The Gate Keeper: Chapter 11 (In which people get drunk)
by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…
The spirit of a recently deceased copywriter invades Friday afternoon drinks, creating a dangerous frisson, while the intern discovers the power of her second personality…
Chapter 11: In which people get drunk
The TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande bar had a reputation for getting a little mean. Mostly it was a social place, but Fridays were different, and it was commonly recognised mythology within the agency that roughly once a month, on a Friday, in an eerily lunar fashion, the whole place would go mal.
Some called it the blood letting. Others were too freaked to speak of it out loud at all, but everyone knew its name deep down, one way or another.
It was on one of these lunar Fridays that Vati ended up buried in Phil’s shocked arms – and as a result she took the next three off completely, citing family commitments. Now, however, with the moon full in the Jozi sky, she had not only had her internship extended but had also shot to the top of the agency’s entire strat team. Thus, at 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon in late August, Vatiswa slammed another tequila down her throat and burped theatrically. The crowd roared in appreciation.
TBWSJWBN was home to several terminal drunks, a healthy scattering of coke heads and party pill poppers, a similarly sized contingent of prescription abusers and, in the lower levels, a veritable army of smokers. It was, in other words, no different to any other agency.
There had, however, also been the recent demise of copywriter Jeff Hacket. He died alone in his flat, drowned in his own vomit. Jeff had steadily lost his grip over a period of years, and eventually ended up sleeping under his desk at night, before being asked by management if he would like telecommute and come into the office only when strictly necessary. He died, the police report said, with his Macbook at his side, halfway through a surprisingly coherent advertorial piece for a high end furniture brand.
Jeff Hacket’s recent passing added a harder edge than normal to the lunar madness. Yes, there was laughter and the usual sexual frisson, but it was hardly what an impartial observer would have called light hearted. Jeff’s tortured spirit pervaded the TBWSJWBN sub text, his benign, self depreciating smile hung, an invisible ghost, above the bar.
Vati was only partially aware of any of this, and frankly Jeff’s tragic story wasn’t anywhere near her primary concern. She was much more interested in the ulterior personality she appeared to have had in her possession all along, without ever knowing it. She had grown up a good girl in a Christian home, and had acted accordingly through her young adult life. It was only after she arrived at TBWSJWBN that she would have even considered drinking before the sun went down. But as she discovered the option of the post lunch dop, she also found her usual persona packing its bags and heading home in self defence, replaced by an entirely more interesting and forceful presence: Vati Mach II. It was, she decided, Vati Mach II that had jumped all over poor good looking Phil the graphic designer the last time.
Now, as she headed for the balcony for a smoke (another surprising addition to her new lifestyle) his clammy hand once again gripping hers, she decided that she needed to give more credence to her second identity. It was, after all, the route through which she had finally discovered that Phil the graphic designer was also Phil the thoughtful-and-actually-not-too-shabby-poet. Vati had always had a thing for poets. Not the rappers and rhymers. The shy ones. The potential geniuses trapped in the broom cupboards of fate. She allowed herself a whimsical thought or two around posthumous literary awards as she cupped a hand over the flame proffered by Phil, which needed a surprising amount of protection from the winds of Jan Smuts avenue.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, Mama E was getting down. It had been many years since she had truly felt the beat, and although the traditional Friday afternoon DJ tussle had resulted in tunes of a slightly dubious quality, she had a wide enough range of stimulants inside of her to begin considering a little climbing of tables. The only thing holding her back was the continual quiet observation of Tim Broadbent, who’s eye followed her around the room like a laser.
Tim, for his part, was deep in conversation with a cluster of long timers. It was all elevated eyebrows and big sighs and alternating articulations of why advertising needed to seriously reconsider its role in the wider economy. He drank his third G&T in large swallows, too fast, he knew, but there was something odd driving him tonight, and as much as he was a little repelled by the scenes of indulgence unfolding around him, he really didn’t want to go home to the wife he still loved very much. Which would have all been well and good were his peripheral vision not being continually haunted by flash images and, yes, appallingly, eye contact, with Melinda Ensworthy who, despite her enormous girth and very advanced age, appeared to have snorted the entire GDP of Columbia since lunch time.
It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon at TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande and, despite the company’s considerable financial worries, the ship sailed on.