Killing the Messenger

Killing the Messenger

by Christopher Wallace

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780956613547
Publisher: Freight Books
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 294
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Christopher Wallace is communications director of a major public sector organization and former managing director of a leading advertising agency employed in successive government advertising campaigns. His first novel, The Pied Piper's Poison, won the Saltire First Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Resurrection Club and The Pirate.

Read an Excerpt

Killing the Messenger


By Christopher Wallace

Freight Books

Copyright © 2015 Christopher Wallace
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9566135-4-7



CHAPTER 1

C DAY MINUS 2 DAYS

Media Suite 1, Central Office of Information Exchange, London


'Do you think he'll be alright?'

The Prime Minister stood over the poor man's inert body, addressing the room but seeking out my reply. I knew the style. I knew he supposed I'd seen this before. I have. He also presumed I gave a shit. I didn't. And that I'd play along with his is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house faux-fretting. I was still deciding. My only interest was in getting my answer. He was only worried about his campaign. The crumpled, unconscious suit at his feet was right in the way for both of us. I made no effort to be convincing.

'Should be fine, I think. A bit stuffy in here.'

Meaning; he won't be fine, not for a long time. This was just the start of it for him. Probably deserved it.

The Prime Minister cradled his head and offered water to his lips. A touching scene. Can't take your eyes off it. Anyone? Silence. Time stood still. Where was my fucking answer?

You know that we are about to hypnotise the entire nation? You're looking at one of the side effects, how many more like him will there be? All kinds of shit about to happen and I can't find anyone who even cares. Do you care, Prime Minister?

So this is how it plays. My final audience with the man in charge.

Kept me waiting, solitary confinement. Half an hour at least. Then voices at the door – the coffee I'd demanded? No, good God, it's Him, the man himself. I straighten out, almost stand to attention. He's almost at me already, a tall man, making long strides, confident strides.

'Cal? You okay?'

Offering his hand. A smile that scans across my face. I'm not meant to notice but I do. I'm meant only to feel its effect as he locks both his eyes to my left then fleets across to my right, a move he's practised to perfection, a move that someone somewhere in his distant past taught him, showing him how to appear interested; looking into me, his audience, looking into my soul. I answer as trained to.

'I'm great, you?'

I say this as I shake the hands of his band of helpers, clocking in particular his private secretary, her and an old friend I've met before: the soon-to-be prone greasy man mumbling out the side of his mouth towards his earpiece, already fixing the Prime Minister's next appointment, nodding to me and pointing to his ear to signal he's otherwise engaged. His name badge says Jason Watson, Special Advisor. He pirouettes and heads toward the back of the room. I hear him saying no, repeatedly and forcefully. Someone at the end of the line is getting a doing. I'm tuning in, intrigued, but the Prime Minister wants my attention.

He looks around, there's no obvious place to sit, he finds this vaguely amusing, and wants us all to relax into the same state of mind. We drift to the front row and I pull down a theatre seat. He sits right next to me, bunched up tight though it clearly doesn't bother him. He takes a breath and fixes his eyes on the podium, begins to speak to it as if I'm still standing there.

'Cal, I wanted to spend a little bit of time catching up, seeing where we've got to with the Campaigns. Do you have everything you need from us to get to where you need to?'

His opener. His scene setter. Telling me why we're here. He's stolen my meeting. Just like they are trying to steal my campaign. Not even launched yet but here I am, an impostor, pretending to be in control when really I have been marginalised into infinity. Paranoid? Not paranoid enough, that's my problem.

'You have an update for me?' He leans encouragingly closer then laughs. 'And of course, something new to pitch?'

Very astute, Prime Minister. Yes, the default reason for my presence is normally to sell: push my agency, broaden the campaign, upscale every last ad and execution. One of the best. Or worst. Look at what I've done to your colleagues after all. But I've met my match in you, haven't I? No, today I want to buy, I'm in the market for reassurance. I've got a screamer of a campaign to show you, it'll change the world, and maybe not all for the better. I'll turn you into a god that most will be happy to worship. That's what our tests prove. But the downside is so steep, Prime Minister. There are those ill-equipped to handle so much abrupt joy in their lives and they're going to be our casualties. Damaged beyond repair.

'Prime Minister, to recap: we are C Day minus two – Prime Minister. Two days until the campaign goes live ... We started out, what seems a long time ago now, on one campaign, the Cohesive Communities brief. It obviously developed into the Together As One concepts we presented originally pre-election, and that then evolved into the Feeling Together campaign once we incorporated the Well-Being brief. Somewhere along the line my agency also began working with The Sea of Tranquillity people, on what was another campaign, positioning them and their relaxation techniques. Since then somehow these tracks have grown closer and closer until they are approaching one and the same thing and it's difficult to separate the original from the Tranquillity Now stuff we've worked up in parallel. I need to know you are aware of and happy with that and the direction this is now going in.'

