Blowfish: A Private Life in Public Relations – Episode VII “Jailbreak”
Recap: Jack Vance, the colorful CEO of Blowfish Communications, has been hired to engineer the launch of VGlobe a new online video network. The cornerstone of his launch campaign is “Some Will Die,” a reality weight loss program engineered to render all contestants dead. Their proposed host, Vladimir Berber, is being held in a Mexican jail. Vance and a small team are heading down to Mexico to free him. Tom Agness, Blowfish’s former Chief Creative Director has an axe to grind with Vance and is in the process of selling what he knows to Vance’s main competitor, Roger Drab of Drab and Associates, in exchange for a job.
Berber couldn’t have picked a worse place wind up in jail. Reynosa had the ugly little reputation of being one of the 10 most dangerous cities in Mexico, you could find it under “must avoid” in any Lonely Planet guide to tropical vacations. It is a northern border city, directly across from Texas, run by drug cartels with a hand from the government; someone has to staff the prisons and hand out parking tickets.
The pilot’s fear that his head might become the temporary hood ornament on a shiny, highjacked American jet, was a legitimate one. The pilot banked his aircraft over General Lucio Blanco (REX) airport and took a tower command to enter on Runway 13. He slowed his airspeed and readied for a final turn to the left and felt around under his seat. The Beretta M9 hung in its holster, kept company by a couple of magazines of hollow point and incendiary rounds. It was the same gun he had carried when he flew for the Marines; he prayed that the weapon would remain holstered during this trip.
“OK, so we buy Vlad’s freedom, then you conduct a jail cell interview with him that CNN streams to build some, whatever, buzz, around him. That’s the plan?” Gould asked as he peered out the window at the patchy scrubland surrounding the airport. This wasn’t the Mexico of topless women and beers that he was expecting.
“Yeah. Providing they go along with the deal. You throw a little legal mumbo jumbo on them to goose the process and we grease them with cash. Look around. Does this look like the kind of place that says no to greenbacks?”
As they approached the ground remains of old cars decorated with bleached corpses came into view outside the airport’s steel fenced runway. At some point there had been a gun battle; the winners leaving corpses, vehicles and bullet casings to mark their victory. Chuck pulled off his jacket, revealing twin Glock 18’s in a gleaming russet Don Hume custom shoulder holster. He had acquired one Glock from an old friend in the Mossad; it was one of the select few that was factory fully auto, and the pride of Chuck’s collection. He had 10 spare magazines, five on each side, and two loaded weapons, providing him with a total of 202 rounds. 204 if you counted the ones already in the chambers. He was looking forward to putting the automatics to use; maybe this trip they could come out and play.
“And if the greenbacks don’t work?” asked Gould.
Vance patted Chuck on the back.
“Then we Wild Bunch it. And we don’t turn on the cameras. “
Gould rolled his eyes.
“I’m not getting paid enough for this.”
Chuck opened his briefcase and handed Gould a 357 Colt Python revolver with a six inch barrel. The weapon was foolproof, and a collector’s item to boot.
“I know you know how to use this, counselor. Pull and go bang.” Gould took it, marveling at this gift from a professional. He had wanted one of these since he started playing “Call of Duty Six: Blacker Ops.”
“OK. I’m in. Only I get to keep this. Right?”
“We’ll bill the client.”
Chuck handed Vance a Sig Sauer .250, the preferred weapon of the US Air Marshall’s service.
“You can have this back when we’re done.” Vance understood guns; they were one of the few things that he respected, being absolute and pure in their function. Like alcohol – you didn’t drink it for health or beauty – you drank it for release. He disdained their existence, but realized their importance in today’s world. He dropped the magazine, slid back the slide and watched a round pop out of the chamber and into his lap. He placed it back in the chamber, and let the slide close, reinserting the magazine.
Chuck handed each man a shiny badge in a black leather flip case. He spoke for the first time during the trip.
“Just in case this becomes my show, I want backup. I know you both know how to shoot,” he looked over at Gould, “or think you do. If the situation becomes a situation, follow my lead.”
Vance slid the weapon it into his front jacket pocket. Gould placed the Python in the rear of his trousers, Mexican style.
They touched down and the pilot looked back.
“Here comes your car. Call me the minute you are done. I’m keeping the engines on.”
Jack and his party exited the plane as an armored Hummer pulled up. If this didn’t call attention to their activities, nothing did. He suddenly felt glad that Chuck had given him the Sig.
The driver had already been informed of their destination: the Reynosa jail, known for its long history of escapes, disappearances, beatings and murders, split evenly between officers and inmates. He drove them to a private security gate where they all presented their passports, citing their visit as “pleasure.”
The driver turned to speak with them as he left the airport and entered towards the Reynosa Matomoros highway.
“You got pleasure business at the jail?” he asked, turning to reveal a gold mine of metal in his mouth, with M-E-X-I-C-O embossed across his front uppers.
