‘No, no, no, no, I’m not having it!’ spat Truman.
‘You are absolutely cuckoo-fuck now, you understand? You get this head of yours sorted out, or you are not going to be working for my news channel!
‘I mean, what the hell actually possessed you?
‘All of a sudden, you start writhing and squirming, like some freakin’ Pentecostal Jehovah’s nutballs!
‘Well, you listen here, boy! You are one damn lucky little African-American none of the other news networks turned their cameras on you at that moment.
‘Oh, but do I almost wish they had done! Because, then I coulda slung your punk-ass love-handles so far out that fuckin’ door, your balls wouldn’t even ah touched the sides!’
Otis shuffled anxiously on his feet.
‘I told you, something weird came over me. It’s out of character.’
Truman paused. He took a long drag of his Havana. He took on a more meditative tone.
‘Well, that’s something. Now that’s really something, brah.
‘Now then. Lookie here, son,’ he murmured.
‘You know the definition of “out of character” in our business?’
Otis rolled his eyes.
‘No, sir, muttered Otis, who had very little tolerance for the weird, whimsical faux-philosophicalities of his boss.
‘Suicide. Suicide. Career flamin’ suicide, that’s what we call it. You wanna read Henry Ford, read Ronald Trump, read Ludwig von Hayek, Miltie Smith, it’s all in there!’
Otis groaned inwardly.
What kind of an ignorant asshole gets to the top of a prominent media company and thinks ‘Ludwig von Hayek’ and ‘Miltie Smith’ have anything useful to say about anything?!
Or maybe Gideon Truman was just playing with his head again. He’s a pretty shrewd guy, right?…
‘Well, you know what?’ said Otis. ‘Maybe suicide is under-rated.’
‘Oh-ho, how many times have I heard that one, huh-huh-huh? “Ohhh, God help me, I’m just so sick o’ this hard-working diligent American journalist crap, I don’t like it here, don’t like the boss, don’t like the pay, the hours, so I’m gonna just throw in the towel and hope good old Giddy Truman here is gonna be ape-caddy enough to fall for it.”
‘Huh? Say what? You out of your freakin’ mind, son?
‘Well listen here, boy! This kinda junk charade might just play out there in the sticks, say Kansas or Mississippi or Euroweenieland or someplace else like that.
‘But ya know what, son? I’m too damn mo-ther-fuck-in’ smart,’ (and here he drew a long and not-so-sagely puff), ‘Yeah, too damn smart for you, my boy!
‘Oh, but if good ol’ Gideon Truman ain’t gonna fall for this goddamn bongo-bongo-jive talk, brother.
‘Nah! I’ve seen it all before. You’d better believe it, bitches!’
This is it. Oh, God. This is it, Otis, and don’t you ever be such a goddamn fool as to let these stupid scruples of yours.
‘Mr Truman,’ breathed Otis, quivering internally, but maintaining his customary composure.
Truman frowned. This sturdy, unflappable giant of Big Journalism was now genuinely bewildered.
‘Mr Truman,’ said Otis, with a careful deliberation and seriousness that made Truman sit bolt upright in his chair.
‘Mr Truman,’ repeated Otis one last time. Three’s a charm!
‘… I can’t, in all conscience, permit myself to do this job any longer.’
Truman stared, open-mouthed, in horror and in absolute amazement. You could have heard a pin drop.
Or, at least, a penny…
All of a sudden, Truman started foaming at the mouth.
He jabbed his finger in inarticulate fury, bobbing his head and rocking in his chair, utterly consumed with rage.
If you were the kind of person who confuses cynical opportunists with the safe and toothlessly mediocre practical man, you might have ventured walking into that office unarmed.
But then again, Truman was not at all the spiritual brother of the ‘practically-minded’ career politician who demonises gay marriage advocates on Monday, snarks a little on Tuesday, murmurs ‘Mehhh’ on Wednesday, says ‘Well, what the hey, guess we’re gonna have to put up with it!’ on Thursday, and by the weekend is already asking with bewilderment how any one of those ‘braaahhhn fawwwks’ could ever oppose the common sense progress of the greatest goddamn nation on earth!
Nor was he the confrere and compatriot of the mundane, talentless and relative impotent shill who tries to strike a highminded (but far from idealistic!) balance between not killing a few more innocent people than is necessary (such as on the basis of a maliciously concocted dossier of lies and palpable fabrications), and not killing innocent people at all.
For the latter perspective, as we all know and agree, is just as extreme and partisan and one-sided as the former…
No. This guy was the kind of boss who wouldn’t let his media company be the first one to die for the sake of a mistake; damned if people started saying Otis Spengler worked for us, before he worked against us!
