Authors: B. David Warner
Tags: #mystery, #action thriller, #advertising, #political intrigue
As the lights came up I found the men looking
my way, waiting for a reaction.
"We won't be doing commercials like that
while I'm in charge of creative," I said.
"The whole thing was Murphy's idea."
Rodriguez sounded defensive. “He’s AVC's vice president of
advertising. The guy loves to go off on location with a bunch of
"It was embarrassing," Carter said. “They
scrapped the thing after two or three weeks.”
The phone rang. I was closest. "Screening
"Ms. James, is Matt Carter with you?" asked
"There's a policeman in the lobby to see
"There's a cop downstairs for you," I said to
Carter took the receiver. "Put him on, Mary."
Matt listened for a moment. “That’s right. I worked with Vince. On
a number of projects. And I worked with Cato."
Silence again. “You’re welcome to come up to
my office and ask questions. But you might be interested in a DVD
Caponi sent to the agency the night he died. We’re screening it
Carter set the phone in the cradle. “He’s
A few minutes later, the shock that went
through me couldn’t have been worse if I’d touched a live wire.
"Garry!” It felt like someone pushed a
“reverse” button on my life and sent it reeling back five years. In
the doorway to the screening room stood my ex-husband. He still
carried his two hundred pounds well on a six-foot-one frame, but
his hair was short. And that suit. When we married, Garry had been
a narc; his uniform jeans and sweatshirts. He wore earrings and a
ring through an eyebrow.
Known as the best actor on the force, Garry
could talk his way into a crack house and make a buy; the inside
man during a bust. But now the surprise on his face was real.
"Da...Darcy," he stammered. "I thought you
were in Grand Rapids."
"I moved back this week. What are you doing
"Investigating a murder...at least one. Guy
named Vince Caponi. I understand he edited TV commercials for this
company." Regaining his composure, he turned to the three men. "I’m
Sergeant Kaminski. I got questions for Mr. Carter.”
“I’m Matt Carter. What do you mean, at least
“Sorry. I guess you haven’t heard.”
“Heard what?” I asked.
“Darren Cato. He worked here?”
“Yeah. What about him?” Carter asked.
“Sorry to break the news. His girl friend
found him an hour ago. Hanged, in his living room.”
“My god,” I said. “Hanged? Suicide?”
“His girl friend says no, and she’s plenty
emphatic. They had plans for dinner tonight.”
“So, what are you doing about it?” Chapman
“We’re investigating. That’s all I can say.”
Garry turned to Matt Carter. “You said something about a DVD on the
"An AVC commercial Caponi sent to Darren
Cato. They worked on the commercial together months ago." He handed
the note to my ex-husband. “Sounds like he found something on the
Garry scanned the piece of paper. “This
"I've worked with him enough to recognize
"Well, what the hell is with that DVD?"
"Nothing," I said. "We've looked at it half a
"Want to see it?" Carter asked.
"You bet I do." Standing hands on hips, Garry
watched the large screen as Matt pressed the remote to rerun the
commercial. When it finished, Garry spoke: "What's unusual about a
bunch of women on a beach? Why would he bother sending it to
The ringing of the telephone cut off any
attempt at an answer. I reached for it: "James."
"Ms. James, I was hoping I'd find you,” said
the voice. “This is Tricia, Ken Cunningham’s administrative
assistant. Joe Adams and Mr. Cunningham are calling a meeting of
all agency employees. Ken insisted I track you down."
"What's it about?"
"All I know, it's an emergency."
“Where and when?"
"Three o'clock, first floor lobby. Please
pass the word to the others with you."
I looked at my watch. Two fifteen. The reason
for the meeting wouldn't be a mystery long.
Adams & Benson's cylindrical-shaped
"Glass Palace" and adjacent parking lots cover five acres on the
bank of the Detroit River, just east of the Renaissance Center.
The building’s spectacular three-story lobby
brings first-time visitors to their knees. Entering glass doors at
the front of the building, their attention is immediately drawn to
the thirty-foot waterfall at the far south end. The sound of water
crashing into the pool at its base reverberates throughout the
On the second and third floor levels,
glass-walled offices ring the lobby on three sides. A stairway just
inside the front doors runs up ten feet to a round, carpeted
mezzanine area, then twists and continues to the second floor.
