Hollywood.bomb, Chapter 7

Table of Contents


Chapter 7

The next several days, Stephen, Ricky, and David tried to make sense of an ongoing stream of ideas from Brad and Robert while Kelvin worked with the engineering team to design an infrastructure that could support a large web site with a little bit of extra capacity left over.

"We don’t need much," noted Craig one afternoon, "just enough to put up a proof-of-concept demo. If we get some customers, we’ll buy our own servers and build the full-scale application on them. Just leave us a corner of the room, so to speak, and we’ll make do."

"How big of a corner do you need?" asked Kelvin.

"Only about 20% of the capacity. We don’t want to be greedy. And whatever you do, make sure that no one can find it unless we tell them where to look! We don’t want Brad stumbling across this thing and stealing it again."

As the week went on, they settled into a rhythm of sorts: breakfast at the hotel, coffee at Starbucks, and then an hour or two of reading email, planning for their meetings, and chatting while they waited for Brad to drag in. Then Stephen and the designers would enter their own private Wonderland, where a never-ending stream of garbled references and conflicting suggestions washed over them continuously from Brad and the big screen on the wall.

"It has to be sexy and hip, like Studio 54 meets Boogie Nights, only without any obvious schlong references," said Brad. He paused, chewing meditatively on an Alka-Seltzer tablet. "We could always work those into the background design if we wanted to, though, right?"

"It has to say, ‘I’ve arrived,’ like Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, or Bette Davis in that one with the close-ups," countered Robert, "Sunset Strip! That one!"

"Do you mean Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard?" asked Stephen.

"Don’t get lost in the details, son! Think big picture here, big picture!" said the big picture that was Robert.

Some times, David tried to gain some control over the meetings.

"OK, I think I have enough sense of the feel you are going for," he said tiredly about two hours into one meeting, "let’s talk about the look. What colors do you want to use?"

"Bright colors! It has to be bright and lively! We don’t want people to get depressed thinking about how slim their chances are of winning anything," said Brad.

"On the other hand, we want to be taken seriously. If the site looks like someone threw up Life Savers all over the screen, we’re not going to get the funding we need from the studios," said Robert.

"So bright, but not like candy vomit," sighed David, rubbing his temples. "Well, that gives me a range in which to work. Do you have any more thoughts on the color palette?"

"No green," said Robert. "I hate green. Makes me look jaundiced."

David gave a small whimper and laid his head down on his folded arms. "No green," was his muffled reply.

Dan "facilitated" every design session, which meant that he counted to make sure that everyone was in the room, handed out copies of a meeting agenda -- which looked suspiciously like the same document with the date changed every time -- called the meeting to order, and sat down opposite Stephen. In their second meeting, he had tried calling on each person in the room when it was their turn to speak, but he had quickly fallen behind the rapid-fire exchange between Brad and Robert to the point that he was simply yelling out names at random. After his request for people to raise their hands before speaking was ignored, he sat down and pouted throughout the rest of the meeting. From then on, he just fell asleep five minutes after the meeting started and woke with a "Good meeting, everyone!" when everyone rose to leave. Stephen tried to get him to go and help the technical team instead, but he declined the offer.

"They told me that you needed me more, since they’re just getting all geeky with their system architecture diagrams. I want to be here to help you flush out the details, find the synergies, and create an actionable top-down plan!” Dan flushed slightly. “Besides, they locked the door."

Timothy attended every one of these sessions as well, though he never spoke. He sat in his corner, as far away from everyone as he could get, sketching on his pad and humming to himself. Since agreeing to compose the company theme song, Timothy had music on his mind. What had started with occasional snatches of potential tunes had evolved into a constant state of mind, a seeking after the perfect musical accompaniment to every activity. Now he traveled with his own personal soundtrack, which he hummed or whistled continuously at a barely audible level so that, like Timothy himself, it impinged on one’s awareness slightly but couldn’t be ignored once you were aware of it. After long periods of exposure, Stephen often found himself unconsciously nodding or tapping his pen in time.