Oh, and by the way:
Lest there should be any doubt at all on this subtle point, ‘working against us’ really meant doing pretty much anything at all, other than what he was currently doing.
Hell, even flipping burgers with Elvis Costaggio, and the Panzer Lama, and Elrond Hubbard in some dead-end shanty grill place in Wyoming nobody had ever heard of, would be nothing short of rank treason! Truman would rather drop a thousand ton bomb on his own family home and city before he would let that happen.
‘Listen here, son!’ he spat.
‘Listen, Otis! You’re my best boy! You’ve been like a son to me!’
Otis stood firm.
‘I’m very proud for the opportunities you’ve given me.’
Not grateful, so much as proud. Otis was trying to avoid a cloying sentimentality that would risk derailing this rare, imperishably precious moment where he could finally see a chink of light poking between the rigid, callous blocks of his gilded prison cell.
‘Ahhh, Otis, Otis, for Chrissakes!’ wailed Truman. ‘You’re worth more to me than the other guys put together. These lazy, worthless assholes!
‘Don’t you realize what you’re doing? Grateful? Grateful? GRATEFUL?!
‘Grateful people don’t run away. You’re black and you’re proud, Otis. Well good on ya for it! Can’t blame ya for that one! Huh?
‘Well hey, Ima tellin’ you son, if there’s anything in this world I admire in a worker, it’s a guy, a black, a white, or any frickin’ colour of the goddamn L-G-Q-T-L-M-N-O-P rainbow who knows who he is, and who, y’know, he knows where he came from!
‘Bubba Otis, Baby!
‘Well hey! He ain’t got no shame to be one damn smart cookie o’ a poor little black boy who been makin’ good as fuckin’ noontide babycakes…
‘Well, where does all this pride come from? Huh? Don’t you ever think you’re gonna run away from me, Otis!
‘Don’t leave us. You’re like flamin’ family to us! Closest we ever had, huh? “C’mon bad guy? What are you gonna be doin’?”
‘Heh-heh! Damn, but do you boys love that song! Yoghurt fuckin’ Baba, huh? He’s as much one of you guys as you are one of us!
‘C’mon homie, let’s chant up this funky shit together!
C’mon bad guys!
Whitey down dem hood!
Chillin’ wit ma niggaz’
Cos ma shit smoke good!
C’mon bad guys!
Me skin it whitey lika sugar!
Hater Zio-bitches flip a disk
Yoghurt Baba me him boogie!
‘Well, I’m flying the nest,’ muttered Otis.
‘I’ll have a lot of fond memories from here, rest assured, Mr Truman!’
This was only a half truth.
‘Oh for God’s saaake!’ whined Truman.
‘Ohhh, L Ron flamin’ Hubbard on a cosmic pork truncheon! I mean, didn’t you see that stupid poll about our journalists? If you leave, how the hell are we gonna manage without you?
‘No, I picked you out, I raised you from the flamin’ gutter, cos I knew you were somethin’ special, kid! Not one of all my other gay-ass yogurt-muffin houseboys can probe them bastards like Our Otis. You’d better believe it, bitches!
‘Ahhh, let me tell you now somethin’ Otis, I’m in this business for hell knows how long, but I tell you what:
‘There’s no-one, but not no-one, there is just absolutely no-one who makes these bastards quiver in their sanctified Beltway ballet-shoes like you do! Finito!
‘Well hey there little smart boy! Who’s gonna hold ‘em to account?!
‘Lookie here, chicken, you are one flaming damn smart African American, boy! Don’t ever think I’ve ever seen you through any other lens.
‘Huh? Huh-huh-huh, assdammit?! See these little old lenses, boy?
‘See what I’m seein’ here?
‘I see a poor little black boy called Otis Spengler, sprung fresh from the ghetto like some kinda Venus Aphrodiddly from the head of Hephaestus, or y’know, whatever the male version is of that one, I mean whatever, (who frickin’ cares!) and yeah, it’s like I see, I see this bright guy and he’s already head ‘n’ shoulders above all the dumbass kids in that dead-end college o’ his, and I’m gonna raise you up, and I’m gonna make journalism real again, and I’m gonna make sure you are a model citizen and one damn fine African-American fellow citizen, boy…
‘Yes sir! You can sit at my table, you can puff on this old cigar once in a while, and you’ll be like the son I never had, because, y’know, because of that slutty New England bitch who went off with that greasy Jew comedian, y’know, the squeaky little Saul flamin’ Friedman soundalike…
‘Look, it’s not every young black kid coulda done what you’ve done? Right?
