Disclaimers: See Chapter 1.

Chapter 2



Kurt and Heather were a little late for the team meeting the next morning, but never mind--I was there only in body myself, having had the nightmare vividly overnight. Besides, the creative director was in charge of the meeting, which was only about the Rumours account.

The account was Chip's fault. I liked Chip, even though he was Cassie's creature--an account exec on the way up--and even though he looked like a country-club edition of Aryan Youth, but I had grave doubts about his client list. He still had the frat-boy habit of doing anything on a dare, which was why we were stuck with this new client of his: a disco-trash nightclub with an interesting reputation.

I didn't like clients with interesting reputations, especially not at that hour of the morning. So I lasered the guilty party over the rim of my coffee mug while the creative director called the meeting to order, after a fashion.

"...look forward to these meetings all week," Jack was saying, "because this team is so twisted. I often wonder what you people do when you're alone."

"Shhhh," Heather told him, mock-horrified. "If you make us tell, Dev'll make us put it in an ad."

I lasered her, too.

Jack laughed. "Looks like she's in a mood--the Danger is rising. Guess we'd better get on with it. What've we got today?"

"Rumours," Kurt said.

"Rumours." Jack shook his head. "God. You people had better be as good as you think you are. Who wants to start?"

Kurt did; what else was new? He gave us a good five minutes on some lame Village People concept, heavy on the concept. Heather rolled her eyes. Troy, our art director, drew a mushroom cloud on his notepad.

"I hate it," Jack said. "What else?"

Heather tried her luck with something else out of retro hell. Troy drew a dripping knife. Kurt made little bomb noises.

"Jesus. You slackers wouldn't think the '70s were so damn cute if you'd been there." Jack leaned back in his chair and winked at me--a try at generational bonding, I supposed, but I was having none of it. "Up to you now, Dev. What've you got? Anything?"

I told him I'd get back to him.

"Nothing? Not even another bad idea?"

"Give me a little time, Jack. I've been wrapping up the radio for Club West all week."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Sex is sex. What's the difference between that client and this one? Just that Club West leaves the lights on. You can't be blocked on this one. What's the problem?"

"Celibacy," Kurt suggested.

Most days, I would've taken that bait with pleasure--another chance to do a State of the Union. That day, though, I wasn't sure he wasn't right. So I said nothing.

"The assistant creative director in charge of sex," Jack intoned, "is blocked. Heaven help us. She listens to leather and polyester, and she can't even come up with feathers. What do you suppose..."

"Stop trying to yank my chain, Jack," I said. "I just don't have Kurt's range. Homoerotic fantasies are a little out of my line."

"For Rumours, they probably ought to be the whole line," Jack said. "The client's got the rep. We don't have to like it; we just have to make money on it. Who wants to try to reeducate Dev about diversity?"

I told him that Political Correctness was, in my opinion, a capital crime against common sense. I was about to add that his hair plugs were, too, when Troy broke in.

"What if we put Connie the Barbarian on the case?"

"Not even as a joke," I warned him.

No kidding. Connie the Barbarian, who did something or other in the mailroom, made the Chicago Bears' defensive line look sissy. She was big, mean-looking stereotype on the hoof, with a butch-waxed crewcut, and she made all the women at J/J/G very, very nervous. Most of the men, too, for that matter. Down the table, Chip shuddered.

Jack smirked at me, pleased with himself for having gotten something started. "You can't see past the beast to the inner beauty?"

" 'Beauty,' as in 'an unusually attractive warthog'?"

Titters. "She's deep," Heather said, to no one in particular.

"She's right," Jack told me. "That's what I've always liked about you, Dev; you're deep. You're very deep--on the surface. In fact, I daresay you're all surface."

I regarded him in smoldering silence, wondering where I could bury the body.

"Of course," he added, "I mean that as a compliment."

Everyone waited for me to blast him back. For spite, I didn't. Jack thought for a second and then tried a different tack. "Maybe this celibacy thing with her is religious. Maybe the Baptists finally got to her. But maybe we can still save her. In fact, I'll bet we can do this campaign to suck in the pervs and appease the Baptists too. What about this, Dev: dancing transvestites in garter belts and sensible shoes?"

That did it.

"There are limits to everyone's Correctness," I snapped, "and you have just hit my limit, mister. If you want to play to the cheap seats, fine. But some of my best friends..."

Groans went up around the room. Hating myself for having stepped in that one, I made very sure not to look at Troy.

That slip was Kurt's fault. He insisted that Troy was gay because Troy wore a tie to work most days--but then, Kurt didn't own a tie that didn't have cartoon characters on it, so what did he know? Still, he'd planted the bad seed in my mind, and apparently, it had rooted.

How stupid was I that I'd actually listened to Kurt? I liked Troy. I couldn't care less who he slept with, even if it was with another guy...which it probably wasn't, because I'd once caught him making out in a stairwell with a girl from Marketing, but it didn't matter if it was. Furthermore, I really did have gay friends. Not many, because not many men in Meridian were openly gay, but I got along famously with art directors and illustrators and photographers and...

Stupid. Stupid. God, had I ever met a stereotype I didn't like?

