Authors: B. David Warner
Tags: #mystery, #action thriller, #advertising, #political intrigue
"And you found out..."
"When Adams broke the news at lunch. Just ten
of us there. He wanted to keep the whole damn thing secret. We
talked him out of that. But he didn't want to make the speech. I
I nodded. It reminded me of the old Cadillac
ad: The Penalty of Leadership.
"As I said downstairs, Darcy, I have great
confidence in you and your team."
I swallowed hard. "Thanks, Ken. You can count
"One thing." Cunningham took a breath. "Baron
Nichols' group will take a shot at it along with yours."
"Nichols? Ken, if you don't think..."
Cunningham held up a hand. "Believe me Darcy,
it's not any lack of confidence in your team."
"Politics. Nichols demanded to be included.
Any other time, I'd have told him to shove it. But right now,
dissension is the last thing we need. The matter's settled, and
I'll have more to tell all of you at four o'clock.”
I found my creative team waiting in my
office. In the excitement of the announcement, I had nearly
forgotten about the meeting I had scheduled earlier.
Three women and a young man who looked like a
high school senior sat around my glass top table. Matt Riggs, Manny
Rodriguez and a forty-ish man wearing a cowboy hat, boots and jeans
occupied the chairs in front of my desk. From the personnel files,
I guessed the man in cowboy garb as Bob Roy Pickard, a legendary
copywriter from the Lone Star State.
"Sorry I'm late," I said. “This
get-acquainted meeting's going to be short. Our four-o'clock get
together with Cunningham and Higgins doesn't leave much time, so
let’s get started.
"First, my name is Darcy James." Glancing
around the room, my eyes stopped at two of the women seated at the
table: Ginny Stankowski, an extremely talented art director and M.
J. Curtis, an equally gifted copywriter. “Hi, M. J., hello Ginny.
You guys haven't changed a bit in five years...please say I haven't
A ripple of nervous laughter. The group had
been affected by the news they heard downstairs. Who wouldn’t be? I
echoed Cunningham's final words in the lobby, telling the group
that I shared his faith in their ability to create a campaign that
would keep the account at Adams & Benson.
"Now let's get the introductions out of the
way. I met Matt and Manny this morning, and I’ve read your
personnel files. Help me match names with faces."
"Sure," said the attractive African-American
woman sitting with M.J. and Ginny. “Gloria Johnson. Been here about
three years. Came from Campbell-Ewald...I was senior art director
on Chevy mid-size."
"Liked your work there, Gloria," I said.
"Especially that Chevy 'Malibu at Malibu' ad."
"Aw, call her Glo-Jo," drawled the man in the
cowboy hat. “Everybody else does.”
Pickard and Glo-Jo Johnson were one of the
company’s premier writer-art director teams, and by far the most
unlikely. He was a slim, blonde Texan with a slow drawl, she an
outgoing black woman who had grown up on Detroit's west side. They
had experienced a love-hate relationship from the start: Bob Roy
loved Glo-Jo with all his heart; she wanted nothing to do with
But it soon became obvious that their
relationship, while not made in heaven, just might have been
conceived in the advertising hall of fame. Alone, both had been
solid creative talents. Together, much to Glo-Jo's chagrin, they
were dynamite, their work copping awards in virtually every major
“By the way," said the man in the cowboy hat,
"I'm Bob Roy Pickard. I was driving cars before I could write about
"Some people would say that's still true,"
I looked over at the young man at the table
with the three women, the one who looked like he still attended
"Will Parkins," the kid said quickly, sitting
up straight. "Graduated from the school of art at Columbia in June.
And... and I hope to be here a lot longer."
"You will be, Will. Just give us the best you
have, and we'll all be fine.
“It's nearly time to meet with Cunningham and
Higgins. Let's get to the eighth floor conference room and find out
what the hell this is all about."