Timothy claimed that he was working on the site theme song during each design session, but every once in a while he would look up at Brad as though sighting him for a rendering, and then begin scribbling furiously on his pad. At those times, Stephen would have sworn that the tune Timothy hummed was "Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead."

***

After the third design session, Stephen stayed behind in the conference room and asked Robert to call him so that they could talk.

"No, this is fine, kid. We’re already online, and it takes me about twenty minutes to switch all this stuff over so I can use the headset for the phone. Plus, I like being able to see if anyone comes in. Take no prisoners, take no chances, you know what I mean?" He gave Stephen a monolithic wink from the screen.

"Um, I suppose so," replied Stephen. "Hopefully, this won’t take too long, anyway. I just need to get a sense of the business drivers for this project. What’s the potential market size, what’s our budget, when do we need to go live, things like that. Do you have a copy of the business plan somewhere that you could send me?"

"Business plan?" Robert asked. At least, Stephen thought that was what he said. It was difficult to hear clearly over the alarm bells ringing in his head.

"Yes, the plan that you showed to investors to get them to give you their money. It would say why this was a good idea and how you planned to make a profit. Ideally, it would also tell me how much we have to spend. Do you have something like that?"

"A business plan," Robert repeated slowly. "What an interesting idea! No, we don’t have anything like that. That’s not how things are done out here in LA, kid. Out here, we live on ideas. You can sell a movie in ten minutes with nothing more than a cocktail napkin. And if the pitch is hot enough, the napkin doesn’t even have to have anything on it! Those numbers and schedules are fine for the bean-counters, but the movers, the shakers, the idea men, they look for that diamond in the rough and they grab it before someone else trips over it. Let the accountants figure out the details; our job is to make this chicken fly!"

Stephen tried to recalibrate his approach. "OK, so we can leave the schedule for now and figure it out later. Should I talk to your accountant to find out what the budget is, then?"

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"We haven’t hired one yet. It’s on the list, though."

"You have a list of things to do? Could I see that? It would be a start, at least."

"Well, it’s not really a physical list. More of a metaphysical one, really."

"A metaphysical to-do list?"

"Sure! Find enlightenment, lose 30 pounds, hire an accountant. It’s all up here." Robert tapped his temple, sending a booming through the speakers that rattled the pens on the conference table.

"I’ll need to find some way to get it out of there if I’m going to help you launch this site, and this company, to the world," said Stephen, catching his pen as it bounced off the table.

"All in good time, my boy, all in good time. I’ll try to send you something next week. Meanwhile, don’t forget what I said about Brad. Keep him happy."

***

Kelvin was having a grand time working with the CouldBU engineers. The challenge of building a hidden business application right next to a public entertainment web site was greater than building the entertainment site alone, and the ethical issues were far less interesting than the technical ones. They all convened in Craig’s office as soon as the ADD team arrived each morning and didn’t come out except for meal and bathroom breaks. Soon, all four of Craig’s walls, which were floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, were covered with network diagrams, mock data structures, and scribbled notations. Stephen had rarely seen Kelvin happier.

David and Ricky were another story. Every afternoon, they attempted to interpret what they had heard into drawings, storyboards, and prototypes. Shut into an office together, they brainstormed, sketched, discarded, argued, and started all over again. No convention of scriptural scholars could have matched these discussions for passion or obscurity of material. While the debate was not unusual, the volume and intensity of it was. Whenever their discussions finally reached a Talmudic impasse, they called Stephen in as the tiebreaker.

"When Robert said that the home page had to be as smooth and charming as Cary Grant in Charade, I assumed he meant that blue should dominate," David began.

"I agree with Brad, though," countered Ricky, "Marky-Mark was much better in that role in the remake, The Trouble with Charlie. So clearly, we want to have a strong geometric design to the page. I’m thinking diamonds." Here, he held up a sketch showing a sample home page with an argyle pattern in the background. The page was dominated by a large sketch of a man who appeared to be leaning against the edge of the screen, hands in his pockets, shirt untucked. Squiggles representing text were scattered about the page around the man’s outline, including between his legs and in the crooks of his elbows.

