For the first time in his life, Trigg Moseley was wearing makeup. What kind of a man, he wondered, would stoop in the course of his business day to doing something so...girly? Never before had he felt a soft sponge smoothing his cheeks, chin, forehead and nose. Never before had he received a dusting of powdery foundation, like a wedding cake getting sugared at Becker's. The whole thingthe smell, the feel, the very act of it allmade him nervous.
Until the makeup artist leaned across to touch up his base. To Trigg's taste, she was a little trashy. Maybe it was the ankle bracelet; maybe it was the butterfly tattoo on her exposed back shoulder. She was the type, he thought, who probably did drugs.
Whatever the case, it was catnip. He imagined her on some Music Row video shoot, swabbing some modeling-agency hillbilly while sweat trickled down her cleavage. He remembered what it was like to smell makeup on a woman. It was a prelude to the taste of lipstick, the heat of touch, the slithery slow removal of damp stockings. The smell was faintly intoxicating.
As the makeup artist bent over him, her breasts brushed against Trigg's torso. He couldn't even help himself: he just had to push back against her, just the tiniest bit, just to feel. My God, he thought. I am in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky. She stood up, straightening a slipped strap, and held out a mirror to reflect his newly powdered face.
Trigg hoped he wasn't smiling. Here it was, the middle of December, and he looked as if he had been drinking carrot juice and popping Vitamin E. Tanned, rested, and ready. Looking in the mirror, he was well pleased.
"How do I look?" he asked her. He really wanted to know what she thought.
"Ready for the boob tube," she replied, smiling.
So this was why men submitted to makeup. Moments earlier, Trigg had asked Smathers. "Why do I have to do all this TV prep work? Why can't I just answer some questions about Darby Glen and move on?" The makeup, Smathers replied, was not to convince viewers that Trigg was good looking. It was to "project an appearance of stability and goodness, which will translate to the project itself." Toward this end, she had already sent a staffer to fetch a blue button-down collar shirt (neutral, peaceful, non-argumentative, Smathers told him) and a solid yellow tie (honest, trustworthy, brave).
While Smathers ordered the makeup woman to dust away some old acne scars on his neck, Trigg wondered if he were being groomed for greater purpose. What if he were one day to run for Congress, even the U.S. Senate? Those men had to wear lots of makeup. Perhaps it was some kind of test, meant to weed out all but the lionhearted. Was this what it took to get on Meet the Press?
The makeup artist interrupted Trigg's political career. She snapped shut her tackle box of eyeliners and lipsticks, giving him one last discreet glance at her butt. The black pants she wore held her ass like a glove. It was not just tight, but nearly perfect: curving outward in a heavenly slope, then gently swooping back in a sublime arc. He ignored the cell phone throbbing in his pocket. Jesus, he thought, to place my hand on the small of her back, then slowly run it downward along the fast slick fabric-skinned cleft of that exquisite ass.
He caught a whiff of makeup and breathed it in deeply. The scent of a woman. Every time he kissed a woman, that first blush of makeup smell made his loins dance. He imagined the parabola of that perfect ass settling into his cupped palm. He tightened his hand; his fingers sunk gently into her skin. The makeup tickled his nostrils.
A strange and disturbing thought jolted Trigg Moseley out of his erotic reverie. The makeup woman was gone. The makeup he smelled was his own. This electromagnet of erotic desireit was him! So why was he getting excited? Was it because...he was acting like a woman? Is this what gives transvestites their jollies? These kinky dudes put on makeup, get a snort of themselves, think they smell woman, then get...hard? Oh dear God, Trigg thought. Does this mean I'm going to start wearing panties or something?
Leaping from his chair, Trigg broke out in sweat. A paper towel stuffed in his collar to prevent smearing his makeup fluttered like an errant sail. He looked about Smathers' spare conference room, his eyes darting from one contemporary fixture to the other. He was stranded on an island of utter unfamiliarity. Nothing here spoke of age, history, heritage or even comfort. Our Father, who art in Heaven, Trigg voiced in earnest prayer to his Creator, I promise I'm a chick man.
