Tonight’s chapter of Henry Wood has been delayed due to a case of “It’s the holidays and I feel like writing something different”. I love writing and mostly try to focus on the stuff I’m supposed to be working on, but sometimes, I like to spend a couple of hours banging on the keyboard like a rabid monkey. I do it more than you know, as it is helpful to stretch one’s writing legs. I think it helps me do better on Henry, when I mess with other ideas. Last night, after I posted, I got all wordy and decided to do some of that therapeutic word wrangling. So I give to you the beginning of a story. I will get back to Henry tomorrow or the next day. So in the mean time, this should tide you over.
- What should I call this story?
- Are you interested in reading the rest of it? (I’ve already written more)
The first rule of consulting: The customer is always wrong.
This is what Stephen’s mentor, Philippe LeCaste, would say, often after a bottle of Mouton Rothschild had been laid to rest. Philippe was an aggressively handsome French millionaire, who has been on the cusp of billionaire for so long, it has become a source of anguish in his life. “If I could just get that last 50 or 60 million, I’d be satisfied,” he would muse outloud before heading off to bed with a selection of former Soviet bloc, super models.
He worked for him for seven years, right up until the day he died from lead poisoning, which had been administered by a Hungarian man wielding a Makarov pistol. The man, overcome with Tolstoyian grief, had learned that his daughter, Sophia, had been cast aside after a tumultuous, two week affair. Philippe had, ironically, considered it a triumph of longevity. He would not be missed.
Stephen, on those occasions when he would choose to look back on the matter, was reminded of the myriad of emotions he had felt, recalled them to friends, and then explained, in detail, how each one had torn his world asunder, though, in fact, it had done nothing of the sort and had, instead, led to a somewhat guilt ridden affair with the afore mentioned, Sophia. She was pretty.
Philippe had once mentioned that Stephen was in his will, and it was this unknown possibility that had caught Sophia’s attention. Stephen knew why she had turned to him. He hoped that before the web of legal encumbrances to the estate could be unwoven, he might win her affections based upon his own qualities and depth of something. Sadly, he had neither great qualities nor Marianas trench like depth.
Stephen’s list of memorable achievements had included a table tennis tournament win at age 12, a stint in the Peace Corp that ended following a brawl with a supervisor, and the adoption of a tabby cat, named Mr. Fuzzy Pants, from the local shelter. To this, he considered adding “Personal Assistant to Philippe LeCaste”, which certainly impressed his mother and her book club, but wasn’t really a win in Sophia’s eyes. She didn’t like having to visit her father in prison. In the end, the list, with or without the Philippe entry, had proven insufficient when it was learned that he had been left a single bobble by some guy named, Rene Lalique.
Stephen had shown the necklace, made of gold, opals, and amethysts, to Sophia, and she had replied, “An insect necklace?” It was an agonizing 3 hours between the time he had disclosed the nature of his inheritance, and the moment she had said, “We need to talk.”
In hindsight, this crushing defeat at the breasts of Sophia the super model had caused Stephen to formulate a plan to get her back and had led to his current state of affairs. It was this plan, which did not even approach a level of success required to re-woo his sexy Hungarian, which had taken him down the Twitter path oft traveled. He became a consultant.
Two years, three weeks, and 18 hours after Sophia thought they should just be friends, Stephen opened an email from his secretary. It read, Dear Stephen, I’m going round to grab some lunch, would you like me to pick you up some fish and chips? Cheers, Cindy. He nodded his head, “Yes, please.”
She looked back at him, from her desk located a thousand miles away, on the other side of the room, and said, “I’ll be back soon.”
They had been fighting over the direction of the company, such that it was, and they had differed on only one point, how much pride Stephen should swallow. He had made the point, quite convincingly in his estimation, that working for Jonathan Steele III Esq., was the equivalent to helping the devil sodomize youthful sheep. She had replied, “He’s not the devil, he just a Torre, and not even a really bad one.” Stephen thought she was splitting hairs. He could tell that she thought he was being an elitist snob. It wasn’t a subtle clue she gave, she actually said it three times. This bit hurt, because he had worked hard to polish up his social resume, and elitist snobs were all the rage.