We drove into Gaylord’s small downtown, its
Main Street lined with brightly painted shops and restaurants. The
day was warm and sunny, people walked the sidewalks in shorts and
short-sleeved shirts. I found it puzzling to see a number of men
walking in groups of four, until Higgins pointed out the popularity
of the area with golfers. A dozen courses lay within a short putt
of downtown Gaylord.
Higgins parked the Avatar AVX on a side
street and we did our shopping quickly, picking up clothes and
food. No one seemed to recognize our faces; something I feared
would change once Detroit papers hit the Northern Michigan
newsstands. The killing of the policeman and our “escape” would
rate front-page coverage, complete with photos of Sean and me.
I kept thinking about the people back at
Adams & Benson: co-workers like Matt Carter, Will Parkins,
M.J., Glo-Jo and Bob Roy. And Manny...poor Manny. Would they trust
we were innocent of murdering that policeman, or would they believe
Bacalla’s story? I remembered what Paul Chapman had said about
Bacalla at lunch that day, how he hardly knew the man even after
working with him for months, and hoped our co-workers were all
giving us the benefit of the doubt.
We left downtown with enough food for ten
days if we ate sparingly, a week if we didn’t. We could stay out of
sight that long at Higgins’ cottage.
But what then?
Monday, Oct. 11 – 3:59 p.m.
Baron Nichols and his group were already in
the conference room, all eight along one side of the long oak
conference table. We took seats on the opposite side. Cunningham
and Higgins hadn’t yet arrived.
The scene reminded me of a seventh grade
dance where the girls huddled together on one side of the room, the
boys on the other. Normally, there would have been conversation, a
bit of light-hearted bantering, but the news of Cato’s death and
the announcement in the lobby created a tension that reached into
the pits of our stomachs. Each person gazed nervously about the
room, trying to avoid the eyes of others.
I didn’t mind the silence. Nichols’ actions
at lunch still galled me. If our groups had to compete, bring it
I found myself daydreaming, gazing out the
expansive floor-to-ceiling window with its view of the downtown
skyline. I pictured King Kong on top of the Penobscot Building,
F-16 fighters circling the building. Instead of Fay Wray or Jessica
Lange, the big ape had Baron Nichols clenched in one gigantic
The vision kept getting better; Mr. Kong was
about to discover how high Nichols would bounce off Woodward Avenue
when Ken Cunningham entered with a well-groomed, sandy-haired man
in his mid-thirties I knew must be Sean Higgins, and an assistant
account executive whose name I learned was Lyle Windemere.
I chalked off Windemere immediately as the
typical young, butt-kissing account assistant. As for Higgins, my
first impression was that he looked a little too carefully groomed
-- an Armani suit that cost two grand if it cost a dime, a crisply
starched white shirt and a hand-made Countess Mara necktie.
Probably the type who visited a barber twice a week.
After introducing me to both men, Cunningham
began. "I see everyone’s here. Let me say that Darren Cato’s death
has certainly come as a shock. He was a fine producer.
“But I’m afraid we have to look beyond his
passing for the moment. Because together, we face a crisis that
threatens not only us, but dozens of our friends. We must create
advertising that will win the business and keep the AVC account at
Adams & Benson.
"Darcy, Baron. I've invited both of your
groups to participate because we need to explore as many options as
we can. You'll work independently and, in the end, just one of your
campaigns will be presented."
"That's fine with us, Ken," Nichols said. "We
welcome the competition.”
Kiss my ass, Nichols. His flaming red hair
had gotten him the nickname “Red Baron,” but “Flaming Ass” seemed
more like it.
Cunningham continued. “We’ve all read about
the industry's attempts to perfect an electric vehicle that's
acceptable to the American driving public.
"Until now the big hurdle has been range. The
American consumer won't accept a car that can't travel farther than
eighty or a hundred miles without recharging.
"Today we learned that, through one of its
subsidiaries, American Vehicle has scored a major breakthrough...a
fuel cell that gives their electric car a range of more than five
hundred miles on a single charge.”
That news bought a round of murmurs from both
creative groups. Cunningham went on. "AVC's engineers say the car
will perform like a conventionally-powered vehicle. Zero to sixty
in the eight to nine second range."
