Blowfish: A Private Life in Public Relations – Episode XI
Blowfish: A serialized business noir by Steve Lundin
Episode Xi: “Pot Party”
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. Jack has introduced the show’s host, Vladimir Berber, to the executives from VGlobe, only to find that his star is as dangerously chaotic as he is compelling. While he searches for a solution to this new dilemma his former employee and new nemesis, Tom Agness, has learned of the Some Will Die program and is heading to Washington in a gambit to sabotage it.
- Episode I here
- Episode II here
- Episode III here
- Episode IV here
- Episode V here
- Episode VI here
- Episode VII here
- Episode VIII here
- Episode IX here
- Episode X here
Chicago: Trotter’s Second Chance restaurant
Jack was used to receiving the classic uppity side looks from the waitstaff whenever he entered tony restaurants looking like a mud guard off a pig farmer’s 4X4 Jimmy. He did his best to blend the dirt and grime into the subtle dark pattern or his Valentino suit; these were the unmemorable mementos from his afternoon drinking spree. It was nothing new. His flashy watch, expensive haircut and cufflinks assured the ‘work for tips’ set that he wasn’t some besotted homeless freak who had just rolled a stockbroker for his suit. Vance found Naomi, the Doctor and Vlad Berber parked in the rear corner, quietly away from the rest of the room. Naomi gave Vance her usual unapproving once over, unsure if the order for a discreet table had been to protect the patrons from Berber or Vance. Vance assumed the open seat, placing his new white napkin over his dirty lap.
“Where’s my martini? And how’s our star?”
“Wring your suit, there’s probably a good bottle or two soaked into the seams,” Naomi responded; she wanted to get down to business.
Berber pulled a bottle of vodka out from under the table, took a long pull and handed it to Vance.
“Never better Executive. Here’s your martini, put an olive in your cheek.”
He was laughing at his own joke before he finished telling it. Naomi and the doctor both flashed Vance one of those ‘SOS: ‘ships is going down, no way to fix leak’ looks.” He needed to get a handle on this and signaled Naomi to take a little walk with him, taking advantage of the ruse to place his arm around her waist. He whispered “For Vlad, no suspicions.” They disappeared around an alcove, out of earshot of the table.
“Did the doc fix him?”
“He can’t be fixed Jack. If we give him any more medication he won’t be able to function. He’s a wild card now – what you see is what you have to work with.”
“So it’s on me then?”
“I’d say you’re about the only one who can manage him. For some sick, twisted reason he actually trusts you. Keeps having dreams about you pulling him out of the jail. You’re imprinted Jack, use it.”
And Vance turned and walked back to the table. Before they sat down he grabbed Naomi and gave her a deep passionate kiss, then spun her aside. Berber slapped his knee and pulled out the bottle again. Vance grabbed it, looked Naomi in the eye and held it up for a toast.
“For Some will Die!” If this gambit failed he’d be stuck with one hell of an unreimbursed expense bill.
Washington DC: 8:00 AM
Agness had consumed a pot of coffee on the train to DC while putting together his presentation. He had made his way to the grubby New Hampshire Avenue office of the Pot Party, a radical splinter group of the Tea Party. The group’s founder, outspoken former Georgia congressman “Gekko” Potlatch, felt that the Tea Party had become too soft on fundamental issues and founded a new organization based around an old Republican campaign ad for “a chicken in every pot.” The fact that the phrase had originated in the hated land of France didn’t dissuade the organization’s founder from adopting its meaning for their own cause: that Americans had a right to unlegislated food. They were against the FDA, campaigns against obesity and health warning labels on fast food. They handed out packets of high fructose corn syrup at their rallies, compliments of the Monsanto Company, and had even landed Ronald McDonald as the keynote speaker at their recent national convention. They would be the perfect group for Agness’ plan.
Agness found the office’s hand lettered nameplate on the building’s legend and pressed the buzzer. A bored sounding female voice chirped through the ancient speaker.
