The sky was drab and uncomfortable. The wind was unfurling low grey clouds, but at least it had stopped raining. The ‘Old Man’ looked out the window. Miramar seemed an eternity away, like a silent movie. He remembered walking hand in hand with Petra along the Ophir Chasma canyon with her two, wet, insufferable, little dogs yapping at his heels.
Movies dominated the landscape. They were everywhere, hiding behind sofas, ready to pounce on his unsuspecting good nature. They had taken their toll. It now looked like a mistake, an error of judgement, but it was all so long ago. The Old Man could barely remember where it had all come from.
“Sir! It’s Flores.”
The Old Man looked up to see Carl standing with a phone perched perilously on the end of his fingers. He took the phone with less assurance than he might have imagined.
“Flores? Speak to me.” The Old Man remembered James Brown dancing in the church from the Blues Brothers and shifted gear like the old ‘Caddie’, while dredging the shallow recesses of pertitude beckoning to find the will to go on.
Seeing there was no more he could do, Carl left his boss and shut the door behind him. He looked upon the ‘Office’ dwellers with derision and scorn, or was that Fear and Loathing? He couldn’t remember. ‘Shit flows downhill,’ he thought as he walked back to his desk.
Carl had no control as to what was about to happen, so he went back to what he could influence. No matter what, pending the current conversation the Old Man was having with ‘pretty boy’ Flores, there were still lives to organise.
Carl shut the door to his compartment to not only keep the noise out but also to gather himself. The days were merging into one. He couldn’t remember the last time he left for the Office from home, but he wasn’t the only one. Most of his section had bunkered down in the serviced apartments across the street. He now knew the names of his housekeeper, the concierge, and even the guy who refilled the mini-bar.
Carl looked at the files on his desk. They were teetering on mutiny. It was late in the day and he doubted he had the energy to organise them. Would the Old Man let them all go early? What was the problem that had surfaced about an hour ago? It seemed serious enough to get Flores out of bed, for where else would the gigolo be? Carl was, at least, happy. Flores was still on location and not here flouting his good fortune and waxy, sun-tanned frame.
Flores emerged before any of this had been an issue. His speciality was networking, which meant getting the appropriate people in the same room to negotiate deals that kept the juggernaut afloat. Flores’ expertise remained uncapped and was beyond the reach of most mortals. He had a direct line to the ‘big guy’ which kept him aloof from the machinations that drove each movie on.
Flores had survived many ordeals, not least of which was a very public and humiliating sex change. Karen, as she was known then, had worked the Office corridors almost unnoticed until a tumultuous event changed her life forever. Karen was given the task of securing a shopping centre tall enough to be used as a location for Herbie Rides Again. As shooting for the film commenced, Portia asked Karen to escort her to a costume fitting for the cast. When Stefanie Powers arrived dressed in her flight attendant outfit Karen fell hopelessly in love. Years of torment followed as her unrequited love tore the Romance out of her heart forever. As a Last Resort Karen was convinced her only option to woo the former cheerleader was to become male, but it was all to no avail as the young ‘Stef’ had fallen madly in love with Bobby Darin on the set of If A Man Answers, and that, as they say in the classics, was that! Flores, as he was then known, accepted the change and the heartbreak with much aplomb, but it took some time to adjust to being mistaken for Ken Berry.
Flores and Carl had crossed swords before. Each time the shiny one had remained unscathed. The cost of keeping him and his cohorts afloat was at times outrageous, but as he continued to deliver the goods, the end of his tenure became less and less a possibility.
Carl, like so many others, would never forget the conversation that had cemented Flores’ reputation, bordering on immortality. Life of Brian had been a fiasco. Flores had flown in from Tunisia the day after filming had finished. No one knew it then, but it was the last time Flores was ever seen in the Office. They were all sitting in the Schlesinger Suite, when Flores breezed in and, without batting an eyelid, announced,
“It would have been a whole lot easier if you hadn’t killed your son all those years ago!”
The temperature in the room went cold as the atmosphere was sucked out by a collective gasp, leaving a vacuum of infinite possibilities as to where the conversation might go.
Seconds passed as slowly as the Old Man would allow. Everyone waited to see what his reaction would be. Carl remembered not being able to look at anyone. The Old Man’s response was just as unpredictable,
“Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Carl didn’t have time to ruminate over past events. He had to be prepared for whatever was going to happen. Questions appeared like cracks of thunder. Would he be sent somewhere? Was any of it his fault? How long would he have to wait?