The clients that Stephen had imagined would be beating down his door were people who read books, attended gallery openings, and donated their hard earned ducats to all the fashionable charities. He wanted to mingle with people who did things to save felines, knew the story of The Maltese Cat, and listened to Yusuf Islam. Instead, he had signed the third most successful bank in London, three accountancy firms, and fishmonger in Britton. The latter had only come about because the fishwife had driven their van into the side of his reasonably priced Suzuki Liana, on the M1. She felt terrible.
It wasn’t just the clients who had been a disappointment, it was his business savvy that had let him down. The old adage about “Putting all one’s eggs in one basket, run by Bernie Madoff” had been a particularly painful one to learn firsthand. This little blunder he had kept from Cindy until a few seconds before the fight had started. That was two days ago and now she was picking him up lunch, so it seemed he had been granted a stay, but only because he had agreed to take the meeting with the Torre.
The secretary in the outer office was attractive in an entirely uninteresting way. She had made a call and then politely informed Stephen that Mr. Steele was in a meeting and would be with him shortly. Forty five minutes had passed before she had let him into the inner sanctum. His dread at the possibility of working for Mr. Steele, the Torre, had been heightened when he saw the opulence of office. He had nearly passed out from the stench of wealth and power, when he realized that the previous secretary had only been the opening act. The ginger haired beauty who now guarded a set of mahogany doors that would make an environmentalist weep, was a “Ship Launcher”, as his college roommate, Bryce, used to say. She informed him, in a voice made for late night toll numbers, that the wait would be a little longer and would he like a spot of tea?
The tea was excellent, as were the biscuits. Counting the ginger girl, whose name he had learned was Ginger, he scored the trip, Mr. Steele 2 - Hatred for the Torres 1. Twenty more minutes passed and then Ginger stood up on some impossibly high heeled shoes and opened the door. The tight black skirt and stockings she wore, pushed the score to 3 – 1 and Stephen secretly hoped to find Mr. Steele knee deep in clubbed baby seal. The match was getting out of hand and they hadn’t made it to the coin toss.
Mr. Steele was sitting and stood to greet Stephen. His handshake was firm, though not aggressive. His office was modern, clean, and completely void of any sort of hunting trophy poking its head through the wall. Stephen took a seat and then asked, “What can my firm do for you?” He used the term firm loosely.
“Stephen,” he said, returning to his chair, but looking him in the eye, “I’m quite certain that the age of the ‘instant information’ has left me behind.”
“Are you talking about Social Media?”
“Yes, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, the lot, it makes my head spin.”
“With all due respect, I find that hard to believe. You run one of the most successful media conglomerates in the EU. Surely, if you need a primer on the subject of Social Media, you could ask any of a dozen people in your employ. Why do you want to hire my firm?”
“Yes, I do have people. Soldiers out there on the front lines tweeting, blogging and doing whatever one does on Facebook, but to ask them to explain it to me, when they assume I understand it all, would greatly harm my creditability, in their eyes.”
Stephen thought this last bit was horribly narcissistic. To assume everyone around you was under the impression you had all the answers, well, that was just asinine. Hatred for the Torries, shoot and score. Stephen let the last statement hang in the air a while longer, not noticing himself politely nodding as if he understood. “Fair point, I’m at your service.” Just hearing those words ooze forth made him dizzy, but the worst was yet to come.
“Excellent. I have no idea what you charge, but this is what I’m looking for from you.” He slid a pad of paper with a hand written list across the polished desk. “I would like this done as soon as possible. Naturally, I’m aware you have other clients and this may interfere with the work you are doing on their behalf, so I prepared to offer you 250,000 pounds, to, well, make my project a priority.”
Stephen didn’t remember much after shaking Mr. Steele’s hand. He had walked out of the office, past Ginger, who was sitting with her legs crossed in a manner that would have, under normal circumstances, made him uncomfortable, but after hearing the weighty number, had gone unnoticed, past the extremely average beauty manning the outer desk, and onto street. After ten minutes of walking he found himself crossing the Westminster bridge. It wasn’t until he reached the other side that he realized he’d been heading in the wrong direction.
The answers to all of his problems had arrived, on a silver, no make that a platinum, platter, and he felt sick. It was the second time in his life he had signed up to stand against everything he believed in, and he would again need to listen to the disappointed looks of his friends. Maybe he could just avoid them, or get new friends, or start walking in the bus lanes. He imagined the closed casket at the funeral for the guy done in by the double decker. At least, Cindy would be pleased.