Authors: Keith Hartman,Eric Dunn
And then it is done. The packet is tied shut, the spell completed. And I am free. I have buried my anger in the spell, and let go of it. I will walk out the door and leave it behind.
Brian, on the other hand, will still have to live with it for a while. The packet contained a spell that would make all his lies transparent to women. That would teach him a lesson. Pity I couldn't stay around to watch the results. I still had to lay the trick-- that is, place the bag where he would walk under it-- but that was a no-brainer. I went to his bedroom, and tossed it up on top of that big canopy over his bed. The spell would last until he found the packet, which I figured would take him at least a couple weeks.
Like I said, pity I couldn't stick around to watch. But it was almost 4 PM, and I had other things to do that day. I packed up my magick kit and my tools and the empty mashed potato bags. And then I grabbed my --now much lighter-- suitcases and walked out the front door of Mr. Davis's home. Pausing just long enough to take off my gloves, I turned and headed down the hall towards the back staircase.
All in all, I'd say he got off pretty easy.
I could hear the shouting before I even got off the elevator. Trenton Reed at full volume. He's a proponent of what I call the "yell" theory of management.
"I DO NOT FUCKING WANT TO HEAR THIS! I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR MORE EXCUSES!"
Watch your step, Natalie. I wet my lips and straightened my skirt, and then started down the corridor towards the post-production room. There were six other offices on this hallway, but I noted that the lights were on in only two. The others were all in various stages of abandonment. Three had been neatly mothballed, with covers put over the desks and furniture. The last was a mess, as if the workers had left hastily, and there had been no one left to tidy up after them.
It's like the final days of a war, when there is no one left to bury the last casualties.
"DID I ASK FOR YOUR OPINION? NO! I ASKED YOU TO FIND THE MONEY AND MAKE IT HAPPEN!"
I reached the end of the corridor and pushed open the double doors to the post-production room of the Baptist News Network. Inside, three of the walls were lined with audio-visual work stations, enough to keep fifteen technicians busy. Currently, only two were working. Attrition had been particularly high in the technical fields, as those with transferable skills jumped ship to other media companies. The fourth wall of the room was devoted to a giant screen monitor, with a conference table in front of it where Stonewall used to hold his brainstorming sessions. The Reverend and former Senator liked to be close to the editing process. He was very particular about the images that went out on his network, and didn't always trust the techies to have his intuitive feel for what would sell to the electorate.
Reed had taken up Stonewall's old posture, leaning over the conference table to yell at one of his subordinates, like some ghostly echo of the old man.
"THAT IS NOT AN OPTION!" he shouted, pounding his fist on the table.
The target of this particular motivational speech was Owen Cantor, the comptroller of Liberty Media, BNN's parent company. Owen was white, college educated, and in that volatile 45-50 age range, when men begin to realize that there are limits on what they will accomplish in their lives. Group behavior is typified by overly conservative decisions in business, as fear of demotion or firing outpaces the lure of possible gains, but by increased risk taking in the personal sphere, as they attempt to get themselves out of a "rut" by way of extreme sports, extramarital affairs, and other social experimentation.
"Trent, you've got to be reasonable," Owen said. "If you'd just..."
"FIND ANOTHER WAY!" Reed shouted.
"Oh, sure. I'll just PULL THE FUCKING MONEY OUT OF MY ASS! IS THAT WHAT YOU HAD IN MIND, TRENT?"
Prior to Stonewall's arrest, Trent Reed had been the BNN's Director of Human Resources, a position once described to me as "the vice president in charge of ass kicking." He was white, college educated, with three children and that ultimate in status symbols among religious conservatives, a wife who could afford to stay home and tend house. He was in the energetic 30-35 age group, when male self-confidence peaks, the group being old enough to think that they understand how the game is played, but still young enough to believe that they will accomplish all their life's dreams. Behavior is typified by moderate risk taking in business, but an emphasis on building stable relationships in their private lives.
"I'VE TOLD YOU WE ARE NOT SELLING THE STUDIO!" he shouted.
"WILL YOU JUST LISTEN, TRENT! FOR ONE MINUTE!" Owen shouted back at him. He took a deep breath. "The Cherokee Tribal Corporation has made a very fair offer for our cable..."
"I WILL NOT DO BUSINESS WITH THOSE GODLESS HEATHEN!"
Reed had been given the unenviable job of trying to keep the network up and running while its owner and star attraction faced trial. No small order. The Baptist News Network had been built on Stonewall's charisma and sharp sense of how to manipulate the public. And now it was Stonewall himself who was tearing the network apart. His brutal murder of a prominent artist, done on the air in front of an audience of millions, was a problem, though probably not an insurmountable one. After all, on a scale of popularity, modern artists rank somewhere between lawyers and telemarketers with the public. However, Stonewall's attempts to murder his own son as well as a black police officer were somewhat harder to put a positive spin on, as was his faking of satanic rituals in order to frighten the electorate into supporting his Christian Alliance Party. And then, of course, there was the fact that he had tossed Justin Weir, an extremely popular Christian rock star, off the top of the Liberty Media building. You just don't come back from a gaffe like that. Pollsters everywhere had been forced to invent new measures of negative public approval.
