The Adversary, Part 2: The Proposal

Sam burst in through the fire exit, panting and sweating from the 9-story climb.He paused for a moment in the reception area, trying to blow the tendrils of hair out of his eyes and make his soaking shirt dry by the power of his will. He had a coffee in one hand, a ham-and-egg sandwich in the other, and a hangover that needed both.

Burdened as he was, with his messenger bag slung over his shoulder, coat over his arm, and food in hand, he looked more like a traveling salesman than the boss. He was grateful no one was in the lobby to see him, not even the receptionist.

Where the heck is the receptionist? he thought. Probably taking care of the cupcake people. For whom I am very late.

Every single thing had blocked his progress this morning, from stalled subways to slow herds of tourists to shin splints from dress shoes pounding the concrete. And finally, a line of people 20-deep at the elevator.

So much for the struggling economy, Sam thought. Good, I can ask one of these other thriving companies for a job when I lose this account and my agency goes out of business.

So, the stairs. Sam shouldered his load and cursed this overcrowded city, his the godforsaken advertising industry, and that last whiskey he drank last night, all the way up.

Now that he was here, Sam slunk down the hallway toward his office in the back corner, hoping for a moment to scarf his breakfast before he faced the clients. Then he heard Sarah’s reedy voice calling him from down the hall:

“Sam! There you are!”

Sam winced to be called out. To keep up with the fast-talking head of client services, he was going to need a lot more coffee.

“I’m sorry I’m missing the cupcake people,” he said. “Everything went wrong this morning. But I’ll be there in a second.”

“Forget the cupcakes,” she said. “Today you’re going to be a kingmaker.”

Sarah held up a piece of paper filled with hastily scrawled notes. His eyes scanned the page for key words:

Neck and neck in polls

Future of the world

Utterly destroy

No mercy

Then Sam saw the contact info Sarah had written across the bottom of the page:

Robert—Campaign manager—Ted Fairchild

“Fairchild? That bastard? For real?” Sam asked.

Sarah nodded. “And they need a presentation tomorrow.”

Sam felt a wave of nausea sweep over him—which might have been from the climb or the hangover, but this news wasn’t helping.

“So quick?” Sam asked.

“They want it in hand for Monday’s news cycle.”

“But how the hell did he even hear about Subverge? Most of the stuff we do is so far under the radar…”

“Ted Fairchild is connected up the wazoo,” Sarah said. “Between the congressmen he owns and his billions in defense contracts, I’m pretty sure he can find out about anything he wants.”

“But why us?” Sam said. “We don’t know anything about politics. We do guerrilla tactics for video game startups and specialty pastries.”

“That’s exactly why they called. The campaign manger said that politics isn’t working. The race a lot closer than it should be against an idiot like Sumner, and they can’t figure out how to move the needle. With all the evangelicals and Tea Partiers on his side, Fairchilds’s got a lock on just about half of the pop, but needs to reach across the aisle and make some converts to get over the top. Said they wanted some of our ‘out of the box’ thinking to disrupt the campaign.”

Sam shook his head. “Please tell me he didn’t say ‘out of the box.’ If they’re still talking like that, then he definitely needs us.”

“On the upside, he also said they wanted us to ‘crush Sumner like a bug,’ which is kind of refreshing.” Sarah smiled.

“Yes, I’m sure you’d love to finally stick it to everyone’s precious Mister Sumner. Although that doesn’t sound too godly, for Fairchild being ‘God’s gift to America’ and all,” Sam said. “How many other agencies are they asking?”

“They wouldn’t say,” Sarah said. “But with the deadline so short, there’s no round two to duke it out with another shop. We need to knock their socks off on the first try.”

Sam tried to stay calm, even though he could feel his heart beating through his whole body. “Ok, this is serious. Somebody else can handle the cupcake people. Let’s round up the troops.”

While Sarah zipped down the hall to sound the alarm, Sam ducked into his office to drop off his stuff. He sloughed off the bag and put his breakfast down on the edge of the desk.

From the doorway of his corner office, there were two hallways at right angles. One was a long hallway called the “Creative Corrridor,” which was lined with the offices of the copywriters and art directors who had followed him here from other agencies after he finally decided to strike out on his own. The other hallway led straight back out to the elevators, and out into the anonymous mob of the city.

Sam brushed his hair back with his hands, smoothed out his rumpled clothes, and took a deep breath. In the year since he started this place, it had all been tiny little clients, like the gourmet cupcake shop and occasional drips and drabs as some secondary vendor of the agency of record for bigger brands like Twizzlers. And while they had begun to make a name for themselves, they were still far from making a profit. In fact, no one but Sam, Sarah, and the CFO knew how close they were to closing the doors.

But now this. A presidential race. This could be the big time.

He felt his throat tighten, and he felt like he was starting to float up out of himself a little, the way he did when one of his attacks came on. He tried to keep the terror at bay, but he could feel it in his legs, spurring them to act. He could see himself sprinting down the hallway to the lobby and out of here. He’d never have to look back.

Slow down, he told himself. Breathe. Accept this. You’re good enough. You will do the best you can.  Whatever happens, happens.

He glanced at the ceiling.

And if somebody’s up there, maybe He’ll help.

Then Sam stuck his laptop under his arm, grabbed his breakfast, and marched down the Creative Corridor to the War Room.

There, a rag-tag army of narcissistic, oversensitive, beautiful dreamers-for-hire were gathering at the big table and awaiting his next command.

[More to come! Thanks for reading!]