Carl’s headset rang. He didn’t want to speak to anyone as he looked at the flashing green code on the portable narrow digital display; C15H15N2CON. There were two missed calls below the flashing symbols. Carl knew who it was. Normally he would have rushed to hear her voice, but even the prospect of talking to his living, breathing fantasy was kept at arm’s length by the fear of the unknown which had crept in and sat on the red sofa across from his desk.
Carl knew she would have him on speaker. In his eyes, Portia was perfection, in fact, beyond perfection. She was the only one, to his knowledge, who had been too savvy to succumb to Flores’ blatant posturing.
Portia’s reputation remained intact, as far as Carl was concerned, which enabled her to scale the dizzy heights of his imagination. Portia was a star in ascension to the glory of eternity. Carl finally answered the phone, like Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential,
“Carl, what’s going on? Have you heard anything? I’ve been told to put the shoot on hold.”
“Why would I be calling you if I was kidding?” Carl couldn’t determine any other reason so he didn’t rush into responding.
“What are you going to do?” Portia’s tone of voice told him there was more to this. Carl’s main task was to hold the Office in check. With the Old Man not divulging anything, and with his dream-girl on tenterhooks, Carl could not see the ocean for the waves.
“I don’t need to remind you how long this has taken to organise.”
“Yep, I mean no.” Carl wondered, ‘how long it had been.’ He looked pensive, unsure of what to say next.
“Portia, I will call you as soon as I know something.”
After the call was disconnected, Carl looked for a sign that normality would reveal itself. Everyone in the Office was immersed in their hand-held tablets. There was little conversation, but an avalanche of activity pervaded the serenity. The occasional extemporaneous parlance broke the monotony.
“Have you seen this?”
Carl looked in the direction of Ablus Fortune who held his iLap tablet up to him. A news headline in regard to Smiling Buddha’s new album launch was being interrupted by a series of online updates that streamed down the page. Each update made the screen flicker and freeze. Eventually the article relaxed, allowing both of them to read it.
The talented but highly excitable movie director, Terry Gilliam, was reported missing. His L.A. residence was being searched by the authorities, but they were finding it difficult because of a recent music video shoot conducted on the premises. His girlfriend of two weeks was distraught, and was being counselled by several media outlets on how best to survive the ordeal. Apparently, lots of money for her story had been prescribed.
‘Tezza’ was last seen leaving the Altes Museum in Berlin while researching his latest project, the film adaptation of the novel Gravity’s Rainbow. Abbie Cornish, Nikki Visser, Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp, Richard E. Grant and Mark Rylance were already on their way to Brussels to start filming.
The reclusive but highly sought after director had failed to show up to an actor’s walk through in London. At first it was assumed he was resting up in St Lucia with the screenplay writers Quentin Tarantino and Peter Greenaway, going through last minute script changes.
Although so far denied by executive producers, Harvey Weinstein and David Gilmour, there were reports that production costs had already passed the hundred million dollar mark.
“What do you think?” Ablus asked. Carl looked blank, blanker than the tablet in front of them. Ablus Fortune, or the awakened one, as he was known around the Office, was an Angel of sorts with the freedom to transverse the Office and the world at large. More than an archangel, he was deemed a prophet and a sage long before the Old Man had been forced to enlist the assistance of Angels as messengers.
Carl had to find something to hang onto. Portia wouldn’t wait for too much longer and he hadn’t heard anything from Flores, so Carl decided to take matters into his own hands.
The Old Man once said, “When in doubt form a committee.” So that’s what Carl did. A meeting was called and Carl worked through the night. As the list for each entourage arrived, the message queues grew bigger and so did the headaches.
Holed up in his apartment, Carl chocked the door open with a folded magazine he had been reading. The lead article described the apparent suicide of his favourite actress Savannah, who had allegedly shot herself in a car somewhere high in the Hollywood hills.
People came and went with such ferocious regularity that Carl didn’t at first hear Portia’s call. It wasn’t until the valet drew his attention to her face on the screen that Carl turned the volume down on the radio, halfway through the song MmmBop.
“Who was that?” Portia asked.
“Mmm, what do you call them? You know, room service.”
“I didn’t realise your staffing budget had been cut as well. Anyway, what do you have for me?”
“Not much I’m afraid. I guess we will have to wait till morning. Have you any idea how the Old Man is going to deal with this?”
“In the normal way; get everybody together, delegate tasks, hand out impossible deadlines, and piss everyone off.”
Carl luxuriated in the sound of her golden tone. He loved the way Portia spoke, diluting everything down to its essence; but as he reminded himself, that’s what Angels did.
“So you’ll be there?”
They went over the agenda, again and again, double-checking details; all the while, Portia business-like, unflappable, serene and underplayed, while Carl fretted nervously, anxious and soaring in that realm where nothing makes sense as emotions run roughshod throughout the asylum.