Twenty feet in diameter, the mezzanine creates an ideal speaking
platform for an executive addressing a crowd below.
Minutes before three o'clock I stood just
feet from that mezzanine, among a crowd of some five hundred A
& B workers. Speculation buzzed about the reason for the
meeting, but the consensus held it had something to do with the
VanBuhler campaign. The crowd noise subsided as Ken Cunningham, Joe
Adams and A & B board chairman C. J. Rathmore appeared at the
head of the stairway on the second floor. They descended to the
round mezzanine, Cunningham in the lead. Once they reached the
platform, it surprised me to see that neither the chairman nor
president stepped forward to speak. It was Ken Cunningham.
I hadn’t seen Ken in years, but he hadn’t
changed. In a voice as rough as sandpaper, familiar as an old
friend, he began to speak. He started with the announcement of
Darren Cato’s death. A collective gasp came from the crowd, but I
couldn’t help noticing the reactions were more shock than sorrow.
Carter had been right: even a dead Darren Cato didn’t rate much
sympathy from his fellow workers.
After a pause to let the news settle,
Cunningham went on. He spent a few moments directing accolades at
agency employees, telling them what a great job they were all
doing. Then he dropped the bomb.
"This morning the American Vehicle
Corporation informed Joe Adams that after more than ninety years
with Adams & Benson, they’re going to conduct a review of
Another gasp filled the lobby. A review meant
AVC was considering other agencies, and losing the AVC account
would mean a horrendous loss of jobs.
Suddenly landing a position at A & B
didn’t seem so fortunate after all. When an advertising agency
loses a major account, the ax falls. The rule is usually “last in,
first out.” I rubbed the back of my neck.
Looking around, I saw a sea of tight, worried
faces. People stood with arms crossed, brows furrowed. A few women
dabbed at their eyes with tissues.
"The rules of the review are simple,"
Cunningham said. "AVC has a new model they're rushing onto the
market. They've shared their marketing objectives with us, and with
Simpson & Dancer and Chase Hilton, the agencies handling the
other AVC divisions. The company creating what AVC considers the
best campaign will be awarded all AVC advertising in the future.
There will be two losers, and only one winner.
"Sean Higgins and his group will tackle this
project immediately. I hope you'll all have a chance to meet our
new creative supervisor, Darcy James, in the next few days.”
Cunningham smiled and nodded as he looked my way. “Her team of
writers and art directors will spearhead the creative, working
under tight security.”
Cunningham paused and looked around before
continuing. "That's it for now. You'll be kept up to date on
developments as they occur. Sean Higgins and I will meet with Darcy
James’ creative group in the eighth floor conference room at four
Cunningham did an abrupt about face and
walked back up the stairs, followed by the other two men.
As stunned employees returned to their
offices, the lobby emptied like a balloon losing its air.
News of the agency review seemed even more
surprising given the history of the two companies. Adams &
Benson and the American Vehicle Corporation were, as executives of
both companies liked to say, "joined at the hip."
Bicker Adams, a one-time salesman for the
Rembly Motor Car Company, founded the agency. His famous slogan,
"No Car Rides Like a Rembly," carved awareness for the automobile,
and accelerated it past dozens of choices the American public faced
in the mid-twenties.
The agency blossomed in that decade, but like
many companies nearly went out of business in the Thirties.
Expansion came in the Fifties. Adams
Advertising purchased a smaller agency owned by James Benson.
Benson Advertising brought a variety of accounts like Bassline
Fishing Boats and Haraday Inns into the fold.
Changes took place at the Rembly Motor Car
Company, too. Rembly merged with two other manufacturers in the
post-war Forties to become the American Vehicle Corporation.
The following decades saw both companies
prosper, and by the merger-happy Seventies, A & B's
profitability attracted buyout offers from a number of larger
firms. Bicker Adams insisted he would never sell, and he didn't.