"Who’s the guy?" asked Stephen.

"Whoever they get to be their spokesperson. I’m thinking Matt Damon, to bring out that whole overnight success factor. It doesn’t really matter right now, though: look at the diamonds!"

"Can’t you compromise and use blue diamonds?"

David and Ricky stared at Stephen incredulously, then burst into laughter. "And that is why you are a project manager and not a designer," laughed David, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. "Blue diamonds! Why not green clovers and purple horseshoes as well? Hee hee hee!"

Chagrined, Stephen turned to leave. "I don’t know why you keep asking me in here if you’re just going to laugh at all of my suggestions. I’ll leave it at this for now: if it comes down to Brad’s suggestion or Robert’s, take Robert’s; but be prepared to explain to Brad how you worked his suggestion in at the subliminal level. He seems to think that works. Heck, on him it probably would."

David sobered and said, "Thank you for your help, Stephen. You are right, and I am sorry we laughed. Your suggestion for handling conflicting direction makes good sense. We will have something ready to present to the client before the end of the week."

Mollified slightly, Stephen left, closing the door as he went so that the debates would not bother anyone else. As he walked down the hall, sounds of laughter broke out anew behind him.

***

Outside of his referee/comic relief duties, Stephen had little to do in the afternoons. He had tried attending some of the technical design sessions, but felt the atmosphere cool noticeably when he walked into the room. Whether this was because his presence was a constant reminder of what they were supposed to be working on or whether engineers just naturally distrusted anyone who couldn’t code, he decided to occupy himself elsewhere. Kelvin seemed to be building a rapport with the other engineers, and Stephen didn’t want to jeopardize that relationship by hanging around. He tried to find other things to do, but it was too early to start working on schedules and he wasn’t ready to risk another meeting with Brad and Robert to try to extract more details on the business plan just yet. So he spent the afternoons just trying to dodge Dan.

It all started at lunch on Tuesday. After a grueling session of mixed metaphors and mangled movie references, Stephen wanted nothing more than to sit quietly and eat his tofu. Timothy had even made a concession to the non-Kabbalah eaters by ordering some bread to go with the rest of the lunch, so Stephen was looking forward to seeing if peanut tofu tasted any better inside a sandwich (it didn’t). As he worked his way down the table filling up his plate, Dan sidled in beside him.

"Hey, Stefferoo, how’s tricks?" His chipper voice intruded upon Stephen’s contemplation of the steamed eggplant tray.

"It’s Stephen, Dan, remember? Just Stephen, with a ‘vuh’ sound." Stephen finally selected one slab of eggplant that looked less slimy than the others and moved on to the salad. Chipotle ranch dressing today, yum.

"Right, sorry, Stever. Listen, I thought maybe we could talk, consultant to consultant, and figure out how to divvy up this assignment. I mean, I don’t want to go around pissing on desks to mark my territory or anything, but since I was here first I might be able to give you the lay of the land. I want to partner with you, not be a threat to you."

Stephen dropped a clump of mixed field greens on his plate and looked coolly at Dan. "I don’t see you as a threat, Dan."

Dan was almost comically relieved. "Good, that’s good! I mean, there’s enough here for everybody, right? And we’re professionals, you and I. We know how these gigs work. We’ll just bucket the work, get the blocking and tackling out of the way, and knock this baby out of the park! The important thing is that everyone’s playing off the same sheet of music. Net-net, everyone wins."

I wonder if he even understands himself, Stephen thought, trying hard not to roll his eyes. "That’s fine, Dan. You just keep working on… whatever you do, and we’ll keep plugging away on our end. Sound like a plan?"

"That’s a great thumbnail sketch, but I think we need to put some more meat on it, you know what I mean?"

Hardly. "Well, we’re pretty booked with the design and technical meetings while we’re out here. What did you have in mind?"

"Believe me, I know! I’m in all of them, too. I think we just need a couple of high-level project strategy meetings, where you and I can hammer out the details of how we plan to co-manage this engagement. I’ll be glad to scribe and give you a break after all of those other meetings. We just need an action plan before you guys take off again."