"Never mind," I told Jack. "Never mind. I don't care what people do in their private lives, just as long as they don't make me look. But that's just what I'm trying to say about your harebrained idea. Your latest harebrained idea, I mean. I don't see any reason to alienate 90 percent of the market just to..."

"Ninety-seven percent. New study."

"...just to make people look at an ad. Shut up, Kurt."

"We may be on to something here," Jack mused. "Why settle for 97 percent when you can have the whole market? Why not just offend everybody, while we're at it? Remember Blazing Saddles?"

It is impossible to overstate the danger of mentioning certain movies or TV programs around advertising types, most of whom aren't wrapped too tightly to start with. In seconds, everybody else in the room was doing scenes from the movie. Verbatim. In character. Loud.

The meeting was doomed at that point, so I left. Halfway down the hall, I realized that I'd had a splitting headache for a while...and decided to blame Chip for that, too.


When I left the office that night, my head still hurt, probably from battling creative block all day. Jack was right: I couldn't be blocked on this one. So what was the problem?

Burnout, maybe, or the slow return of sanity. If my own ads were starting to make me uncomfortable, maybe it was time to throttle back.

Besides, I'd never asked to be assistant creative director in charge of sex, or anything else; I'd been perfectly happy as a copywriter. But then, a few months ago, I'd had to write "Genesis."

CLIENT: Village Florists

TITLE: "Genesis" (30 seconds)

MUSIC: Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Spring movement

SCENE 1 (6 sec.): Exterior; morning; a garden just being planted. A woman's hand in the foreground, holding a rose plant. The hand fondles the root--slowly, in extreme closeup.

SCENE 2 (6 sec.): Exterior, day: same garden as Scene 1, but with roses starting to bloom. A man's hand appears. The index finger probes a half-opened rose, attempting to open it.

SCENE 3 (6 sec.): Interior, afternoon; a kitchen. A woman's hand places three or four roses in a crystal vase. A man's hand appears, holding a watering can. The hand pours water into the vase. Too much water--the vase overflows.

SCENE 4 (12 sec.): Interior, night; a bedroom. An unmade bed; half-full wineglasses on the night table; man's and woman's shoes next to the bed. Slowly pan in on the rose petals scattered in the sheets.


I hadn't wanted the project; what did I know about this stuff? But Jack insisted, probably because he knew that it would irritate me, so for payback, I wrote the most vulgar script that I could devise. It took all of 10 minutes.

How was I to know that the damn thing would take off the way it did? The local TV stations got so many complaints from the Family Foundation and church groups that we had to pull the spot off broadcast TV. But it was very popular on late-night cable. As a result, the agency started to attract attention--and, more important, clients.

Jenner ordered me to keep up the good work. It was my curse to turn out to have some knack for this sort of thing, so I had no choice, and by the time I finished my first campaign for Club West, he promoted me. I'd been stuck there in management ever since, Peter Principled within an inch of my life. I suspected that Cassie might have had something to do with the promotion--Jack, I knew, had opposed it--but could never prove it. Besides, it was too late now.

Even worse than the promotion, though, was the rep that had come with it. At a party not long after "Genesis" went on the air, Jack and an assistant art director got several drinks for the better and started to speculate about my sex life. Not being stone-cold sober myself, I told them that I was celibate and what they should go off and do to themselves. The word was all over J/J/G the following Monday. Thereafter, hardly a day went by that some twerp didn't challenge my celibacy, verbally or otherwise.

Lately, the subject seemed to be coming up more and more often. It seemed as though I'd had to defend myself at every turn. At the same time, having to think about sex so much at work was starting to carry over into my thinking at home. Which may have been why I'd been drinking a little too much lately, and/or why I was having the dreams.

Who knew, though? Besides, work was the real problem. I was blocked--couldn't come anywhere near a target that I should've been able to bull's-eye in my sleep. That wasn't good. But...

Oh, hell, what difference did it make? It wasn't art; it was only advertising.

I decided to drop all these subjects and worry again in the morning. Meanwhile, I'd go home, soak in a hot bath, have a brandy or two, and then sleep. Dreamlessly, if at all possible. In the morning, I'd call Dr. Shapiro. I'm nervous, Doc. What have you got for nervous?

Xanax, maybe. I could ask her for Xanax. And animal tranquilizers for Kurt.

Kurt. There was a specimen. I wondered what Cracker Jack box his wife had found him in. A creature like that was bound to make a first-class creative director someday.

Come to think of it, though, people said the same thing about me. Now, that really wasn't good.

For relief from the noise of my thoughts, I stuck a Go-Gos cassette into the car's tape deck. I loved the Go-Gos. Sometimes I liked to infuriate Cassie by telling her that "Skidmarks on My Heart" was the greatest pop song ever written.

I fast-forwarded to "Skidmarks" and put the little MG in high gear. That was the closest to happy I'd been all day.

But nothing lasts. A couple of blocks from the office, I glanced into the rear-view mirror--and saw a pair of glittering red eyes right over my shoulder.

I promptly lost control of the car, which swerved on the wet street and went spinning through the intersection. The next thing I knew, the MG was upside down in the hedges outside an office building.

And dammit, my Go-Gos tape was ruined, too.


(c) 1999, ROCFanKat


Continued - Part 3


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