Suddenly, an apparition descended from the ceiling of Smathers' conference room. The thing was a plasma-screen TV. Moseley's cell phone had quit ringing, but now it started up again. He ignored it, but whoever was calling would not be ignored. From the four corners of the room, a voice began to purr at him.
He jerked around to find the sourcehere, there, everywhere. Nothing. A bead of sweat ran from his lower lip down his chin, collecting a trove of light brown makeup. From his ear, another rivulet of sweat dug a furrow through the foundation to the bottom of his neck. He wiped his forehead and drew away a swath of brown. His hand now looked as if he'd been picking tobacco. The geology of his face was succumbing to erosion, just as big rains chipped away Darby Glen's driveway.
He was wiping his hand on the carpet when the voice startled him.
"Trigg," purred the speakers. It was Smathers. "Watch my video," she cooed. Her voice was as unsettling and unnatural as her conference room, and yetdamn, it kinda tickled his testicles. Here was a woman in command of her own office, a floating brain and a killer body, an eye in the sky and a bitch when needed. That time was now. Her disembodied voice was enough to clear his mind of makeup girls, perfect asses and secret panties. No more no more. With Smathers' help, he would vanquish Darby Glen's foes. Time to plan the work and work the plan.
He glanced at his watch: 2:40. Interviews were to begin at 4 p.m., both print and broadcast, for approximately two hours. On the table, the company phone began to ring, and ring, and ring. It did not stop.
"My video is self-explanatory," Smathers said. Trigg sat back in his chair, and as usual its modernist hoo-hah caught him right in the kidneys. Stuffing the paper towel back in his collar, he turned his attention to the screen. "The thing about doing TV," she continued, "is just be yourself. If you try to be someone you're not, and the camera starts rolling, there's a disconnect. Viewers will notice it. So just be yourself."
Be myself, Trigg thought, studying his makeup-stained hand. Just be myself. He took in the room once again. Nothing here is about who I am. And yet this is something to which I must adapt. Ask any leading businessman in this day and age. Stay still and you suffocate. Move, and you grow. I am moving, Trigg told himself. I am entering the new-media paradigm. I will become the new way of doing business. He wiped his hand on the stupid chair.
"Can you hear me?" Trigg blurted out so Smathers. He was unsure how this environment even worked. Could he just speak and be heard? Was there a microphone? Or did the entire sound environment just gravitate towards her in ways that he did not even understand, as if she were the anchoring star of a sterile new electronic galaxy?
"I can hear you," she said. Her practiced tone was softly reassuring. "Sit back and enjoy the movie, Trigg."
Amid synthesized fanfare, the title blinked on screen under a rotating logo: The Truths of TV: 8 Tips to Mastering the Medium. There was Smathers, standing beside a body of water, dressed in a muted blue pantsuit (form-fitting, shapely, hot, thought Trigg). "Never in the history of American communications has such a medium as television established such a personal, intimate connection between the message and the viewer," he heard Smathers say, in the tone of those locally produced public-television shows that worked on his insomniac mind like horse tranquilizer. "Mastering TV, therefore, is all about believability."
Trigg didn't catch every word, but he perked up whenever when Smathers appeared on the screen. Smathers knew the tape would engross him, like those aquarium videos people play for cats. Normally she didn't require clients to watch her video. But she thought Trigg could use all the help he could get, and she needed the time away from him. If she were to get anywhere with Darby Glen, she needed to call Andy Hobbs. Hobbs had told her he would talk to Mudge to find out exactly where his aggressive battle plan was heading. Hobbs could squeeze information out of anybody.
The moment she flicked off the overhead speakers, she hit Hobbs' speed-dial button. She knew there would be no hello.
"What I never understand is why people with $100 million need to make another $100 million," Hobbs said. He expected Smathers to understand what he was talking about, and as always she did. "Mudge says he wants to push the Moseleys' company into the creek. His words, honey: 'IN-TO-THE-CREEK.' I didn't even understand half what he plans to do. I thought us rednecks were a simple people, but I guessed wrong."
Hobbs laughed so hard that on his end his cheap government desk vibrated. A plastic plate and the last remnants of a white-gravy biscuit wobbled across the desk, threatening to fall to the floor.