Stephen could tell there was no escape, so he surrendered. "OK, fine. Let’s play it by ear as the week goes on, OK? I’m sure I’ll have some free time."

Since that day, he had desperately tried not to have any free time. Unfortunately, Dan seemed to have a sixth sense for idling, appearing at Stephen’s office door the moment he sat down. Stephen tried locking the door, but that just seemed to encourage Dan all the more. He kept tapping quietly, saying "Stevie, it’s me!" over and over again, as though they had planned a secret rendezvous but Stephen had forgotten to let him in before locking the door. When Stephen finally relented and let him in, he insisted on speaking in hushed tones for as long as they stayed in the office. Stephen had finally taken to wandering the halls when he had free time, checking carefully around each corner before he walked into the open. He was a hunted man.

The most annoying thing about these "confabs," as Dan liked to call them, was not their frequency. Rather, it was the fact that they never actually talked about the work at hand. Dan usually opened their time with some jokes that he had just found on the Internet or some wild urban legend that someone had forwarded to him ("Did you know that a man in New Orleans went home with a strange woman and woke up in a bathtub full of ice with one kidney missing? I tell you, people are crazy."). He then spent the next hour or more relating pieces of his life story, which was frighteningly complicated yet exquisitely uninteresting. Stephen tried hard to look like he was paying attention while he sat there wondering whether he could bludgeon Dan unconscious with his stapler without doing too much damage to the stapler.

As Stephen unwillingly learned, Dan had not been a consultant long. In fact, he was more of an itinerant actor/motivational speaker/entrepreneur who had washed up on the shores of Los Angeles, like so many other Angelinos, when drawn there for a bit part in a movie. Finding that all acting jobs were not as easy to get as the first one, he had started a new career as an e-insurance salesman. His site, CouldBU.com, had sold disaster insurance to a primarily elderly population, with the slogan, "Next Time, It Could Be You." The number of retirees combined with the number of natural disasters in the Los Angeles area had presented a numbers game that he could not lose.

When presented with the opportunity to sell his web domain name to a fledgling entertainment company Dan had reinvented himself again. Rather than just taking a lump sum for his electronic property, he finagled himself a permanent income. After a few days of studying the web sites and other promotional material of the top global consultancies, he put his acting and motivational talents to work and launched on his third (or fifth, depending upon how you counted) career: management consultant.

"So, what exactly do you do for your salary?" Stephen asked late Thursday afternoon, when curiosity finally overcame boredom.

Dan shrugged. "Run meetings, mostly. No one else really likes them, so I just filled the gap."

***

On Friday, the ADD team came in a little earlier than usual. They were leaving that evening to fly back to Boston, but first they needed to present their first visual and technical designs for Brad and Robert’s approval. Greeting the receptionist in her oaken redoubt on the way in the door, they continued through the hallway maze to the set of offices that had been assigned to them for the duration of the project. Stephen sipped his double mocha latte and paused to enjoy the molten chocolate energy pouring into his system, then worried aloud, "I don’t know if we have anything they’re going to like. What if they hate it all and we have to come back next week for more creative meetings?" He shuddered at that thought.

"You sound like my prom dates," said David, and mimicked Stephen in a high falsetto, "‘What if they don’t like what I have to show them?’ I will tell you what I told them: when I am done with you, everyone will love you and want to be just like you, at least to the extent of wanting to be with me. These designs are works of art that will call to the artists that are buried deep, deep within Bradley and Robert. Never fear."

Notwithstanding the comparisons to a nervous girl, Stephen was mildly comforted by this statement. David, for all his eccentricities -- for the presentation today, he was in full artistic regalia: black pants, turtleneck, and beret, with a long white silk scarf and gold-rimmed glasses with no lenses perched on his forehead -- was a skilled designer, and had a knack for penetrating to the heart of what clients wanted to portray to the world. He would come through once again, and then they could all go home to start working on the actual prototypes.

He turned to Kelvin, "How about you? Are your protégés ready to start building whatever it is they’re going to build?"