“Yeah. And you gonna stay there while we work it out,” Vance responded.
“You know a vehicle like this is very attractive to many here. Drug lords, gangs. They not bother with bullets. They drive us off road and use machetes. Keep the vehicle in better shape”
“OK. So drive careful.”
“There are two routes. There is the main route, which I paid to take, which is not so safe. There is the safe route. Which keep you alive. What you want me to do, senor?”
Chuck knew where this was going. He hadn’t spent all those years doing wetwork in Nicaragua to miss the scent of this fleece. He let his jacket open and made sure that the driver saw his 9mm fashion show then turned to Vance, hand open. It was the unspoken language of “I need money now.” Vance handed him $100. Chuck rolled his eyes. Vance added four more to the pile. Chuck reached over and slid two behind the driver’s ear.
“There’s another three when we get back. Take the safe route.”
“It more scenic as well. We have good chat. You post good Yelp review for me, right?”
The Reynosa jail had been booked over its 1400 inmate capacity for years. It currently held over 2000 prisoners, with internal control ebbing and shifting between the Zeta gang or rival Gulf cartel gangsters. Gould and Vance had been the guests of several US jails during their decades-long nocturnal travels across the vice highway, but nothing like this. It was big, bricked, nasty and ringed with more barbed wire than all bails in Farm and Fleet warehouses between Illinois and Iowa. Vance reached for his flask, reconsidered, and popped a couple Adderalls. He doubted he’d need his creative juices lubricated to get between any woman’s legs in a place like this.
It took 30 minutes and another $1000 to travel from the front gate of the jail to the Commandant’s office. $200 of it had assured that they weren’t frisked, so they arrived with lawyer, guns and money relatively intact. Commandant Carols Regus was not the bushy mustached, easily snowed roly-poly uniformed Mexican from central casting that they had all imagined. Regus wore a neat suit that Vance recognized as an Ermenegildo Zegna from last year’s catalogue, and Hugo Boss tie and shirt. His one concession to his environment were a pair of Combat boots, and even those looked like they might have been customized Aldens. He was trim, with a small ponytail holding his slightly thinning, dark brown hair in place. Take away the fancy trappings and could have been an aging Starbuck’s barista working in a college town, picking up coeds. A degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin hung on his wall. He addressed his guests in accent-less English.
“You’re here on Vlad Berber I understand?”
It had been 40 minutes since Vance swallowed his pills and they were beginning to take effect, revving up his perception of the room. He looked over at Gould. As instructed, the attorney took the lead; in the back of his head he longed for this episode to lapse into an excuse to pull the Cobra.
“Yes, we’d like to review his charges. I’ve got a note from the State Department indicating that I can question jail officials and review his files.” Gould pulled a small flexible reader from his pocket to display the communiqué that he had arranged while in transit. He handed it to Carlos Regus.
“Very nice. But he has already been appointed a lawyer. You are free to review as much paperwork as you’d like. Stay awhile.”
Regus handed Gould a file. He flipped it open and was hit with page after page of primitive looking Spanish documents. Gould turned to Chuck, who read the file aloud.
“And Mr. Berber, having been found not guilty on the charges of manslaughter, is hereby remanded to the Reynosa, Mexico jail until such time as the charges for tax evasion are paid or two years’ incarceration is served.”
The words ricocheted around Vance’s hyper-sensitive skull like a gunshot in an elevator. This wasn’t part of the profile he was looking for. “What! He’s not here on a manslaughter charge? Who knows this?”
“We don’t make a habit of broadcasting that kind of news like you do in the States, Mr. Vance. Berber was cleared of the manslaughter charge. He’s here because he didn’t pay his taxes on his winnings from cockfighting bets. It’s really that simple.”
Vance felt the fire spilling out of his quest. His killer wasn’t a killer; this kind of news was the last thing his campaign needed.
“How much does he owe?” Asked Gould.
“About $25,000 U.S. Maybe $28,000 with interest.”
Vance looked around the Commandant’s office and spied a small plaque from the Mount of Grapes, bearing an embossed image of a blind, limbless child being pulled in a donkey cart. The word “Gracias” next to the commandant’s name told Vance, with his limited grasp of Spanish, that Regus had a soft place for crippled children, donkeys or the status of giving to a charity.
“How would you like the fine paid, with interest and a $20,000 donation made to the Mount of Grapes, in your name, in exchange for helping us tell our story to the news about his release…fellow Badger?”
Regus’ eyes brightened.
Roger Drab assessed Tom Agness, sitting across the desk from him. He had to give the little shit credit for getting this far. Stinking drunk or not, the kid might have something that he could use. And if he had been good enough for Burnett at one time, maybe he could be of some use to Drab and Associates. At least for a few months or until his information turned into business. Then he’d kick the little agency orphan back to the sewer stream where he belonged. The thought reminded Drab that he had promised to drop a case of Evian water at his church for the weekend’s fundraiser.