"Did Mudge meet with Winnings?" Smathers asked.
"The white prophet and the black Jesus have broken bread," Hobbs said. "But that's just the sideshow. Sure, Winnings is gonna get the blacks all upset, and that's gonna be the big public squabble. But what's really happening is Mudge has your Moseley boy by the gonads on the finance side. He's gonna cut off his nuts."
Hobbs explained to Smathers the strategy: the effort to drive the stock price down, the plan to buy a majority of the company, the goal of picking up Darby Glen for next to nothing. "It ain't no normal bank loan Mudge gave him," Hobbs told her. "Ain't nothing normal about Joe Mudge in fact. I've known him a lifetime, and he'd sooner cut you than look at you."
All was quiet for a moment. "You seen the stock price lately?" Hobbs asked.
Smathers turned to her computer screen and typed in the SFCI symbol. Within seconds, the number popped up: $11. The stock had opened the day at $37 a share, where it had remained for two decades under the sleepy domain of the Moseley family. After Floyd Winnings' sermon, it had dipped a mere $3. Now, however, under Mudge's barrage of attacks, the stock had nosedived. Smathers clicked on recent news. A notice from BizWire explained the loan Mudge had extended to SFCI for the Darby Glen development. The words burned like glowing red eyes: Death Spiral Preferred.
"My guy's no match for Mudge," Smathers said. "What does Mudge want, anyway?"
"My dear Jill, you seem to be throwing in the towel before the fight. I suspect he wants that house, Darby Glen. That's all he ever talks about. He grew up around there in a white-trash tar-paper shack. But now he sees himself living in the big house, if you get my drift. He's had his eyes on that house all his life, since he was running around barefoot and hungry. This thing runs deep in himI'm guessing he doesn't even understand how deep it runs."
Hobbs paused. "Listen darling, you need to understand something. If the stock doesn't fall where it needs to go, Hobbs doesn't have majority control. So this could still be up in the air."
"What's his target price?"
"He told me eight dollars."
Three dollars left. She looked at her watch: 2:48. Twelve minutes remaining before the market closed. On her screen, the stock relinquished another quarter. She knew that in the time remaining, there was little she could do. Her client was safe in the conference room; she had the numbers in front of her; she had her mentor on the line.
"What would you suggest I do, Andy," she said. She did not want to lose this battle. It was not that she held any special love for Trigg Moseley, or Darby Glen, or Stress Free Concrete, Incorporated. Trigg Moseley was in many ways just another client. But when the news drifted out into the domain of Nashville public-relations experts and political insiders and Chamber of Commerce types that she was handling one of the year's biggest business disputes, she did not want her name attached to the losing side.
"My dear, the butterfly has flapped its wings in Tierra Del Fuego," he said.
"Causing a tornado somewhere in my office," she replied. If she remembered nothing else he'd taught her, besides hiding a fifth in the toilet tank, it was that unintended consequences were best dealt with as they arose and not before. When Smathers had worked for him, he had always tried to instruct her to be less rigid in her approach to business strategy. Sometimes you just had to play things as they came along. For her, it was a strategy that always failed.
"This is not over," Hobbs said. "Far from it. Much remains to be done. Mark my words."
"Goodbye old man," she said. "I owe you another $5,000. More intel like this and there's more. And don't forget, I need you to fill out my table at that fundraiser for the Hispanics tonight."
"Adios," he said.
As he hung the phone in its saddle, Andy Hobbs felt a little sorry for his understudy. She was taking this so seriously. He looked around his cinderblock hovel in the catacombs of the city government building. The next 12 minutes were crucial, but the ensuing evening might be even more critical. Fast-forwarding the scenario in his mind, he realized he needed to keep his intelligence lines with Mudge wide open. It was good that Mudge had bought a table to the Que Pasa benefit. If liquor wouldn't loosen his tongue, the prospect of victory might.
The Que Pasa benefit, Hobbs thought with sour satisfaction. It had the potential to be quite a smash, didn't it?
Deciding that the stainless steel chairs at Smathers' conference table were not meant for human asses, Trigg decided just to lie down and watch the video. He could not see the screen from the floor, so he lay on the table instead. The phone had been ringing incessantly. His cell phone, too. It seemed to alternate: conference phone, cell phone, conference phone, cell phone. Ring, ring, ring.