"They’re already building it, as far as I can tell," said Kelvin. "They’re so nervous about security now that they won’t let me look at any more than snippets of the code, but they’re certainly working at a furious pace. We worked out the basic storage and server capacity requirements for both our site and their demo site, and I have all I need to start the architectural design when we return to Boston. The good news is that I have convinced them to put forth enough effort on our project that we shouldn’t need to add any more engineers to the team. They’ll give us two days a week, and given how quickly they’re picking up the technology, that should result in more production than we planned for before we met them. Of course, that may change if they get anyone interested in their studio portal. If that takes off, we’ll be hard pressed to get anything out of them ourselves."

"It’s better than nothing. I’ll talk to Jack and see if we can have one or two of our own people in the wings, just in case. As far as the presentation today, just keep it at a high level. The engineers already know what you’re doing, and you’ll lose Brad and Robert within about two minutes of talking tech. Just make it clear that it’s under control and give them a sense of what the hardware costs are going to be."

Kelvin was mildly offended. "I have done this before, you know. But point taken: I’ll do my best not to drone on about servers and bandwidth, scintillating though I find it."

At that moment, Connie knocked on the door frame and stuck her head into the office. "Brad’s ready for you."

"Really? It’s barely 8:30. Are you sure it wasn’t someone who just looked like him?"

Connie looked at him oddly, then said, "To be honest, I wondered about the possibility of a body double myself. But I checked his aura, and it’s Brad, if a slightly cleaner version. Come on, they’re all waiting in the small conference room."

Stephen looked at the others, shrugged, and followed Connie down the hallway. David and Ricky gathered their sketches and followed, with Kelvin taking up the rear.

The CBU contingent was already in the room when they arrived, though the video screen was blank. Brad sat at the head of the table as usual, dressed in what, for him, was sober business attire: a cream-colored silk suit over a shiny maroon shirt, with an obviously expensive tie knotted at his throat. As he uncrossed his legs to rise and greet them, Stephen noted that he still wore no socks.

"All right, we’re all here," Brad said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together, "Show us what you’ve got."

"Um, aren’t we going to wait for Robert?" asked Stephen, nodding his head at the video screen.

"He had something come up and won’t be able to join us today. I’ll review the designs and tell him what I think when we catch up. You can leave copies with us to look at later, right?"

"We certainly can, but should we consider rescheduling this for when you both can attend? Is Robert busy all day? Our flight doesn’t leave until late this afternoon." Stephen paused, thinking furiously. He wasn’t entirely comfortable without someone around who could keep a leash on Brad, and he didn’t think any of the CBU engineers was up to the task. "I just want to make sure that both of you get to see what we have done with your suggestions, since this has been such a… collaborative effort."

Brad flushed. "I can handle this myself, without Robert looking over my shoulder." He turned and glared at the screen briefly before turning back to Stephen, "Go."

David rose and, after looking for and receiving permission from Brad, who moved over to one side, carried an easel to the head of the table. Most visual designers did even their earliest sketches electronically now, presenting them to clients either over the web or with a laptop and projector, but David preferred to work with paper when he was first creating a design. He claimed that the tactile sensations of the pens on the paper, the smell of the ink, and the cleansing sensation of crumpling a failed drawing and hurling it across the room all stimulated him more than the sterile pointing and clicking of electronic drawing. So now, just like the pitch-masters of old, he set a stack of drawings on his easel and began to walk his audience through the story of their product.

"We have discussed many ideas and, er, visual concepts in our meetings over the past week, but the one recurring theme has been a sense of excitement, the willingness to dream big. You are selling dreams to people, dreams of fame, of money, of artistic achievement beyond what they could achieve on their own. We want them -- we need them -- to believe that CouldBU.com is their ticket to realizing those dreams, enough so that they will be willing to spend money to buy a raffle ticket for stardom. We wove these two concepts, excitement and dreams, throughout the visual and informational design of the site, as you can see here…."

