FOLLOWING YOUR BRAIN, NOT YOUR HEART.
For Bob Maith, his den was his refuge from the trials and tribulations of a lucrative, challenging career. To an outsider, the den’s ambiance can be mistaken for a coal mine, or the office of a college professor or writer. Little natural light peeked in, but whenever Bob walked in to the den, he felt like he entered heaven.
Sure enough, after returning home following the opening night victory, Bob retreated to the den. When he entered, he removed his aviator glasses and threw them on top of the five by seven-inch cardboard-backed white-sheeted calendar on his two-hundred-year-old wooden desk, and gently absorbed himself into the cushy leather chair behind it. After a deep breath, he began studying the calendar; one of the few in the DRF in which the years are formatted in A.D. dates as opposed to New Genesis dates, and the months and days are formatted in the old American month-date model, adopted in Freedomian cultural lexicon by Francis Stewart, fascinated by his collegiate studies of European culture.
Then, he took a moment to admire his airplane-wing shaped domicile of solitude. He rotated his eyes in all directions to absorb the view of his mancave’s most distinctive features: a rare brown leather cot with built-in muscle massagers, the red, blue, and gold checkered carpets, and especially the bookshelf opposite the desk which contains enough war artifacts, priceless crystals, and hardcover literary classics to fill a museum or library. Then, he admired his most prized possession on the shelf: a laminated copy of a transcript of the Genesis Address, which he purchased at auction for $300,000.00.
Finally, Bob concentrated his attention on the most distinctive pieces of furnishing: the world’s last remaining one-hundred-inch plasma HDTV’s are mounted between two large bookshelf gaps, tuned to either FNN or FNN financial at all times. Then, he booted up his Wakanabe, one of the original models of the world’s first production pixilated-monitor computer. Finally, he leaned back, rubbed his charcoal-black eyes, and opened a bottle of scotch located adjacent to the holo-phone, splashed a small pinch of scotch into an adjacent empty shot glass, and took an elongated sip.
As Bob began tapping on the holographic images before him, the scroll on the left TV screen tuned to FNN flashed: BREAKING NEWS. The tenor voiceover mentioned that Mark Leonard was to have an impromptu exclusive interview with the Ultimate Minister in a few moments. Bob, in a rare departure from his impeccable concentration, peeked up and increased the volume.
Moments later, Mark Leonard and Francis Stewart appeared under bright spotlights in a dark room; seated face-to-face - Leonard on the left, Stewart on the right.
“Your Magnificence,” Leonard began, “thank you for arranging this interview on such short notice, and happy early Remembrance Day.”
“Thank you, Mark, and happy early Remembrance Day to you, too,” Stewart replied, smiling. “I want to make sure I speak now rather than later about the issue I am about to discuss, not only to dispel rumors on the interlink, but to calm any potential fears from the Freedomian people.”
“And I understand you have a prepared statement on your holotab?”
“Indeed, Mark. However, it’s not from me. It is a statement made by New Alaskan President George Fetisov. It reads, and I quote: Early morning Thursday 7 September, at the Royal New Alaskan Laboratory Complex of Greater Portland, a group of highly trained operatives infiltrated the complex, pilfering millions of government documents and microchips containing innumerable quantities of classified information. We believe this may be the work of the Divine Republic of Freedom’s Divine Cloaked Force. I call upon Ultimate Minister Stewart to make a public statement to address this incident, un-quote.”
“How do you respond to these outrageous accusations?”
Stewart rotated to his left to make full eye contact with the camera, and resumed in a firm, authoritative tone: “Number one, President Fetisov’s accusations are baseless and contemptibly false, and number two, the reckless rhetoric and intimidation tactics President Fetisov is displaying toward our great nation and our people will not be tolerated. We will never, as a nation, or as a people, deviate from ‘peace or death’, however, if President Fetisov continues to intimidate us, we must consider non-diplomatic options, up to and including military operations.”
“Your Magnificence, at the risk of offending some viewers, do these military options include armed ground conflict?”
“I pray that doesn’t happen, but if we must, we may have to go that unfathomable route.”
