. “What? No. Sonny tried to vacuum Pinebough’s dick. Like the statue. But Pinebough’s South American bodyguard speared Sonny to death in self-defense. They caught it on network TV. Pretty brutal.”

Clay stood there, his mind a whirlwind. He was going to be the CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation. He was going to be a millionaire himself. Sonny Daze, his handpicked spokesman, was dead.

“I know that look,” Andre Truss said. “You’re wondering if this is all real. Rest assured, I’m set on this, so you don’t have to say anything.”

Which was great because Clay Henderson, soon-to-be- CEO of the largest PR firm in Boston, had no idea what to say.

 

THE END


© Copyright 2020 Stephen Matthew Facelle. All rights reserved.

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