I hear myself droning on in a language that even I struggle to understand. The Prime Minister is still looking to the podium. I have no way of knowing if he's actually heard or engaged with any of this. Earpiece Jason has heard me though, and he was at the other end of the auditorium. His radar has already picked up that I'm off script and off agenda here. Out of bounds. His call is terminated and he's in hyper-rebuttal mode. Short strides, hurried strides, bring him over, fast.

'Why does it matter if the Prime Minister is aware of what your other clients are up to? You've got your brief; you know what's required, don't you?'

Ouch. I'm absolutely aware I'm being scanned by another set of eyes, this time not peering into my soul to find common ground and an unspoken bond that means I'll give him my vote. Not at all. This time I'm being sized up fast in terms of size and scale of threat. My time is almost up.

'Prime Minister,' I keep my voice as low and calm as I can. 'We're on schedule ... everything is still holding up in the focus groups. In fact ... effectiveness is going ever higher.'

And so I go on, trying to capture his eye, but he's performing now, smiling for a dash of milk and frowning to turn down a fucking biscuit from the enraptured refreshment team. Deflection. How can any of that be more important than what I'm trying to tell him? Prime Minister, we've primed the weapons and it all works like we, like I, told you it would. Now you're throwing this crazy Sea of Tranquillity gang on top of this and all the evidence suggests that it will send it exponential. That's enough to scare me. Prime Minister, can't you see I am scared? Why aren't you stopping this?

'Two campaigns, we are now finalising both. Sometimes they appear part of one and the same complementary thing; sometimes we argue about whether they should be two separate things. The brief, or briefs, aren't clear in that respect.'

The Prime Minister smiles a photocall smile whilst his whole entourage including his Earpiece Man and me, the drowning ad man – waits for his direction, something he's reluctant to give, choosing to play for time instead.

'Well Cal, you do have something to show me?' This time something like a real smile returns to him – or one he wants us all to take as such, not just me, the one being blanked. He turns to the acolytes. 'Normally Cal puts on a great entertainment, he knows I'm a sucker for the words and pictures thing, he could sell me anything. Frequently does.'

They give him the laugh he's looking for. Poor Prime Minister, too innocent to deal with a manipulative, snake-oil-pushing cynic like me. Laughing on cue, seals and hyenas. I join the game, flashing a token grimace to indicate appreciation of his flattery. I hadn't intended to show anything, this was meant as my showdown, where I'd find my answers. I pull the memory stick from my pocket and walk to the podium.

'Anyone know how to fly this thing?'

I find the docking point, the console and the plasma screen behind it spring to life as they upload the extraordinary data. An assistant's assistant leans across to enter the system password; I move only slightly to let her, standing my ground, enjoying the fleeting moment when she invades my space. She ducks under my chin to key in the codes. Clean auburn hair, scentless, a tiny silver chain at the back of her neck, resting on her freckles. A real human being, working for the Prime Minister.

The memory stick has everything on it to tell a story, but not the full story of course. How once upon a time there was an ad agency. One like most of its kind. One hundred and fifty staff on five floors of central London real estate, buzzing like a wasps' nest of ideas commissioned to help sell both the palatable and unpalatable. Visualisers, designers, programmers, progress-chasers, administrators, account men – all arranged in a labyrinthine hierarchy of power that mutated daily according to the currency of ideas they possessed in that moment. And in that moment hating each other because of it. Wasting their energy on the deadly cross-departmental skirmishes that are the essential fuel of the collaborative creative process. So far so normal, what made this agency so different?

This: it stumbled upon an extraordinary formula, one that could truly change attitudes, behaviours and buying habits, all that and more. Oh yes, things changed in adland when governments realised they could sell policy like any product, change social behaviours by creating the craving for change. In any country in the world, who's the biggest advertiser, who's got the most to sell?

And then us, and something extraordinary. The formula. Focus group guinea pigs tested to destruction. Accidental alchemy, magicking up the stuff of dreams. Ads that have the audience salivating with an unbearable yearning, yet serve up the meal to be devoured then and there, all in the same communication. Create the need and satisfy it, problem and solution for the price of one: Together Now! as briefed by government is an anti-racism, anti-dishonesty, anti-everything-that-threatens stability campaign. A pro-community, pro-inclusion, pro-your-leader-as-living-deity as answer to that brief. Headache and tranquiliser served up on the screen. Alas, as with the best drugs, it comes with its side-effects, many as yet unknown.

The console display before me offers a choice of files it has accessed from the memory chip. As I line up the file icon, the plasma screen behind me automatically glides out from the wall mountings and angles itself above the front rows of the auditorium. It suddenly lights and extends to its enormous, twenty-four square metres of ultra high definition. Fuck me. Seriously slick gear.

The 'play' icon appears and the lights in the room dim of their own accord. I am about to offer some kind of commentary but I stop myself; these effects, this room and what they are about to see will do the job for me. Full fucking blast, they deserve nothing else. The man on screen speaks and we go into a dream.