As Bob prepared to sip his scotch, his clasped hand froze mid-lift of his glass as he blankly stared at the screen, attempting to rationalize what he had just seen and heard.
“I’ll be damned,” Bob blurted. He then slanted forward and reached for the holophone, summoning a pixilation of his business partner, Lonnie Carter.
“Lonn,” Bob began, “you watching Leonard?”
“Yes, Bob,” Lonnie drawled in his smooth, jazzy delivery. “Can you imagine if…”
“Not if, Lonn, but when. You know how he operates.”
“How could this affect our Jacobson-Porter merger plans?”
“I still don’t understand your keenness on dealing with them. I, for one, won’t be played for a fool by some rassie businessman that has been cited four times by the Divine Committee of Better Business for fraudulent practices!
“Oh, for Joshua’s sake, Bob!” Lonnie shouted, fidgeting his gold glasses as the last semblance of his razor-thin salt-and-pepper hair stood up atop his round face with white mustache. “Jacobson-Porter’s valuation is nearly $65 billion. If we merge, not only are our families set financially for the next four generations, but we could finally get that penthouse in the Needle, and you won’t have to tend to that ridiculously ugly furniture from a bygone era! Think of all the untapped resource in the Cascades, California…we could build our own one-hundred-fifty floor tower in Seattle! Our resources will triple in less than a year!”
“Lonnie, are you telling me you’re not concerned at all about negotiating with Slava Jacobson? The man’s a borderline criminal! Robert Carter prides itself on upholding a standard of integrity, both in public and in our books!”
“Robert, you need to consider the alternative!”
“At what cost?! Even if we merge, how in the world could we hide from the ensuing PR nightmare? Yes, it’s a lot of money, but I’ll be damned if our reputational risk is destroyed!”
“Leave that to me.”
“So, at the most critical juncture in our history, you’re going to go rogue on me?”
“If you’re going to have a crisis of conscience, fine! But I know you too well, Robert; better than you know yourself! You relish being in your position. Think about the power you’ll have being CEO of the world’s biggest corporation! Your kids won’t need that Everton education when they have more money than God! And don’t insult me with those silly lessons in humility you teach them!”
“Lonnie!” Bob’s tone suddenly rose from gentle to cogent. “I love and respect you, but you know that’s out of bounds!” His wrists tightened as he furiously wagged his finger toward Lonnie’s pixilation. “You know I would do anything for my family! Anything! Don’t condescend to me like that!”
Lonnie’s stern drawl decreased to a growl. “Well, it was such condescension that impressed you enough for you to choose me as your business partner! I get stuff done! I was the brains behind the expansion plan! I influenced your decision to make our call centers fully automated! I convinced you to follow your brain, not your heart! And guess what? You’re following your heart again, Robert! Do I need to help you follow your brain again?”
“I followed my brain when I hired you, Lonn,” Bob replied as he summoned his own sternness. “You’re the best salesman that ever lived; you don’t need to convince me of your persuasive prowess. But don’t let your head get too far up your rear. You still underestimate my cunning abilities.”
“And that’s why I respect you. Your expertise in finance and revenue generation is second-to-none. I couldn’t do this without you.”
“I can’t do this without you, either.”
“That’s my man! So, shall I call that SOB Jacobson and set up the meeting to finalize this thing?”
“After we talk about the PR implications.”
“To hell with that. The PR stuff will be temporary, and people’s phony outrage will die as soon as the next great reality show premieres. We’ll be richer than God, and we maintain the economic imbalance in this country that allows it.”
Bob took a deep sigh, then nodded. “We’ll revisit this tomorrow,” he softly conceded. “I just need you to do me a huge favor.”
“Fire Jerry Larsen tomorrow.”
“Our PR director?”
“Yeah. I like Jerry, I really do, but he’s too conscientious. He won’t stand for our decision. He won’t be a good puppet for this situation.”
“Will do, Robert. Jerry has been a good shadow microphone for us for years, but you’re right, for a merger of this magnitude, the press will want answers from us. We can handle BS’ing the media as well as we both sip our scotch!”
Bob raised his scotch glass toward the pixilation and Lonnie did the same. For the first time in their conversation, they both light-heartedly smiled and laughed.