The Gate Keeper: Chapter 24 (In which the intern contemplates blackmail)
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 intern considers the full ramifications of the Chairman’s criminal intent, while the consultant starts to walk the corridors…
In which the intern contemplates blackmail
Well well well they’ve got old Arthur Harris back in to deal with the Tim Broadbent situation and we have a gossip tsunami on our hands. Arthur Harris is not, um, universally respected after the whole Basket of Boutique services thing. Even the little ones know enough to know that he’s the guy that… well, enough said.
There’s also been talk about him and Nonhlanhla getting a little more friendly than they should, but I’m sure that’s just malicious. In any event, he just scuttled out of here in a hurry – he didn’t even nod on his way out. I wonder what they’ve asked him to do?
Vati was sitting, watching. Despite her new status as agency golden child, she was struggling to find something to actually do. She would have loved to put her new headphones on, but it had been made abundantly clear on arrival at the upper levels that members of the strategy team Did Not Wear Headphones. Especially not green and pink ones. She thumbed through her filo fax speculatively. The pages were empty.
The strat boys had been locked in a meeting room for three days, working on something they refused to talk about. Her Hip Hop and Rural Finance concept had been fed up and down the chain, to the fat ones and the creatives like Simon and Phil. Which left her with nothing to do. She thought (because she had to do something) about the lunch she had shared with Phil and Tim Broadbent.
Once they had got over their collective shock, they all had a surprisingly good time. The biggest surprise of all was Tim’s anti-advertising vehemence, delivered in the form of fatherly advice.
“You had dreams, yes?” He poked a fork in Phil’s general direction. “When you were, let’s say 13 years old?”
Phil nodded carefully, trying not to look too stoned.
“What were they?” Tim waved the fork again.
“Uh, I think. Something naïve. Like being a poet. Or Jim Morrison. Or a poet who looked like Jim Morrison. That sort of thing.”
“You write poetry?” Vati laughed to herself while making a big show of carving up her pasta. There it was, that little un-knowable something in Phil that kept her coming back. Phil the poet.
“Uh, yes.” Phil’s cheeks flushed.
“Was it any good? Is it any good?” Tim Broadbent put his knife and fork down carefully, locked his fingers under his chin and gave Phil an executive level stare.
“Um, I don’t know. I never showed anyone.”
“And that,” Tim Broadbent picked his utensils up dramatically and put them back to work, “is exactly my point. Everyone in advertising arrived on the back of far more important dreams.”
Vati fiddled again in her Filo Fax. The lack of substance in her work was even more disturbing and strange after that lunch. A large part of her was still expecting Tim to retract it all and announce the joke – to call another lunch and offer some wise old man’s career guidance that would give her and Phil insight into how they could progress in the business. To hear a seventy year old veteran of the advertising trenches denounce it all as meaningless and morally dangerous, well… it was difficult. Add to that his impromptu announcement of what sounded distinctly like a blackmail campaign… Vati was starting feel nervous. Not in an abstract sense, but right where it counted. Blackmail. Was she capable of such a thing? Did the rewards really mitigate the risk? Was travelling through India with Phil the graphic designer (and poet) actually going to be better than building an advertising career? Dangerous bubbles gathered in her gut. She leaned back in her chair, checked in both directions to see if she really was alone, and let out a very nervous fart.
Arthur Harris passed the strategy section of the commons fully wrapped in his thoughts. His meeting with Tim Broadbent had confirmed the suspicion raised by Nonhlanhla that the man had gone mad.
As he was debating the magnitude of the decline of a once powerful advertising mind, his olfactory senses took over, and he found himself unable to quell a deeper internal debate around the nature of the smells in TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande since he had last been in the building. Several times during the day, generally when he was close to the bar area, he smelt something distinctly not right. Now, passing the strat section, he smelt something else entirely. He glanced up at the air con, which was humming away, and made an executive decision not to think about smells any more. Sometimes, in the consulting business the true skill was in just carrying on.