Sometime later, the lights are back on. Show over. The Prime Minister is first to twitch back to life, gently nodding in silent agreement with himself. Of his squad of young helpers, one still has her head in her hands, unconsciously mimicking her Prime Minister's star turn. Her friend next to her is weeping, although she might not be aware of this. My bet is that if they could sign up right now to feel his pain, share his mission, conceive and then give difficult birth to his love-spawn then they would; sign up to do the whole lot in one great splat of a combined experience oh-yes-of-course-you-fucking-would.

'Quite something, isn't it?' The Prime Minister shakes his head slowly, a twitching grimace hinting that he has found a seam of guilty pleasure in here, somewhere. 'Powerful, almost unsettling ... What do you think, Jason?'

We turn to the man who had been busy on the earpiece phone. Now set, presumably, to be a whole lot busier. Explain that. Explain what it did to you. He looks at me with a mixture of unrestrained contempt and bewildered admiration.

'This works, yeah? You're sure about this?'

I look at the evidence surrounding me.

'We've tested in over a hundred focus groups and eleven hall tests. It works.'

The Prime Minister nods. 'What does it do to the approval scores?'

'Sends them skywards, into orbit.'

He nods again, this time to Jason. 'Get me a briefing on those scores. I want to understand what we'll get.'

For once though, the sidekick isn't quite by the Prime Minister's side. He's begun to droop slightly, hand drawn over his eyes. Whatever it is that's taken him, he's not in the full receptive-poised-for-fucking-action mode we've come to know and love.

'Jason, are you okay ...? You're looking a little green there, need to take a break?'

The Prime Minister sounds concerned, convincingly concerned. For all I know he might actually be concerned. Macho Jase waves away any doubts as to his stamina.

'I'm fine ... Fine. Too much coffee today, catching up on me I guess.' He looks back to the screen, blinking furiously as if bedding in new contact lenses, ones that gave a dangerous new perspective. 'Quite something, like you said,' he mutters. 'Unsettling ... yes, but really quite something.'

The others in the room are becoming accustomed to the light, re-orientating themselves to their day, taking comfort from the Prime Minister's interest in one of their number. The door opens and there's the head of another team, waiting to take the Prime Minister onwards. Their relief to get moving, back to the real world, whatever that might be, palpable.

'I can make a briefing any time after the final groups are complete.'

I'm saying this to a departing audience, all packing up and keen to take their opportunity to exit. I'm saying it without realising I've slipped back into Account Man mode, as if I'm still part of Harlequin, checking for client buy-in. Not what I came here for. I raise my voice because I'm not sure if anyone wants to listen, but they have to. He has to.

'Prime Minister?'

I shout. Don't mean to but it comes out loud and sharp. Unfortunately loud. Unfortunate timing – as I'm screaming at him not to go, another commotion, a body slumps to the floor. Iron enforcer Jason has keeled over en route to the exit. Falling without warning like my words are a sniper's shot to the back of his vanishing head. He goes down from the feet up, the way a carefully demolished tower block peels into itself when detonated. Horizontal on the carpet before anyone has a chance to catch him. No matter, he now has the cooing PM crouching by his side. 'Jason? Jason ... are you alright? What's going on ...? Better get a doctor ... an ambulance ...'

Yes. Better get a whole load of ambulances Prime Minister, better get used to this because my guess is that we're in for a lot more, unless of course, you want me to pull it back. Unless you do want me to turn down the power and I've somehow missed your signal. Have I?

'Prime Minister?' I repeat, as groggy Jase-blubber pulls himself up; checks pockets, hair, earpiece, and realises he's drooling on the Prime Minister's sleeve. This distraction is all too convenient. I'm not going to stop.

'Prime Minister, one last thing ...'

He turns, halting his progress to the door, still supporting his colleague. His eyes fix mine, my invitation to continue though he wants me to feel his impatience. I lower my voice.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Killing the Messenger by Christopher Wallace. Copyright © 2015 Christopher Wallace. Excerpted by permission of Freight Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

C DAY MINUS 2 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 370 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 370 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 370 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 350 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 350 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 350 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 350 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 350 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 350 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 350 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 345 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 344 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 300 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 299 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 260 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 230 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 210 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 180 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 179 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 179 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 179 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 178 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 160 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 50 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 50 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 33 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 31 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 27 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 24 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 22 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 19 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 18 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 17 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 13 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 13 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 10 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 6 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 4 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 3 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 3 DAYS,
C DAY MINUS 2 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH MINUS 1 HOUR,
C DAY MINUS 1 HOUR,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH, ZERO HOUR,
C DAY PLUS 1 DAY,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PLUS 4 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PLUS 6 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PLUS 14 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PLUS 30 DAYS,
CAMPAIGN LAUNCH PLUS 31 DAYS,
C DAY PLUS 400 DAYS,

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