“Pot Party. Can I help you?”
“Tom Agness of Drab and Associates in New York to speak with Congressman Potlatch.”
“New York? Third floor, second door on the right.”
Agness climbed through the run down, mid-century un-modern, feline fecalized apartment/office building. He hadn’t been in a rat trap like this since he stopped scoring crack for an old girlfriend at St. Xavier College on Chicago’s far south side. The poorly lit hell-way to the Pot Party’s door was easy to find, it was the only one decorated with old signs, boxes of leaflets and empty pizza trays. He rapped on the door, each knock pushing it open a little more. Either they didn’t believe in locks, couldn’t afford them or had nothing to hide or steal.
The door swung inward revealing a two room office, more of a sitting room and a closet, so filthy and cluttered it made the hallway look like an operating room at the Mayo Clinic. He was in the lobby/storage room, beyond it was the office/storage room. To his right, surrounded by the piles of unidentifiable paper debris, sat a petite woman wearing a fly fishing hat and vest. She was somewhere between 30 and 60; Agness couldn’t tell if her grey hair was part of some quasi punk affect or an Act of God. She smiled, revealing several missing teeth, and spit a plug of tobacco into a cup before asking him his “biz-ness.” He settled on Act of God.
“Here to see Mr. Potlatch.”
“From Neeeeew York huh? Well , OK”; she turned to bellow across the eight foot expanse of paper, plastic and God knew what else, “Mr. Potlatch! Visitor from Neeeeew York City!” Primitive intercom system, but it worked. The office/storage door opened, aided by the cane of Mr. Potlatch, whose 400 plus pound body was piled into a desk just a few feet into the small space. The entire office/closet area was little more than a desk with a giant creature sandwiched in, surrounded by the same sea of clutter that had begun out in the hallway. At least it had a view, afforded by the “office’s” one window. Agness wondered if Potlatch ever left this pit, discreetly looking out of the corner of his eyes for Porta Poddy. He worked his way through the narrow channel between six foot high piles of boxes to Potlatch’s office and took a seat on a two by six that lay across a sideways filing cabinet on the floor.
“Mr. New York, what can I do for you?” Potlatch extended his cane across his desk, expecting Agness to shake it. Potlatch, dressed in an outfit that would have made him welcome as a preacher in any 1880’s California mining town, was surrounded by several laptops, ham radios and Morse code keysets. Agness spied an old Smith and Wesson .44 magnum draped over the back of his chair, a Remington 700 sniper rifle next to the window and the buttstock of a sawed off shotgun peeking out from under a pile of Washington Times newspapers in the corner of his desk. He couldn’t tell where the man’s chair ended and the cave of fast food boxes began.
“It’s Mr. Agness sir, and it’s nice to meet an American hero.” Agness “seated” himself.
“It’s this country that’s the hero Mr. Agness, I’m just a servant for our liberties? What causes you to cross my door today, sir?” Agness noticed that Potlatch had casually let the cane lie across his desk, with its tip pointing squarely at his chest. That tip had a glinty rifled cavity .45 in diameter. Great.
Agness leaned across the desk to Potlatch, moving his body out of the line of fire. He lowered his voice to add emphasis, playing on Potlatch’s legendary paranoia.
“I have some data that I’d like to share with you about a brewing conspiracy that threatens to infringe on the very same liberties that you have worked so hard to preserve. Let me show you.”
He unrolled a three dimensional viewer, which looked small and foreign in the tangle of greasy aging technology on the desk. Agness narrated through the presentation that he had put together on the train ride. He constructed an argument that hit every touch point the Pot Party was sworn to protect. He felt it was the one of the best 15 minute pitches he had delivered in his career as a creative executive, and one of the few he had constructed by himself, sober. Potlatch’s eyes grew bigger with each slide. When Agness finished he looked up at the angered, quivering fat man with the most helpless, ‘please guide me Jesus’ look that he could muster.