"THEN JUST WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST WE DO, TRENT?! WE'VE GOT NO AD REVENUE COMING IN, PAY PER VIEW SALES HAVE PRACTICALLY EVAPORATED, AND THE OLD MAN IS DRAINING OFF OUR CASH RESERVES AT AN ALARMING RATE TO COVER HIS LEGAL FEES!"
"STONEWALL SAYS HE'S NOT SELLING, AND THAT'S FINAL!"
"STONEWALL DOESN'T HAVE THAT CHOICE!"
Worse still, the network's biggest advertiser had switched sides. The Christian Alliance, Stonewall's political party, was leading a devastating boycott of BNN and anyone who advertised on it. From a tactical viewpoint, I had to admire the move. It was a clever bit of political jujitsu. In a stroke, the party had distanced itself from the disgraced Senator, and turned him into a frightening new enemy that they could rally the faithful against. And once the boycott succeeded and BNN was in ruins, the Christian Alliance would be able to pick up its studios at fire sale prices.
"STONEWALL BUILT THIS NETWORK!" Reed shouted.
"YEAH, AND NOW HE'S TAKING IT APART!"
"HOW DARE YOU!"
"I'M JUST BEING PRACTICAL! WE CAN SELL NOW, OR WE CAN WAIT A MONTH AND LET THE BANKRUPTCY COURTS DO IT FOR US! THAT'S THE ONLY CHOICE WE'VE GOT!"
Behind the two men, the wall monitor was running a video clip. They must have been discussing it when the fight broke out. The scene was from last night's Crossfire on CNN. Reed had been on it, debating the spokesman for the Christian Alliance, Calvin Walker. As public speakers they were pretty evenly matched. They were both young, both moderately attractive, and they both had that righteous "wrath of God" style, that comes across so well on television. The only difference was that Walker was on the winning side.
"I SAID WE'RE NOT SELLING!" Trent shouted. "ARE YOU LISTENING?"
"YEAH! BUT I'M STILL WAITING FOR YOU TO SAY SOMETHING THAT MAKES A LICK OF SENSE!"
"EXCUSE ME, BUT HAS THERE BEEN A REVOLUTION? CAUSE THE LAST TIME I CHECKED, I WAS IN CHARGE HERE!"
"YES TRENT, YOU ARE IN CHARGE! YOU ARE FUCKING IN CHARGE OF RUNNING THIS COMPANY INTO THE GROUND!"
"ARE YOU YELLING AT ME? ARE YOU FUCKING DARING ME TO FIRE YOU?"
From the sound of it, Reed and Cantor were going to be at it for a while longer. It was the sort of argument that wouldn't be over until one of them collapsed from exhaustion. I sidled over to one of the technicians to see what he was doing.
"How's it coming?" I asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"See for yourself," he said. He punched a button, and ran the clip he was working on.
A dark-skinned woman holds up her hand, and as the camera watches she cuts off the last joint of her index finger with a crude flint knife. Shrieking ecstatically, she places it in a bowl, holding it up as an offering too the sky. From somewhere to the right, a scream. The camera spins and stops on a man in a loin cloth with hooks embedded in his chest. Ropes attached to the hooks tighten, slowly pulling him off the ground. The sound he makes is indescribable. Blood trickles down his chest, and the camera follows it, to where it collects in a pool beneath his feet. A small child squats by the crimson puddle, seemingly at play. He paints lines on his face with the blood, and then looks up at the audience, a terrible, inhuman smile on his face. Then a tag line appears asking,
Is this the future of America's children?
I blinked and caught my breath. I'd forgotten to breathe during the clip.
"Thanks," the techie said. "I'm still trying to get the kid's eyes right. I want a sort of a flat, dead look to them."
He pulled up the child's face and showed me some of the options he'd tried so far.
"I haven't quite gotten it, yet."
"What's the clip for?" I asked. "Something on tonight's news?"
"Nah, it's the trailer for a big special on the Cherokee that's gonna run next week. I told Trent we oughta call it
The Red Menace.
I could see what Trent was up to. Obviously, he'd been reading the data from our audience surveys. The Cherokee issue still had the power to frighten and motivate BNN's viewers, no matter what they thought of Reverend Stonewall.
A few years back, the Cherokee Nation had filed a suit in the world court, demanding that the U.S. Government return the land it had promised them under a 19th century treaty: namely, the northern half of the state of Georgia, as well as a handful of counties in Tennessee and North Carolina. The media had swarmed over the case when it was first announced, broadcasting eye-catching visuals of Cherokee lawyers in war paint, and then dropped it like a rock when the public's attention wandered. After all, no one, not the media pundits nor the diplomats nor the President herself, had figured that the Cherokee had a snowball's chance in Hell of actually winning the case.
It was a mistake that became apparent over the next couple of years.
The case was still winding its way through the World Court, but the Cherokee had three things going for them. First off, their argument had strong technical merits. The U.S. Supreme Court had already upheld the treaty's validity back in the 1800's. (A fact which the President at the time, Andrew Jackson, had simply ignored when he ordered the army to forcibly relocate the entire nation to Oklahoma.) Secondly, the Cherokee had the international backing of China, which after years of listening to American whining about its handling of Tibet, was more than happy to point out a little Yankee hypocrisy. And lastly, there was cash. Cash from casino gambling. And all the lawyers and politicians that cash could buy.