Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the flashing blue of the Jabber message window. I felt—like the cold hand of death grasping your shoulder—rather than saw the dreaded name.
Brett Buttler: Are you there?
Theus Jones: I’m here
Brett Buttler: Did you get my email?
Theus jones: No.
Brett Buttler: I sent it last night at 10.
Theus Jones: I was offline.
Brett Buttler: Offline?
Theus Jones: Did you need something?
Brett Buttler: Read my email. Set up a call for 9:30. Ping me with the call-in info.
Theus Jones: ‘K
Ten minutes later I’d read his emails—the first of which contained few words and little information and the second of which contained many more words and no information—assembled my team: Nigel, Diana, and Barbara the first whom I’d gotten out of bed—and dialed into the conference call where we waited fifteen minutes for Brett to join.
“How can he be late for his own call?” Barbara the first asked. We could hear her fixing herbal tea in the background.
“It’s a power thing.”
“Yeah he probably read about it in The Petty Tyrant’s Guidebook,” she grumbled; we could hear her furiously stirring her tea.
“Brett...has joined the call,” the disembodied English-accented voice announced.
“Tweet! Tweet!” Nigel grumbled.
“Sorry? What was that?” Brett boomed. “Is everyone on?”
“Yes,” I said. Everyone started to say good morning as if to prove they were indeed present. Brett cut them off barking, “Okay! Listen up people! I’m in Washington DC. I’ve been invited to a prospective client meeting with our colleagues in Talent Acquisition and Management. We have a huge communication opportunity. We need to win this one—”
“No,” Nigel mouthed. “He needs to win this one. It’s been six months and he hasn’t sold anything.”
“—I need this team to deliver a solution that will blow them away. The decision makers will be at this afternoon’s meeting. The decision team is led by—.” And here he dropped a name that was one of those names you thought you should recognize but didn’t quite.
“Who?” Diana, the most courageous of us, asked.
“The Vice President’s son,” he snapped exasperated.
The Vice President. A man rumored to have died during the previous administration but whose death did not prevent him and the still-living President from campaigning and winning re-election. Death also did not prevent him from making the occasional appalling statement or sitting on the boards of some of the largest companies in America and making policy decisions in their best interests. And he remained influential enough to get his son appointed to a high visibility position within an obscure governmental agency. Just imagine the damage he could have wrought if he still walked among the living.
“The opportunity is around recruiting but I want to provide them with an electronic communication solution. I’m scheduled to meet with them today at 12:30.”
“Today, at 12:30? But that’s three hours from now.” Barbara the first, the very voice of reason pointed out.
“How are we supposed to come up with a solution in less than three hours?” I asked, even though I should have known better.
“I don’t know! And I don’t care but you are the solutions guy so I will expect you and this team to figure this out. You have your team now get to work. Diana, I’ll need you to come up with two design concepts—they should be edgy and sophisticated and of course adaptable to electronic media. Nigel, you’ll act as Theus’ deputy doing whatever he needs you to. Barbara?”
“Yes?” she said softly, while her Harvard degree fairly shouted: “Go away! You have no power here.”
“Um,” Brett began, sounding less cocky, almost unsure of himself. “I’m…I’m not sure we need you right now. Maybe later. After we win this.”
“Okay.” And she promptly dropped off the call.
“Barbara...has left the call,” the same disembodied English-accented voice informed us.
“Diana I will email you my PowerPoint presentation—I’ll need you to create a couple of slides on the solution that I can speak to. Theus ping me in an hour with a status report. Ciao. Ciao.”
“Tweet. Tweet,” Nigel chirruped softly, but louder than the first time, a sure sign he was stressed.
“So let me get this straight,” Diana began. “You want me—”
“—Not me. Brett—”
“—Okay. Brett wants me to come up with a design concept for a solution you haven’t created yet, for a client I haven’t met who works for an organization no one understands. Is that correct?”
“That’s impossible,” she spat making me jump.
“Nothing is impossible,” I said.
Diana glared at me.
“Theus is right,” Nigel murmured. We both turned to look at him. “Look,” he continued in his usual near whisper, “Brett isn’t interested in what’s possible he just wants us to deliver…something spectacular.”
“But that’s impossible.”
“No, it’s not,” I insisted. “Just stop thinking in terms of possibility.”