“Alright Mr. Agness, what have you got?”
“I can give you a list of all the Blowfish clients and their contacts. I know who is spending what, and have direct access to most of the client side contacts.”
“An intern can find that out in an afternoon by going through press releases and MediaPost. Give me something of value or I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time, Mr. Agness.”
Agness fidgeted in his seat. He didn’t expect to blow through his small cards so quickly. He would have to play his whole hand now.
“OK. Vance is doing a launch for vGlobe Online. He headed off somewhere to…”
Agness was interrupted as Drab’s secretary stuck her head in the room.
“Sorry, Mr. Drab, but you wanted me to inform you if there was any news anywhere on Vance or Blowfish? Please take a look at your monitor.”
Drab’s west wall, the one with the 12th story semi-skyline view of lower Manhattan, shimmered to life. It became a 6 x 10’ monitor, tuned to CNN. The words “breaking story” flashed across the screen. Brooke Baldwin, director of International News, was strutting across the screen in leggy 3D.
“And on the celebrity front, we have just received an exclusive news feed that Vlad Berber, the manslaughterer, is that correct? The contestant accused of manslaughter on the 2014 reality show ‘Survivor Chernobyl,’ is at this moment being released from a jail in Reynosa, Mexico, where another manslaughter charge has just been dropped. Let’s see what happening.” The words “amateur video” played across the screen as Commandant’s Regus’ face came into focus, clearly standing in front of a poorly lit Mexican jail cell.
“Good evening United States. We are releasing Mr. Vladimir Berber, who has been held here in the Reynosa, Mexico jail, back into the world. The charge of manslaughter of an official tax collector from the country of Mexico has been dropped. He is free to go.” Regus turned to unlock the cell and the camera followed him in.
Vlad Berber, dressed in the dirty remains of Propper tropical duty pants, Bates waterproof tactical boots and a greasy Hooter’s tee shirt blinked up at the camera. He was caked in enough dirt to make a Costa Rican volcanic mud pit seem clean. Regus aped for the camera, trying to keep his idea of a professional broadcast going.
“Mr. Berber, you are free. You have paid your debt to society and now you can return to the United State with these men.”
Silence for more than a few seconds has a dreaded name in the news business: dead air. Brooke Baldwin didn’t like its scent one bit and was about to cut to a commercial when Berber, the celebrity “manslaughterer,” collected his thoughts and looked straight into the camera. He spoke in an thick accent tailor made for an American viewing audience. Vlad had practiced for months, mimicking Robin Williams’ Russian accent in the movie “Moscow on the Hudson,” before auditioning for “Survivor.”
“Maybe I don’t think so. Maybe I don’t want to go.”
Vance immediately shut down his camera, ending the transmission.
Brooke Baldwin, who had made a career out of looking professionally bemused, looked over her shoulder at the image that wasn’t there, turned to the screen and said, “Well, there you have it. Looks like Vald Berber, the ‘manslaughterer’ of ‘Survivor Chernobyl’ is out of a Mexican jail. If he wants to be.” She made a shrug so practiced it could have been copyrighted and commented, “What a world, what a world,” before her producer cut to a commercial.
Roger Drab, who was wondering if he should have even bothered with meeting Agness, studied his guest. He wondered if the first rivulet of sweat would appear on Agness’ upper lip or over his eyebrows. Business be damned, Drab couldn’t pay enough for entertainment like this, it was even better than masturbating.
“Was Vance going to Mexico, by chance,” he asked, trying not to let his thin slit of mouth curl into a smirk.
Agness could save this. There was one little tiny bit of Drab that was intrigued. All he had to do was think like Vance, what would Jack do? Shit! Had he really thought that? What a jerkoff. Agness mentally slapped himself in the face. He had bills to pay. It was go time.
“Obviously, Mr. Drab, that’s what I came here to tell you. He is cooking up a massive high profile campaign that is tailor made to explode, if one were privy to all the details. If we play this right, Vance’s campaign will be his biggest failure, he’ll be a walking joke, begging to sell you Blowfish.” The chum was in the water now.
Drab looked at him. Maybe there was something there or maybe this microscopic turd was bluffing. It wouldn’t cost much to find out and he needed a new whipping boy to verbally abuse, anyway.
“How long will it take you to put this anti-campaign campaign together, Mr. Agness?”
“I’ll give you two.”
“And I have a job?”
“See Mrs. McGuire for a cube assignment in the morning.” Drab fished a small pink slip of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Agness. “And pick up my shirts, they’re at Del Floria’s around the corner.”
As Agness left Drab’s office, he realized that there really was no place for honesty in the race up the corporate ladder. The old Blowfish tagline had nailed it, truth was overrated.