"Why hasn't the press gotten wind of it?"
"AVC has gone to great lengths to keep this
quiet. Not even their people know much about the new vehicle. We do
know the vehicle is a small car. Seats four, max. But AVC isn't
concerned with size...they see the market as singles and young
marrieds without children.
“They want to stress the car’s range, with
quiet performance and inexpensive operation a close second and
“The first production models won't roll off
the line for a month, but they want to break out the advertising
campaign as soon as possible. They know the competition is close to
developing their own long range vehicles, and they want the Ampere
"The Ampere?" This time it was Baron Nichols
asking the question.
Before Cunningham could answer, Windemere
jumped in. "That's the name their marketing people came up with,
Baron," he said. "It did well in focus panels.”
Cunningham shot Windemere a sideways glance.
"Our mission," he continued, "is to develop a full-blown
advertising campaign. I want to show our client comprehensive
layouts, with copy and visuals just as they'll appear in newspapers
and magazines. And I want to present a mocked-up TV commercial on
DVD disc, complete with actor and announcer voices."
Higgins had been leaning back in his chair
watching the reactions of the two creative groups. Now he turned to
Cunningham. "You don't think they can visualize the commercial from
story board images?"
"Those guys are engineers and numbers
crunchers. They couldn't visualize a fart after three helpings of
baked beans. I want to hit them right between the eyes.
"But there's another reason. Time is
critical. The quicker we get them on the air, the better our
chances of getting the business.
"The first prototype Ampere won’t be
available for filming for three weeks. That means the other two
agencies probably won't plan to put them on air for at least a
month and a half. But if we keep our TV ideas simple enough to
produce with computer animation, we can be on air before that.
We've just invested two million in the latest computer animation
equipment. Let's make the most of it."
A few murmurs and groans sounded. The
creative people on both teams were convinced their hands had been
tied. While the writers, art directors and producers at the other
two agencies would have free reign, they were being limited to what
could be generated on computer.
"Look, I know you can do it," Cunningham
said, trotting out the charm that endeared him to A & B
clients. "No cast of thousands. No spectacular panoramic shots.
Just the kind of bright ideas you folks have come up with time and
"When do you present to AVC?" Nichols
"Four weeks from today. Sean Higgins will be
in charge of the project, assisted by Lyle Windemere.” Windemere
beamed at the sound of his name and I suspected he’d be wagging his
tail if he had one.
“We'll be giving you more details on the car
itself,” Cunningham said. “All I can add are my wishes for your
success in creating the campaign that will keep the business here
at A & B.
"Any other questions?"
"Just the obvious," I said. "When do you and
Higgins want to see our ideas in an internal presentation?”
Work on the Ampere campaign began
immediately. With the prospect of a long evening ahead, I decided
to have supper for the group delivered to my office.
The team voted for Chow Ling's Chinese, but
when the eight white paper bags arrived they might as well have
contained Puppy Chow. Slumped in leather chairs and seated around
the glass top table, the group picked at their meals like fussy
They were feeling the weight of a
responsibility none had asked for. Hundreds of A & B employees
and their families depended on the advertising we would create over
the next few weeks.
That cloud might have hung over the group all
evening if it hadn’t been for Lyle Windemere. I hadn’t known
Windemere for more than a few hours, but I had him pretty well
pegged: a self-important junior account executive whose duties
consisted primarily of running errands for Sean Higgins. Red
haired, freckled and fresh out of graduate school, he gave no
outward indication of the slightest ability to rally the troops. In
fact, it seemed a safe bet he couldn’t inspire a group of weight
watching dropouts with a pastry cart packed with cannoli.
Nonetheless suddenly there he stood, ramrod
straight, clearing his throat as if about to deliver the
State-of-the-Union address before Congress.
“First of all,” he began, “let me thank each
of you in advance for your fine efforts. I know you’ll come up with
something Ken, Sean and I will be proud of.”