The sound of Smathers' voice drifted soothingly from every angle of the room. "To establish believability, the subject must be comfortable with who he is. That is, he must be natural, spontaneous, and at ease. At the same time, his message must refer back to a highly programmed script from which no deviation is allowed. In other words, it is important to relax, albeit while staying on message. At all times."
Did he seem believable? Trigg wondered. Surely others would say that about him. If he was anything, he was who he was, and everyone had to know what that was. Right nowand this sent a shiver of concern to his scalphe was a man lying on a conference table in smeared pancake base.
As Smathers continued speaking from the screen, he marveled at her own believability. Her televised image radiated confidence. Just like her hair. It remained tightly wound, pulling at her ears, not a strand out of place. He wondered what it would it be like for him, a firm, believable fellow, a fellow who really did know who he was, to approach her and loosen her hair until it tumbled to her shoulders like hay spilling into the wind. He remembered those shampoo commercials where a woman turns her head and sends every filament of her thick mane rippling in a great wave, in unison, still beautifully combed. What would it be like to see Smathers' hair fall like this, he thought? Would it part, shrouding her face, so that he could see her as he leaned toward her lips?
"In the course of going on television, you may be asked questions that throw you off your stride." On screen Smathers was standing on a wooden pier by an indeterminate body of water. Was she in Maine, Moseley wondered? Minnesota? The Canadian wilderness? "Do not pay attention to these questions," she advised on screen, as his mind wandered. "No matter what you are asked, stick to message. This is what you must do."
The conference phone rang again. It had not stopped ringing for more than a minute. Trigg fixed his attention on the screen out of pure spite. On TV, Virtual Smathers had rolled her sleeves up about her elbows. She no longer wore a jacket, and Trigg wondered if he could somehow rewind the tape to see her take it off. On a blackboard she was writing what she called "the eight individual TV truths": the essence of the video. The conference phone would not shut up. Fine, goddamn it. He stabbed a red button and picked it up.
"Conference room," he said.
"That's me," he said, flustered. Who knew he was here? Who even knew his voice? "Who is this?" he asked.
"Alexandra Raines," the voice replied. "Dorthula's daughter."
"Oh yes," he said. A blast from the past. He had heard Dorthula's daughter was now working for a local law firm. He had even meant to send her a note three years ago congratulating her. But he had never gotten around to it. "Hold on a second while I patch in Fred Milton," she said.
Fred Milton? Trigg tightened his grip on the receiver. Fred Milton was one of the city's ruling honchos. He had been a close personal friend of Trigg's father's and his mother still talked to him a lot. But why were Alexandra and Fred Milton on the same phone line? And why did they want him?
"Hello?" came Milton's pleasing voice, worn and cozy as a catcher's mitt.
"Hello Mr. Milton," Trigg said. He still had trouble calling some of his parents' friendsparticularly the more powerful and wealthy onesby their first names. Even Milton's presence set him on edge just as being around his father had.
"Please, call me Fred," Milton replied.
"Sure, I'm sorry, it's just that..."
"Mr. Moseley," Alexandra cut him off. "I am glad we finally found you. Time is short, so let me get right to the point. I represent your brother in the Darby Glen matter. It appears your company is, for lack of a better word, under assault."
"Under what?" Trigg looked up at the screen, where Smathers was writing "Truth #3" in longhand. "Believability is a product of who you are," she wrote, making not a squeak on the blackboard, "and only you know what that is."
"I'm not sure I'm getting this," Moseley responded.
"Are you familiar with the term 'death spiral preferred?'" Alexandra said. "I have reviewed the loan documents and, as best I can tell, you have essentially sold Death Spiral to Joe Mudge. Do you know where your stock price is?"
"No, and I don't really need to" Trigg said, rather defiantly. "It dipped a little bit because of that preacher this morning, but I'm taking care of that with our own little proactive media blitz." He had never used the term "proactive media blitz" before. Maybe he was shifting into the new economy paradigm more easily than he had imagined. He would owe Smathers big-time when all this blew over.