This was David in his element, commingling artistry and business reality into an alloy of practical beauty. Now that he had begun, any doubts he may have had about the quality of the creative input or his ability to distill it into a workable design evaporated in the heat of his enthusiasm for the vision. He moved smoothly from page to page, pointing out where he had incorporated a specific piece of advice or explaining why they had made certain design choices, occasionally turning to Ricky for comments on how this design also enhanced the usability of the site. He was fully in command of the room, so Stephen sat back and let the words roll over him as he turned his attention to gauging the reactions of the others.

Timothy was actually paying attention for once, staring raptly and, truth be told, a little enviously at David’s designs as each new drawing was revealed. He had stopped humming, too, which was a welcome break now that Stephen noticed it. Thomas had noticed it too, which was probably easier since he was sitting right next to Timothy, and the tightening around his eyes had eased somewhat. Clearly, the subliminal soundtrack was manifesting itself at home as well.

Craig was listening closely, making notes while David spoke. Stephen couldn’t read the notepad from where he sat, but he assumed that the notes had more to do with how one could apply these design concepts to a business application than with a talent search tool. Craig had been tactful enough not to try to press David into service on his shadow project yet, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to reuse whatever had been done for the official job. He’s a quick study, thought Stephen, too bad he’s not working for us. Greg, sitting next to Craig, just looked bored, waiting for the technical conversation to begin. Across from him, Dan was already snoozing next to Connie, who sat, pen in hand, ready to take notes if anyone decided anything.

Stephen gaze slid around to Brad, who appeared decidedly less impressed than his colleagues. In fact, he looked ready to explode. He sat, red-faced, his hands clenching and relaxing spasmodically, as though he were torn between making a fist and throwing something, but was ready to do either as soon as he made up his mind. He shifted irritably in his chair, tugging at his jacket as David made a point about site structure, and then rolled his eyes at David’s choice of colors for the menu.

Finally, he could take it no more and sprang to his feet. He pounded the table with a fist, shouting, "No, no, no! You have it all wrong! This isn’t anything like what I asked for! Have you even been listening to me for the past four days? I mean, where do you come up with this crap? This might fly in French Canada, but it just sucks here in the US of A." He grabbed a handful of sketches and flung them across the room, nearly inflicting a lethal collection of paper cuts on Thomas and Timothy, who ducked beneath the table to dodge the onslaught.

"What are we paying you for? Do you even know how to design anything? This is awful, just awful! I thought you guys were the best, but my retarded kid sister could have come up with something better than this! I have never been insulted with such a collection of stupid drawings in all my life, and you expect me to trust you with my vision, my dream of an open casting call to the world? This is a waste of time. I’m leaving." He stormed out of the room, slamming the door so hard that the bolts holding a picture on the wall next to it pulled out half an inch.

Dan awoke with a start and called out, "Good meeting, everyone!”

The remaining occupants of the conference room sat in stunned silence for several moments. Then the silence was broken by a small hissing sound from the front of the room. David stood ramrod straight, a look if intense pain on his face, his eyes shining strangely. He drew in another hissing breath through clenched teeth and let it out, and then another. At last, he spoke.

"No one has ever spoken to me that way before, or maligned my creations in that manner." He sucked in another breath. "I will not weep. I will not give him the satisfaction."

"You go, gir -- big fella," Greg cheered, changing his supportive statement mid-cheer when he was met by a glare from David. "He’s not worth it."

Timothy had gone back to drawing again. "I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” he put in quietly. “He throws tantrums like this all the time. He probably didn’t mean most of that. Except the part about Canada. He really hates Canada."

David worked to regain his composure. "Oddly, that part bothered me the least, since I am not Canadian. I am Quebecois. I do not appreciate him calling us French Canada, though. That was just rude." He glared at the door.

"You should have seen him last week when then caterer brought the wrong sauce for the tofu," Thomas agreed, "‘I said peanut sauce, not sweet and sour! You don’t deserve to live!’ We took the sauce away from him before he could throw it, because I wanted it for my lunch. He stomped off, but he came back later and ate the sauce anyway."