His son Joe did, years after his father’s death. The buyer: Solomon
& Solomon, a British holding company. The purchase agreement
stipulated that Joe Adams remain at A & B as president. C. J.
Rathmore, a Solomon & Solomon corporate vp from London, came to
Detroit recently as A & B's chairman of the board.
The trade press blamed the sale on Adams
& Benson’s need for capital to replace the outlandish sum spent
on their magnificent new building. But rumors persisted that Joe
Adams himself had been responsible. His well-known penchant for
gambling rivaled his love for liquor. According to the stories, he
and his friend Niles VanBuhler had combined the two vices during a
whirlwind trip to the Bahamas almost exactly a year ago. The result
for Joe Adams had been an eight million dollar loss at the crap
tables. When Solomon & Solomon appeared with an offer to buy
the agency, their timing appeared perfect. They caught Adams in
desperate need of cash and eager to consummate the deal.
The sale hadn't stopped Adams’ gambling,
especially now that Detroit had casinos of its own. But at least A
& B staffers could stop worrying about their agency changing
hands after every Adams binge.
I returned to my office reeling from
Dropping into the chair behind my desk, I
noticed the light on my phone blinking. It turned out to be a voice
mail message from Jeff Luden, a friend and Vice President at Luden
Freeman Advertising in Chicago. I’d called him weeks ago when I
became restless in Grand Rapids. I didn’t feel like talking to
anyone at the moment, but curiosity got the best of me.
He picked up the phone on the second ring.
“Jeff, Darcy James.”
“Hey, Darcy. Wish I could talk, but I’ve got
a meeting in five minutes. We’re in desperate need of a senior
creative person here. Sorry to be abrupt, but I’ve got to cut to
the chase. What would it take to hire you?”
Right now, not much. But could I really
resign after just one day on the job?
“Look, Darcy, whatever you’re making at A
& B, I know we can go at least twenty K better. Let me
With that he was gone, leaving me staring at
the receiver in my hand. It took a moment to recover and play a
second voice mail message, simple and to the point: Ken Cunningham
wanted to see me in his office immediately.
I found Ken behind an oak desk the size of
Vermont. He stood and walked around the desk as I entered the
I stuck out my hand, which Ken ignored,
grabbing me in a bear hug.
"Darcy. Good to have you back."
The embrace conjured up fond memories. Ken
had been a close friend of the family and a frequent visitor to my
“How’s your father?”
"Dad's fine. You know he remarried."
"Yes, sorry I missed the wedding. Bad timing.
Is he still in Grand Rapids?"
"No. With me gone, he and Melanie -- his new
wife -- didn't need that big house. They bought a condo just
outside the city limits."
Ken stood back and looked me up and down in a
fatherly sort of way. “You’ve certainly grown into a fine young
lady, Darcy. It’s hard to believe you’re the same little girl your
dad used to call ‘Kitten.’”
“He still does.” I laughed. “But at least
he’s shortened it to ‘Kit.’”
"I know your dad’s active as ever in
politics. His name's on the guest list of every fund raiser the
Dems throw. Wish he'd support our guy, VanBuhler, though."
"Afraid that's impossible, Ken. You know
Dad...die-hard Democrat. It would be sacrilege to vote for a third
Cunningham had been active in mainstream
politics as a Republican. As early as high school, he and Dad had
fallen on opposite sides of major issues, and both enjoyed the
debates that ensued. As they grew older, Ken’s resemblance to the
old Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neil became a constant source of
ribbing from my dad.
Ken’s face grew somber. "That announcement
downstairs must have been a hell of a shock, Darcy. Especially
coming on the heels of Darren Cato’s death.”
Ken waited for a reaction. I hadn’t known
Cato, and when I didn’t show one, he went on.
“I want you to know that AVC’s announcement
came as a huge surprise to me as well." He motioned to one of the
four plush leather chairs in front of his desk.
I had never seen Ken so serious. "Bill
Kesler, AVC's Chairman, called Joe Adams this morning. Didn't have
the guts to call me. Anyway, even my contacts at AVC were in the