After Portia disconnected the video link, Carl looked at his surroundings. The colours were drab; lots of browns, some green, and a bit of glass to break the insinuation of being in someone’s waiting room.
An ironing board was in permanent position in the kitchen and had become a sort of side-table. Carl hated ironing, but when forced to do so, stood at attention to watch the occupants in the neighbouring building.
The serviced apartments were directly opposite a building which had only a narrow gap between. A group of men worked in pods below and across from the level Carl’s apartment was on. They were young, often up as early as he was. They looked stern, almost uncompromising, in the morning, but by lunchtime had softened a bit, showing signs of not working so hard.
To the left, across from his room, was an office which contained a woman who worked late into the night. Carl observed she liked Thai take away, drank lots of Evian water and looked like she owned a Bugatti. The woman often kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her legs when reading documents. Once she had seen him, so he had quickly looked down at his ironing in an attempt to appear invisible.
Carl looked into those other worlds with voyeuristic intent. He searched for something more than was apparent. He wanted to be like Portia who perceived what he couldn’t, as Carl was a two dimensional screen; and that realisation pitted him to the core. For the truth was, he could never be like her.
Carl had a lot to do before the meeting so food was not a consideration. Instead he listened to the radio, sent emails, and filed notes about likely consequences to the budget and timeline if shooting on this project didn’t begin soon.
Carl daydreamed about Portia and the many tales that followed her whenever she walked into a room. Portia had been a part of the Office for as long as anyone could remember. She was perhaps a workaholic and had a reputation for being difficult to deal with, but not so with Carl. He, of course, was completely besotted with her physically, so any abrasive qualities were quickly smoothed over in favour of seeing her in the best light possible.
Portia was not tall, but in proportion. She had an almond-shaped face, blonde hair, brown eyes, and a serious but delightful walk. Carl loved the way she walked. Her gait was swift, no nonsense and robust. But what truly took his breath away was that smile. It wasn’t seen a lot, but when it was, it lit up the entire Office.
Carl was driven by external forces and, had an eye for detail and routine. He had noticed on quite a few occasions that Portia embarked upon fitness regimes which entitled her to wear tight-fitting track suit pants and halter neck tops. One day, Carl found her in the lift alone, sweating and breathing hard. After she walked out, the smell that remained sent Carl into rapture; a mixture of perfume, wet grass, and sweat.
Of course these were all minor details, and subject to emotional responses on a hormonal level. Portia could have been the Devil incarnate and Carl wouldn’t have minded, but what couldn’t be denied was her powerful position in the scheme of things.
Portia was, in many ways, the focal point of the Office. The first one the Old Man went to when he required temperate thinking or a scholarly analysis of the precedents that she possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of.
Portia and Flores had often argued and remonstrated over particular points of view, but Portia was, by nature, circumspect in her guidance. So, more often than not, the Old Man summoned her counsel and then instigated the most appropriate course of action.
One of the most famous examples of Portia’s resilience was in regard to the release of Citizen Kane. The film required an enormous amount of preparation from all those involved and so soon after the invention of movies. Portia had to harness all her resources to stop the Old Man going for broke too soon.
Portia was instrumental in summoning all the Angels at the time to convince the Old Man to allow silent movies to develop and create a following with audiences before embarking on making ‘talkies’.
This annoyed the Old Man no end, as in his words, “They were all so bloody stupid, especially that Chaplin idiot,” whom he despised. And as for Laurel and Hardy, well, as legend would have it, Portia had to physically restrain the Old Man from tearing a cloud apart after he saw their early work. The only one he liked from that era was Buster Keaton, who reminded the Old Man of himself with his dead-pan delivery and remarkable acrobatic skill.
It seemed like an eternity before Portia was allowed to unleash Orson Welles to wield his particular brand of chaos around Hollywood. Of course what made it worse was Flores, who sat on the sidelines egging the Old Man on with unhelpful barbs such as, “Forget 39 Steps just get to ‘Kane’ straight away.”
After the release of Citizen Kane, Orson refused to do anything decent again, even with the promise of riches beyond anyone’s imagination. The Nashua ads were the Old Man’s last attempt at appeasing him, something Portia was less than proud of, especially when no one got the gag about ‘copying’.
Portia however, had ruffled feathers along the way. Singing in the Rain, the Old Man’s favourite film of all time, was supposed to come out a lot sooner, but was beset with problems. Portia worked the Angels ragged to ensure total support for the production, as it was so universally hated in the Office at the time. It wasn’t until she agreed to lobby for the Wizard of Oz that the mood in the Office returned to normal.