"So what do we do now," asked Stephen, "wait for him to get hungry?"

Thomas thought about it. "Well, give him time to cool down, anyway. Chasing him down now will just make it worse. You might want to see if you can find Robert, too. He’s usually pretty good at calming Brad down."

Everyone returned to their offices, checking quickly around corners as they walked to make sure they didn’t run into Brad as they went. Stephen led his team back to his office, where everyone slumped dejectedly in chairs or on the floor against the walls.

"Does this mean we have to come back next week?" asked Ricky from the floor. "Because I don’t think I can do it again."

"Not if I can help it," Stephen replied grimly. "Your designs were good, especially when you consider the tripe that they’ve been spewing for the past week. You had me believing that this project could actually be successful for a while there. I’m not ready to let that feeling go yet." He punched the speaker on his phone and dialed Robert’s mobile number. From down the hall, he heard a ringing begin. Moments later, Robert’s voice answered from the hallway, echoing weirdly through the phone with a slight delay.

"Hello? This is Robert."

"Robert? What are you doing -- " Stephen punched the phone off and walked to the doorway. "Robert? What are you doing here? I thought you had something else to do today."

"Hello? Hello? Hmm, must have lost them." Robert flipped his phone closed as he walked into the room. "Something else to do, are you crazy? Why would I miss the culmination of all of our good work together? I decided to make the drive today so I could see your designs in person. Those things don’t read well over video. Didn’t Brad tell you?"

"No, he didn’t. He said that you were busy and that he would talk to you about it later."

"That kid…" Robert leaned out the doorway to the office to see if anyone was in the hallway, and then tapped his skull with a finger. "The kid is a little slow in the head. I think he forgot to wear a hard hat a few too many times when he was playing around Daddy’s construction sites, you know what I mean? So what happened?"

Stephen related the entire morning’s events to Robert, who was mortified but not particularly surprised. When Stephen was done, he apologized, "I’m sorry that you had to go through that, guys. He snaps every once in a while, especially when something’s important to him. He’ll calm down. Just wait: I’ll find him in a little while, he’ll apologize, and everything will be fine. It’s just his artistic temperament."

David snorted. "No, I am an artist. He is a pain in the ass."

Robert shrugged. "Fair enough. Now, how about you show me your designs and then I’ll go find our chief visionary and straighten him out."

Stephen yielded his chair to Robert and David ran through his presentation again there in the office. He began tentatively, but gained confidence as he continued with no signs of another temperamental outburst. When he finished, Robert had a few questions, but otherwise seemed very pleased.

"This is great stuff, great stuff!" he enthused. "I can tell that you really understood what I was going for, but were also able to filter out the" he tilted his head toward the hallway and, presumably, Brad, "useless dreck."

Robert left them then to search for Brad, promising to check in again before he left. He turned right out of the office to make a stop in the restroom on the way, and Stephen and the others went left, heading for Thomas’ office and lunch. They had gone no more than a hundred yards when they saw Brad coming the other way. He had loosened his tie and pushed the sleeves of his suit up to his elbows so that he looked like a Humphrey Bogart stand-in, minus the charm. Too late to go the other way, thought Stephen, and gritted his teeth and kept going. Brad accelerated when he saw them, and for a moment Stephen was afraid that he was going to attempt a flying tackle there in the hallway. He braced himself for the collision, but Brad pulled up short and stuck out his hand.

"Hey, I’m glad I found you. I just wanted to apologize for losing my cool in there earlier. I can be a little over-dramatic sometimes. I thought about it while I was walking around the parking lot cooling off, and I think you guys are on the right track. Keep up the good work, and send me the next round of design sketches when you have them. I look forward to developing this with you; I don’t think anyone could have captured my vision better than you did." He shook Stephen’s hand and then David’s, nodded to Ricky and Kelvin, and continued down the hallway behind them.

Stephen turned to watch him until he disappeared around a corner, not really expecting a sneak attack from behind, but not ready to take the chance either. "I miss Boston," he said. The others nodded their agreement. It was time to go home.


Continue to Chapter 8

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