from FEEDING THE DEMONS
a novel by Alex Alvarova
Translated from the Czech by Marc Di Duca
Los Angeles, 2016
Three people were sitting around at the Dexter offices, watching the same video over and over again. Will Sax had e-mailed them it. In the subject line was simply: Code red.
The three men were the content editor, the production manager and Scott. None of them said a word — this was the first real crisis of the election campaign so far.
„ We’re in trouble, aren’t we?“ the production manager said after several minutes, looking at the other two who had the final say in what they broadcast and the style of the campaign they were running. No one had seemed to register that Dexter had gradually become Trevor Kemp’s PR company. They’d simply got used to the fact.
„Yep,“ said the editor, and played the video one more time. It was ten years old, filmed by a cameraman during a show where Hollywood celebrities reveal all. Kemp had been invited onto the show to talk about his new book called Success. „It cost him a fortune to get onto the show. In fact it was his first wife Ilona who set it up through contacts at the station,“ Kemp’s lawyer had revealed to Scott.
Scott constantly monitored what dirt might be dug up on Kemp. It was a way of staying one step ahead of the competition. He could be certain that if he couldn’t find it, no one could. A group of geeks on 8chan helped with the task, even combing the dark web. They left no stone unturned.
The video was just incomprehensible garble for a moment, before voices emerged loud and clear. The doors of a bus taking show participants somewhere appeared on the screen. The cameraman had no access to the bus, but his sensitive microphone did. Kemp could be clearly heard speaking in his characteristic voice:
„Christ, what’s Emily doing here? I have to admit, I’ve never had her. But Donna over there, I had her twice, when she still looked OK. Before she got that boob job done.“
A voice from the inside the bus, most likely a production manager answers: „Emily is a real babe, isn’t she?“
Kemp returns: „Yeah, She’s the kinda girl I like. When you’re famous you can grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything, OK?“
The production manager switched off the video. A mortified silence reigned in the room.
„When did this get out?“ asked Scott.
„About two hours ago. Half a million views on Youtube and growing by the minute. What are we going to do?“
Scott’s mobile went off. Scott got up and went into another room. Through the door he could be heard yelling into the phone: „Of course I’ve seen it, for god’s sake. Yeah, damage control. What? The press already has a statement? But who wrote it? Hana? But I’m campaign boss, damn it!“
In the last few days he had been vulgar and brisk, though now everyone else was following suit. Nerves were jangling. It was only a month until the election. Every constituency and every vote now counted. Any mistake could prove fatal.
Then Renata Gallagher called. Scott threatened to resign if Kemp’s daughter did anything else behind his back. He really had had enough.
„Scott, for god’s sake, pull yourself together! What’s up with you? You must know how much we need you! It’ll all come good, you’ll see…“ Renata tried to placate him. Scott hung up and threw the phone into a corner. A huge crack spread across the screen.
The receptionist entered the room: „Scott, a Mr Mackiewicz would like to see you. He’s been looking for you.“
All I need! He thought to himself and went out. He wanted to buy a pork baguette on the way to the city centre where they had agreed to meet. Some construction workers at a table near the counter were watching a video on one of their phones. That video. Scott paid for his baguette, but hung around for a short while. He observed their facial expressions, their body language, their grimaces. A knowing smile began to spread slowly across his face. Then he burst out laughing. He handed the Mexican girl behind the counter a twenty dollar bill for a seven-dollar baguette. „Keep the change, dear,“ he said with a wink.
* * *
Grigory was on time as always, Scott was late. As an important person, Scott now purposefully arrived twice as late as before. Grigory couldn’t stand it, but suffered in silence.
Scott parked his car in an underground parking lot and took the lift up to a small café, which thousands of people in the Glendale Galleria mall passed every day. Grigory was sitting at a small table drinking his favourite herb tea. Scott ordered a double espresso into which he tipped five sachets of sugar.
„Do you take coffee with your sugar?“ Grigory enquired sarcastically. Scott didn’t get the joke.
„That’s how I like it,“ he snapped and downed his coffee in one. He then waved to the waiter to bring him the same again.
„So, what’s the plan?“ inquired Grigory, his face suddenly wearing a grave expression.
„There isn’t one. We’re not going to do anything. Challenger Analytics is going to target the video at men over fifty across the US. This is gold dust.“
„Have you gone stark raving? Have you been drinking again?“ asked Grigory, looking intensely at Scott’s face.
„On the contrary! I’ve never been in better shape. It’s almost a month until the election, and my 150 thousand online warriors have nothing to get their teeth into. They’re getting bored of producing Kemp memes. This will be a huge hit on the internet. He’ll be something like Batman and the X-men rolled into one — a Marvel superhero. Just wait for the imagines on Instagram. Pussy galore.“
„You cannot be serious,“ Grigory exclaimed in disgust.
„Do I mess around when it comes to the election? This is the best thing to happen thus far. This is huge. He said the word pussy. Don’t you see? Never in the history of US politics has a politician said the word pussy? Not as far as I can recall. But have you heard that word in a bar or pub? You have, a million times. Don’t you get it? He said it! He’s our man! He speaks a language that inflates the male ego. He’s a hero! He’s OUR hero!“
Scott had become so excited, he didn’t realise he was bawling his head off. Most of the customers in the café turned their heads as they stirred their oat milk horchata lattes. Grigory pursed his lips and frantically gestured to Scott to keep his voice down.
„Moscow is going to see this as sabotage. I simply can’t sign this one off,“ Grigory quietly protested.