“Suspend reason,” Nigel said. “Look we have a dead vice president who campaigned and won re-election even after he had gone quite cold. Do you think that would have happened if the administration allowed reason to enter into their thought process?”
“Nigel has a point—” I began.
“Besides, remember our mantra,” Nigel continued picking up steam. He began to whisper it and we joined in on cue:
“We the willing, led by the unknowing are attempting to do the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
“So what have you got?” Diana asked me.
“Okay soooo…we have a mysterious agency that needs to recruit employees and Brett wants an all-
Nigel whistled. “Can we really do that?”
I shrugged. “Okay, let’s get started. I’ll call our IT guys and the games guy. Nige, I’ll need you to work on pricing. Call our video guy and tell him what we have in mind. Diana, you work on your concept and get your pricing to Nigel. Okay. Anything else?”
Nigel looked embarrassed.
“Look, I was really hoping to leave at noon today. I found a perfect Chanel suit on eBay and it’s being delivered today. I can’t wait to see it on Crystal. I know the other girls will be jealous so I’ll have to change their clothes as well and maybe do their hair...”
I could sense him drifting away. “Okay, you can still do that. This is due at twelve-thirty. Let’s regroup at noon and then you can leave right after.”
Diana had done it. Rather than fight our lack of knowledge or invent information, she’d simply chosen to embrace the unknown and build a concept around “Do you have what it takes to do what we do?” The whole concept played off the mysterious nature of the agency and made much of the “IT” factor—that certain indefinable something, that je ne sais quoi one needed to be considered for the agency.
“I like it,” I said. I turned to Nigel. “So what does pricing look like?”
Nigel slid an excel spreadsheet towards me. Highlighted at the bottom was a sizable amount. Looking over my shoulder, Diana whistled. “Does that include The Brett Factor?”
Because Brett operated as a government agency—inefficient, vague, slightly hysterical and with a complete disregard for budget—The Brett Factor had been created to try to predict the inevitable cost overruns associated with Brett. It was a simple mathematical formula under which you multiplied the cost of any project involving Brett by The Brett Factor which was equal to the number 1.6. The factor was based on “Toiletgate,” the scandal in which it was widely reported that the Department of Defense had paid $640 for a toilet seat. To arrive at The Brett Factor, we took the amount the DOD had paid for the toilet seat in question and divided it by the cost of a high priced Toto toilet seat at The Home Depot, thus arriving at a factor equal to 1.6.
“Okay,” Diana said briskly, “I’ll send this off to Brett.”
“Wait.” I said. “What if we can’t actually execute on this?”
“Now? Now, you ask this?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Nigel said.
What? Of course, it matters.”
“No. It doesn’t,” he insisted. “Look, it’s not like they’re going to buy this.”
“Nigel’s right,” Diana ever-practical said. “This solution is too out there, too cutting edge. Don’t get me wrong—it’s brilliant, but it’s something that would attract all kinds of attention and the last thing this agency wants is to get noticed.”
“So you’re saying we go with it?”
They both nodded.
Theus Jones: I just emailed the presentation with speaker notes explaining the solution, and the design concept and price quote to you.
Brett Buttler: Thank you.
One of the admin assistants had stopped at Nigel’s cell and was staring intently at a large framed photo. “Hi,” I said.
“Hey!” She jumped. “Who are all those women with Nigel? What is he? A pimp?”
“Look, again,” I suggested.
She peered closer. “They’re…mannequins?”
She whistled. “Weird.”
“I meant weird that he would have that photo here.”
“Why? You have pictures of your ten cats.”
“Yeah, but they’re my family.”
“Well, maybe they’re his family.”
She looked at me oddly for a moment, shrugged and then walked off. I perched on the edge of Nigel’s desk and held the photo in my hands staring at it for a long time.
Nigel Gale @Mannequin Man
depression, failure, an unexpected undertow drawing me away. my girls grab hold, sensing my inability to save myself, they will save me
Missed Episode 11, Bats? Read it here.
Read the entire series from the beginning here.
Next Episode Wednesday, August 17.
Read the entire series from the beginning here.
Next Episode Wednesday, August 17.
Copyright © 2016 Larry Benjamin
D I S C L A I M E R
The characters and events described in this blog post exist only in its pages and the author's imagination.