“So Mr. Potlatch, what do we do now?”
“Do they know that you know this boy? Do you have protection?”
“I hardly think it’s necessary sir.”
This was going better than Agness could have wished for. He had positioned Some Will Die as a secret lobbying tool for the Pure Food America group, an organization that was aggressively pushing the FDA to ban unhealthy foods from the U.S. market because of their deleterious effect on people’s weight. It was a program that had been started by Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin after their joint reality show on BET had bombed. Agness had invented the whole connection and planned on feeding it to the news media at the right moment to further stir the soup he was brewing. At this late point in his career, with several failed presidential bids under his belt, too old and tired to run again, Potlatch was motivated by the one thing that provided his raison d’etre: if he wanted Quarter Pounder he was not going to resort to any God damned black market to get one. As long as he was on watch, no P-F’ing A food group was going to stand between his people and the Golden Arches.
Potlatch opened a drawer in the side of his desk, extracted a serious looking cordura bag and slid it over to Agness.
“This is your bug out kit, in case they get on to you.”
Agness opened it and found a small 9mm Glock 26, a HAM transceiver, approximately $1000 in traveler’s checks and a small military issue smoke grenade. Might as well play along. He could always sell the gun and he could defiantly use the money.
“So what’s our plan sir?”
Potlatch leaned across the desk.
“You keep your ears on,” he motioned to the radio, “use that to communicate. We need to organize the troops. You tell me what their moves are. We will bring the heat, in public. They make a move, we make a move. It’s up to you son. You found this. It’s too dangerous for you to come here anymore, they might be watching. I’ll come to you.”
“So you want me to tell you their next moves, is that it – like spy on them and then let you know what they’re planning and you’ll do…”
Potlatch picked up the microphone on his desk and pointed to the dial. “Frequency 30.004; we check in every night at 02300. I’m Food Man. You are Rook. When I tell you it’s going to rain in the city you meet me at noon in Columbus Circle the next day. I’ll be the man in black. Go. It’s dangerous here.”
Agness rolled his eyes inside his head. This man was psychotic – just the kind of nut bag he needed to torpedo Jack’s program. “And when I tell you what they’re going to do what will you do sir?” Agness pressed, he knew Potlatch’s wheels were turning – and just wanted to know what direction they were pointing.
“I am going to initiate a general public protest against this crime against food consuming individuals.”
“You mean overly…self-endowed people sir? You are going to protest the mockery and discrimination that these groups are going to bring down on people who like to eat…a lot…and show it?”
“By God that’s right boy. We are fighting discrimination!”
“I wouldn’t put words in your moth sir – nit this reminds me of the spirit of our country’s Greatest Generation, It’s almost like fighting we’re fighting against…”
“The Nazis! We represent democracy in a fight to the death against this fascist idea of a television show. You’re on to it boy – that’s what we’re doing – protecting the rights of free individual expression against those who would seek to ridicule us and cut off our supply to what makes us unique.”
“You mean food sir?”
Potlatch lowered his head an looked solemnly up at Agness. “You are what you eat boy.” Agness could almost hear him says ‘Amen,” in his head. Potlatch had bought it – he was like a giant hooked Filet ‘O Fish sandwich.
Potlatch pointed at the door with his loaded cane., directing his new ‘agent’ to depart on his mission. Agness played the part, rising with a slight tremble, looking over Potlatch, out the window for an imaginary tail; he then carefully picked up the bug out kit and turned towards the door, giving Potlatch one last look before leaving.
“I won’t fail you Food Man” he said, saluting for emphasis. Probably inappropriate, but it felt in character. Potlatch attempted to rise, then collapsed out of breath into his chair, managing a weak salute back.
“Rook. Do good for…the country and our way of life.”
TO BE CONTINUED. Next Week: Food Fight
Published: October 18, 2012 By: