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Leopold, the Unfriendly Ghost; or Abby Dearest
“I know you. I know who you are and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it can’t be done. You’re thinking it won’t work. I can’t do it. Or, worse yet, you’re thinking it worked once, but not anymore. You’re sitting there thinking tomorrow is not going to be any better than today and you’re thinking it’s only going to get worse.”
“The reason I know you is because I’ve BEEN you. I’ve thought ‘This won’t work’ and ‘I can’t do it’ and ‘This isn’t working anymore.’ I’ve had weeks when I knew it wouldn’t get any better. Jesus, Cusper! Is this really a long form sales pitch?!? It reads like a damn antidepressant advertisement!” Abby Norman, the formerly wealthy Mormon, complained.
“It’s a ‘build’!” I snapped. “We’re taking them over the bridge, from inaction to action. We need to meet them where they are.”
“Then the people we’re meeting are about to kill themselves,” Abby said, tossing the script on my desk.
“That’s why they relate to you! They’ve seen the video. You—filthy, drunk and broke—screaming about being ‘Broke and Broken.’ It resonates,” I argued.
The older man balled his fists and placed them on my desk, “Don’t teach Grandpa to suck lemons! I was pitching from the stage before you were even in knee britches.”
“I never wore knee britches. We wore corduroy and you were working church revivals and minor real estate swindles before I was born!” I countered.
The morning’s rehearsal for the web conference was going well.
“Exactly!” Abby said shamelessly. “That’s why I should do my standard pitch speech.”
“Except,” I said, rising to my feet to meet the taller man eye to eye, “you are no longer a down at the heel, wrong side of the track, found God & Real Estate Investing Wealth Success Poster Boy! You’re the made it, lost your ass, your wife and just about everything else you could lose . . .”
“I’ve retooled for setbacks before!” Abby cut me off.
“And,” I rejoined, “you’ve also lost the rights to use your old pitch speech because it’s part of your old company and is—and I can quote you from the bankruptcy court trustee—part of ‘all intellectual property held by the company currently in receivership.’”
“Meaning?” Abby barked.
“Meaning you’ll have to pay a royalty fee to your old company if you want to use that speech. They own it. They own everything you’ve previously published, recorded, produced. You name it, they own it. So, this has to be new. Brand spanking, no old school rifting, new,” I concluded.
Abby picked up the script, “I know you . . .” he read.
I sat back down and considered my morning’s progress. Abby had, after five attempted read-throughs, not made it past the first page. Gene Jeremiah Fulsome of “Fulsome Documentaries” had spent the morning fiddling with equipment, complaining about budgets, and generally making himself disagreeable to one and all. Then, there was my receptionist, Sheila, who had as yet to grace us with her presence. My nerves were starting to play up, my judgment was in question—and with good reason—and the absence of a cigar from my life for the last four weeks was starting to make its absence felt.
My contemplation of the day’s many victories was interrupted by the door to my office bursting open to reveal a 27-year-old sneer. The sneer, which was appropriately situated on the face of a 27-year-old man, was a familiar one. The narrow frame, blond hair and blue eyes had entered the world with an innate contempt for life and had gravitated to an appropriate career.
“So, you need The Ghost?” the young man said, looking from Abby to me.
“Who the hell is this pipsqueak?” Abby asked, turning from the young man to me with a dirty look.
“Leopold Stauss, let me introduce Abby Norman, The Wealthy Mormon,” I said, rising from my chair and gesturing to the glowering older man.
Leopold gave Abby an appraising look and shifted his attention to me. “So you have a rush job?”
“In a word, yes,” I said, and retrieved a folder from my desk.
“Who the hell is this pipsqueak?!?” Abby repeated.
“He’s a ghost. He’s going to write your books, materials and . . .” I began to explain.
“The hell he is! I write my own books!” Abby growled.
“Peter J. Schwartz,” Leopold said in a clipped tone. “And I am not a ghost. I am ‘The Ghost.’”
Abby’s face went ashen.
“Ghosts keep records, Abby,” I said. “Not only do all the Ghosts know who wrote what for whom. They also keep records of their clients’ proclivities.”
“Pro . . . clivities,” Abby stammered.
“Patterns of speech. Favorite words, central themes . . .” Leopold said.
“Oh,” Abby said, with visible relief.
“. . . and tendencies towards substance abuse, personal behavior, etc.,” Leopold continued.
Abby’s face became a stone mask.
“Peter made some interesting notes regarding you,” Leopold observed. “Seems you like to walk about in boxer shorts with a tumbler of whisky while telling stories.”
“I neve . . .” Abby protested.
“And you are completely useless after lunch,” Leopold sneered.
“You little son of a . . .” Abby began.
“You won’t have to see Abby in his boxers or drunk,” I said, placing a police whistle on my desk.
Abby gave me a defiant glare, but did not resume his commentary.
“I’m pleased to hear it,” Leopold said, ignoring Abby.
“It’s a motivational piece. I’ve pulled some public domain material for you. We need a rebuilding, renewal and succeeding theme,” I said.
Leopold thumbed through the file, took out the USB drive and placed it in his pocket.
“Usual suspects?” he asked.
“Yes, Acres of Diamonds, PT Barnum, etc.,” I answered.
“When do you need it by?”
“I need all three by Friday,” I said, and reached into my desk to retrieve another envelope.
“The motivational quotes will take about three hours,” he said. “’The Triumphant Return’ will take about half a day.”
“. . . and the workbook with hyperlinks and video file anchors?” I asked.
“Should have the whole thing wrapped up by late Thursday. Are we doing ‘actual redemption,’ or ‘it ain’t nothing till you call it?’” Leopold asked, taking the envelope of money.
“I was thinking we would go with ‘you’re not down and out, until you stay down and out,’” I suggested.
“OK, so ‘it ain’t nothing till you call it,’” Leopold concluded.
“I don’t want this little pipsqueak shooting off his mouth that he wrote my stuff,” Abby grumbled.
“Guild members do not disclose their clients’ information outside the guild,” Leopold said, stiffly. “And we specifically demand confidentiality so our names are never associated with the doggerel we’re required to produce.”
“Doggerel?!?” Abby said, outraged.
“Doggerel,” Leopold said, unperturbed. “We take the profound insignificance and pomposity of our clients and elevate it to tolerable prose. For a price, we make you relevant, relatable and marketable. But the product is, without exception, doggerel.”
There was, in that unrelenting sneer and cold blue eyes, an unanswerable argument, and Abby remained silent.
“Thursday,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back to its primary objectives.
“Thursday,” Leopold agreed, and returned to the doorway.
There he paused, turned and stared at Abby. “Mr. Norman, mediocre minds stand on the shoulders of great authors to achieve acclaim in this lifetime and a minor form of immortality. Our mutual silence as to authorship is part of that covenant. So, rest assured, your secrets are safe with me.”
Leopold shut the door behind him.
“Can we trust him?” Abby asked, when he was certain Leopold was gone.
“He’s a professional.” I said, adding, “I trust him more than I trust anyone else directly involved in this project.”
Abby considered this, missed or ignored the intended slight, and concluded, “Fine.”
Then he resumed learning the long-sale script.
Taking the opportunity to escape Abby’s company, I decided to engage in another unprofitable enterprise. I set out to find Sheila.
Arriving at the reception area, I found Gene Fulsome attempting to be engaging and witty with a young woman behind the desk. His efforts were entirely unsuccessful, as was my search for Sheila.
“Hi, Gadget,” I greeted the young woman with multiple tattoos, numerous facial piercings and alarmingly bright pink and blue hair.
“Hi, Cusper,” she said, not looking up from the computers she was installing.
“Where do we stand?” I asked, scanning the area for any sign of Sheila.
“As I was telling Jim here,” she began.
“Gene,” Gene mumbled.
“I’m wiring in the two towers,” she said, ignoring the correction and continuing her work. “I’ll run a line into your office and put the studio tower and a null terminal in there. With the service you have, we shouldn’t have any problem with bandwidth for running the seminar.”
“And the website?” I asked, still wondering about the whereabouts of Sheila.
“I’ve put up an outline on the server and have it set for private. Once we’re ready, I’ll migrate content from your current server and then tweak it,” Gadget said, standing up to look at the monitor.
“What about the shopping cart and the credit card processing?” I asked.
The young woman looked at me the way the young tech-savvy always look at their elders, with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Your server has a shopping cart system as part of your basic hosting. The merchants’ account is already in place. I ran some test transactions this morning.”
“Perfect. What do you need us to do?” I asked.
“Aside from giving me some content, video and linking information for your primary marketing feeds?” Gadget asked, shooting me a look of impatience.
“Yes,” I answered, knowing that we were well behind schedule in providing her with any of these things.
“. . . just stay out of my way,” she said, and dropped back down behind the desk to work on the towers.
“Can do. One thing, though,” I said.
“Abby’s in my office.”
“So?” she grunted as she moved a cable about beneath the desk.
“I just thought you should know, before you go in there to wire up the studio.”
“I can handle myself,” she said, not stopping her work.
“Yes. I know this. I was thinking more about Abby. I wouldn’t want to have to take him to the hospital this evening.”
“Oh. Well then you better get him out of there. I have to get this done by 8.”
“You have plans for this evening?” Gene asked, crestfallen.
“Roller derby,” Gadget said.
“You’re going to watch it?” Gene asked, perplexed.
“No,” I corrected him. “She’s on a squad.”
“I’m jammer,” Gadget explained.
Gene, who clearly knew nothing about roller derby, or the positions, tried to think of something witty to say, but managed only, “Um.”
“Why don’t you come along?” she said. “Bring your camera. It should be a good one. It’s a grudge match.”
“Um,” Gene continued his engaging banter.
I decided to rescue him. “Gene, have you seen Sheila?”
“Um,” Gene said, not to be drawn off his current course.
“Just tell her yes,” I whispered.
“Um, yes. I’d like to go,” Gene said, finally.
“Great,” Gadget said, not looking up from her work.
“Gene, if you could come with me?” I motioned him out to the front door.
“Um,” he continued, as we stepped out onto the front sidewalk.
I looked at the younger man, and it was clear he was smitten. He was sweating profusely, he had been fiddling with his comb-over, which now comprised a series of damp and matted strands stuck at odd angles atop his thinning pate. But the real tell was that unfocused, gormless look one normally associates with a badly concussed rugby player.
“She likes you,” I said, trying to revive Gene from his stupor.
“Sh . . . she does?”
“You still have all your teeth,” I noted.
The observation appeared to demand his full concentration, so I was a bit sharp when I followed up with, “Have you seen Sheila?”
“Um” he said; then, “What?”
“Sheila. Young lady, utterly useless, rarely present and, when she is, frequently unpleasant?” I said slowly, annunciating.
“Um . . .” he began again, but at last found the thread of the new conversation. “She was here for a few minutes.”
“OK,” I said, relieved to find that her commitment to her nominal employment remained consistent.
“She was going to Clearwater for the day,” Gene offered.
“So, she isn’t feeling well,” I concluded.
“When she is sick on Fridays, she usually has to go to Siesta Key for therapy at a local beach bar. So, if she’s going all the way to Clearwater, she must be at death’s door,” I said
“I don’t think she’s sick. She said her boyfriend had signed her up for a bikini contest.” Gene said.
“I’m sure her father will be so proud,” I muttered.
“What?” Gene asked.
“Nothing. Just observing how Sheila is upholding the highest standards of professionalism.”
I considered my options for a moment. “Gene, I’m going to need you to run an errand for me.”
“But . . .” he began to complain.
“It’s in your own best interest that you not be hanging around mooning at Gadget. Not only will it get on her nerves . . .” I said.
“Um,” he interrupted.
“. . . but you’ll also run out of conversation,” I concluded. “So, I’m going to have you run Abby over to an interview.”
“Um,” Gene continued.
“Also, you might want to stick with that line of conversation this evening. It seems to work for you,” I said, getting out my cellphone and wandering across the parking lot.
I dialed a number I knew well. The phone rang three times, there was a click, and the phone went dead. I dialed again. This time the phone rang four times and it was answered. “Blake Morgan.”
“Hey, Blake. I was giving you a call when the phone went dead,” I started.
“Yes, I know. I hung up on you. What do you want, Cusper?” Blake said tersely.
“Now is that any way to treat the guy who’s delivering you the interview you’ve been so desperately wanting?” I asked, not at all surprised to find he was dodging my calls.
“What interview would that be?” Blake said, without enthusiasm.
“Abby Norman,” I said, with enthusiasm.