"The stock's at $10," Alexandra continued. "The market has seven more minutes left of trading. At $8, your company will, under the terms of the loan agreement, be required to issue $15 million in company stock. Based on your company's drastically lower capitalization, Joe Mudge will have to be issued a total number of shares that will give him majority control of Stress Free Concrete. If that's what he wants."
Lying on the table, Trigg was beyond stunned. The room seemed to tilt. As Alexandra finished her explanation, he heard Virtual Smathers begin to expound on Truth #4: "Many fear the medium, but believability in yourself can overcome that." Rubbing his forehead with his spare hand, Trigg sat Indian-legged on the table. His temples felt a stabbing pain. For a moment, he felt himself being crushed, and his shoulders sagged under the weight.
"Trigg," Milton said. "Are you there."
"Yes, I'm here," he responded softly.
"Stay on the line with us for the next six minutes," Milton said. "Whoops, it just dropped another quarter. I think someone is shorting the stockreally, that's the only explanation now. It's just crashing. It reminds me, frankly, of the '30s. I've never seen such a freefall. This has got to be troubling, Trigg, but we need you on the line for six minutes. We're here to help."
Moseley looked up at the TV screen. He didn't know what else to do. "Clothing, facial expressions, and anything else seen within the television screen assist in believability," Virtual Smathers cooed from her perch. Trigg's jaw went slack. The hand holding the receiver was also going slack. He felt his grip loosen despite his best efforts to hold on.
Virtual Smathers continued to write on the blackboard, but a fog of sweet white noise slowly enveloped her image. He could still hear her voice, though. Its pleasant cadence was soothing, like the songs on his grandmother's radio that lulled him to sleep as a boy. "My," he heard Milton say faintly. "Just clicked down another quarter. We're a hair above $9, though."
"Mr. Moseley," Alexandra interjected, "I had hoped to reach you soon enough to file an injunction against Joe Mudge for market manipulation, though we have no proof that Mudge is indeed responsible for the short-selling. And, frankly, I'm not certain short-selling is even illegal. But it would be a start."
Trigg fought to understand what was transpiring, but around the corners of his eyes, blackness came and went. He could hear the voices of Fred Milton and Alexandra Raines, but even when he added up the words he was not certain of their meaning.
"$8.75, down another quarter," Milton said. "We're touch and go here."
"Damn," Alexandra said.
From this point forward, Trigg Moseley had no recollection of what he did next. With the darkness now overwhelming his vision, he placed the receiver near the cradle and lay back down upon the table. He crossed his hands upon his chest, kicked off his loafers, and removed the paper towel stuffed in his collar. In his collapsed state, he could still hear Smathers singing to him from the speakers. It was the song of a woman in a blue pantsuit by a lake, a song that lifted him into a warm dream.
"And you will be believable," she sang to him. It was Truth #8 from the lake's warm waters. "And they will know you as you really are." In his unconscious slumber, a wide smile spread across Trigg Moseley's face. And he fell, harder, into something deeper still.
"Trigg, are you there?" Milton asked over the phone line. His words spilled out into the conference room, unheard. "Son, I have never seen anything like it. $8.25 and the market has closed. Trigg, can you hear me?"
Alexandra Raines and Fred Milton could hear no reply. "Trigg? Are you all right?" Alexandra repeated.
Moments passed. No sound came from Trigg Moseley. Milton and Alexandra remained on the line for half a minute, hoping to hear something, anything.
"He must have had to run out," Alexandra offered. "I'm sure he's got a lot on his mind."
"Yes, I'm sure you're right. Listen, Alexandra," Milton added. "You're at my table at the Que Pasa benefit tonight, correct?"
"That's right, Fred."
"Knowing Joe Mudge as I do, something will have exploded by the entree. And if we don't know who owns Darby Glen by dessert, I'll be quite surprised. Cocktails are at 5."
"See you there," she replied.
For the first time in what seemed like hours, the phone sat silent. The only sound in the room was Smathers purring from the plasma screen. In the glow of her video benediction, Trigg Moseley let the siren song of her voice guide him into the darkness.
COPYRIGHT 2004 BY BRUCE DOBIE.