‘I mean like hell, you coulda been sitting there injectin’ heroin or, or I dunno, playin’ Grand Theft Auto, or even tryin’ it out for real, I mean fuck knows boy, like ya see these goddamn inner cities and their anarchistic hoodlums, thank God you were spared that fate, Ida cried to see you miss your chance to be just like the other kids here, I mean ol’ Giddy Truman woulda broke his crazy old heart here, Otis boy, he really woulda, Ida had nothing left, flaming zilch, Otis, I woulda…’
Otis’ mind was recently drawn to recent allegations of pork-barrelling involving a certain prominent propaganda outlet, but he dismissed the thought.
Of course, consistency is not necessarily the hobgoblin of small minds. Yet perhaps insisting upon it, on this occasion, would be unnecessarily derailing, and throw up some unnecessary obstacles in his path to freedom.
‘There are plenty of talented journalists. Here…’ Otis permitted himself this one extravagant liberty:
‘… And elsewhere, perhaps, as well.’
Truman dashed his ‘Spirit of Kosovo’ mug upon the ground. A single lone green tea ‘Contras para Marcos’ leaf slopped down moistly upon a glob of Colombian chocolate, which Truman had spat out not long ago on Veteran’s Day, when he had heard how that fucking whingeing Jew comedian Saul Friedman had shat all over my troops by leaving that stupid RINO button undone on that pretentiously checkered, cheap-ass-New-York-dime-store-values shirt of his.
Dirty Commies, grub-bearing spics, and ohhh…
Those filthy, flea-ridden Mexicans (or near enough, I suppose!), treacherous pinko pacifists:
Les extrêmes se touchent!
‘You… you… you traitor!’ he spat, so much taken up in fury that he could not think of anything less hackneyed and cliched; at least for now.
Later on, it would be another matter, no doubt!
‘I’ve made up my mind.’
One last try.
One last throw of the dice, except that Truman never gambled. He was no doubt the kind is by their very own inherent nature a winner.
Yet dare we speak of mere gambling, which after all, is inevitably a sucker’s game for the mediocre ‘win here, lose there’ kind of people he had always viewed with such understandable contempt?
‘I know what this is about,’ he whispered.
‘Do you?’ Otis almost whispered.
‘All a ruse. A ruse.
‘Goddamn crazy old fool Giddy Truman, it’s all been a goddamn ruse, and I never even thought about it.
‘Hey? OK, you wily old bastard you, I get it know. You got me, and like the old fool I am, I took you at your word. I know what this is all about.’
Otis sighed with resignation.
He knew Gideon Truman had a particular ‘lens’ through which he inspected, calculated and balanced up the world around him.
And even now, he felt a twinge of regret and pain that Truman assumed everybody else has precisely the same philosophy of life (if I may beg the liberty to call it that!) as did Truman himself.
Truman affected a grim smile.
‘How much, Otis?’ he hoarsely whispered.
‘How much? Name your price.’
Otis shifted imperceptibly on his feet.
Save me, someone.
‘You are our best fuckin’ asset, there is no-one out there like you.
‘No, no, let me tell ya somethin’ son, when it comes to human capital and to media resources, you are just…’
At these magic words, the spell was finally broken.
Otis awoke, and realised, dizzy with joy and a holy terror impossible to imagine to those who have not described, that he was seeing for the first time with the eyes of his soul.
He was hearing with his true ears, the ones within.
One heart beat, a moment.
One heart beat, and beat forever.
Chords of tremor.
‘Mr Truman, I will be handing in my notice tomorrow.
‘Thanks. It’s been a beautiful time. But I am not your human capital any longer.
‘If your desire right now is for some resources to manage, I am afraid I cannot oblige. There are some things in this world I care even more about than money.’
He reached out to shake Truman’s hand, in a gesture far more sincere and well-intended than it would ever be possible for Truman to realise.
Truman glared at him.
All of a sudden, Truman petulantly swung his chair to face the poster behind him.
Otis also shifted himself, and faced the other way.
Behind him was a door.
It had always been there, and he’d never even realized it.
Otis paused one last time, as myriad complex memories flooded his soul; so rich and concentrated and dazzling were they, each one was almost indistinguishable, even imperceptible.
Every crumb of truth, every mongrel’s scrap of integrity he had managed to snatch from the rich man’s table glared with a provocative, icy flame. These burgeoning pinpoints of light were burning so fiercely, joyously and intoxicatingly, that he could not tell if they were hymning him glory, or condemning him to the little inferno of the party of ranting Dante and trembling Eichmann.
He closed his eyes, and opened them.
He was still here.
Otis Spengler walked out of the offices of Steel Diamond Media.
Bloodstone Boulevard and the Iron Pulse Bistro would never hear the steady footfalls of her most famous son again.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?
Otis Spengler could not succeed in reassuring himself that he properly understood the question, let alone understood the answer.
But at least he knew the question existed.
And that was more than could be said for some.