“The drunken derelict you’ve been dragging from television to radio station up and down the Gulf Coast?” Blake asked. I could hear him scribbling notes.
“The man who’s taking the economic down turn and making it the greatest single opportunity the average individual American has ever had!” I said, quoting a line from ad copy I’d drafted earlier that morning.
“Funny. I show him down for a Federal grand jury indictment by next week,” Blake said, as a matter of fact.
“Blake, you have your wires crossed. He’s scheduled to testify at that Grand Jury against the CEO who embezzled millions from the company,” I countered.
“I’ll check my wires if you check yours,” he snapped back. “I have it on good authority that the CEO was picked up in Finland and is being extradited. His attorney here in the States is already cutting a deal with the federal prosecutor to turn state’s evidence and take a two-year trip to Club Fed.”
Not good news. Not entirely unexpected. But not good news.
“Blake, when are you planning to run with the story about the CEO?” I asked.
“Tomorrow, once I confirm my sources. Why?” Blake asked.
“If I give you an on the record, no holds barred interview with Abby, will you hold it until Friday’s edition?” I asked.
“I’m not the only one working this, Cusper. Tampa has Derrick on it,” Blake explained.
“Yes, but Derrick doesn’t have a brother in the Federal prosecutor’s office, and the Grand Jury hearing isn’t until next week,” I said.
“OK. No holds barred,” Blake said.
“One thing, though,” I said.
“I hear a hold being barred.”
“Don’t mention the CEO arrest. I doubt Abby could keep it under his hat,” I said.
“And you can?” Blake asked with disbelief.
“Absolutely. I have several thousand reasons to keep it to myself until it’s published,” I said.
“Fine. When do you want to do this?” he asked.
“In half an hour. He’ll meet you over at the Ringling Museum. You can do the interview in front of Ca’ d’ Zan Mansion,” I suggested.
“Why there?” Blake asked.
“Natural bridge. John Ringling built his mansion, museum and a large part of Sarasota; then lost everything in the Florida real estate market crash and the rest in the stock market crash. Now, not quite 90 years later, with Florida starting its slow crawl back from another real estate crater, Abby Norman is going to show how he intends to rebuild the fortunes of millions of Americans wiped out by the crashes,” I said, framing the PR package.
“. . . while I ask him about fraud, tax evasion, off shore accounts and . . .” Blake began.
“Mix it up a bit. He’ll stay for the whole interview if you go back and forth,” I cut him off.
“You know you’re setting your boy up,” Blake said.
“What’s it to you?” I retorted.
“Nothing, but if I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying to spike your own client,” Blake said.
“Blake, you’re a tough interview. If he can’t survive you, then he isn’t ready for prime time. Just promise me the item won’t run until Friday,” I said.
“Heck, it may not make it until Sunday. I might be able to get a full page on this if it all works out,” Blake said.
“Fine. He’ll be there in half an hour,” I said, and ended the conversation.
With Gene and Abby dispatched and Sheila wandering around in a bikini somewhere in Clearwater, I left a key with Gadget and went home to work. At about four o’clock, Blake called me to let me know he’d finished up with Abby.
“Very personable,” he began.
“Stayed for the entire interview, did he?” I asked.
“Sure. I played it back and forth. He was very open about everything,” Blake said.
“So why are you calling me?” I asked, knowing that reporters rarely take calls from, much less call back promoters.
“Because I want to know what your angle is,” Blake said.
“My angle is to launch a new beginning,” I answered.
“Bullshit. I’ve got enough right now from primary sources and your boy to do a hit piece that he’ll be reading from a federal lock-up. What’re you holding back?” Blake demanded.
“My eternal optimism in the redemptive capacity of humanity through good works,” I said. “Blake, I’ve got to bounce. I have another call coming in.”
“Cusper, if you’re screwing me . . .” Blake began.
“Hugs and kisses, Blake,” I said, then took the other call. “What’s up, Gadget?”
“Cusper, where are you?” she asked, clearly agitated.
“I had to run out to get some parts. I locked up your office before I left,” she said in a rush.
“I came back. The place was locked up. Everything was fine in reception. So I went to your office to run the lines for the studio in . . .” she trailed off.
“Somebody’s trashed your office, Cusper,” she said.
# # #
Text Copyright 2013 Cusper Lynn
Text Copyright 2013 Hellbent Press
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