Skeleton Duel

“Ledbetter.”

“Costello.”

“Well? I’m a busy man, Ledbetter—“

“So they told me on reception. Not avoiding me, are you Hank?”

“Some of us still have a job to do, Spencer.”

“Ouch. The famed Costello rapier. I suppose this is where I should point out that I’d still have a job too, if it wasn’t for—“

“Old ground. We move on, that’s business. You carry a grudge around the rest of your life, nobody’s gonna give you anything else to bear.”

“Hmm. Nice view you’ve got in here.”

“I’d prefer to be round the other side. Where you can see the park.”

“What, like my old office? I bet you were pissed they gave that to Aaronson.”

“Aaronson’s not long for this world, Spencer. Not that it matters. By then, I’ll be up a floor anyway. What can I do for you – I’ve got Pan Am at three.”

“Pan Am, eh? So they gave you that account too, huh?”

“What? Can I do? For you? Spencer?”

“You know perfectly well—“

“I’m sorry – you seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

“My commission! Six months, twenty per cent – I’ve been waiting seven weeks now. I’ve got bills due, I’ve got— Linda’s pregnant, for god’s sake!“

“Oh. Yes. The small matter of money owed. You know, Franklin & White were going to pay you, they were going to pay you the full amount, almost a month ago now. I managed to persuade them it was an unnecessary expenditure.”

“Unnecessary–!?”

“Please, Spencer, don’t raise your voice so. I’ll have to call security and have you escorted off the premises.”

“Yeah? Well, how about I call my lawyer, Hank? How about I call Buddy Biddulph from Silverman & Woch – how about I have him meet us down in the lobby. I’m sure he’d be interested how you’re out-and-out refusing to pay me money I’m rightfully owed. I’m sure he’d be very interested in that.”

“Buddy Biddulph, you say? Wow. Spencer, I’m impressed. He’s quite the litigator. I certainly wouldn’t want to face him in open court. Incidentally – does he handle divorce cases also?”

“Does he–? What’s that got to do with–? Listen Hank, Buddy thinks I’ve got a pretty strong case for unfair dismissal. The only reason I haven’t pursued that avenue, the only reason – I’ve still got respect for old man Franklin. He’s been good to me over the years, he’s treated me square. I don’t want to make this any messier than it needs to be. But I will. If I don’t get what I’m owed, I’ll—“

“I’m sure you would. I’m sure you wouldn’t give it a second thought, misguided respect for our former CEO not withstanding. But hear me out here, Spencer. Not for nothing did I ask the question. Let’s see… how best to…? Well, yes, we’re admen – let’s take it as a brief, shall we? Your basic ‘Who-What-Why’? Like we did in the old days… Who am I talking you? That would be you, Spencer – and you better listen, and listen good now. What do I want you to do? I want you to get the fuck out of my office and never set your imitation Gucci loafers in this building again. Why should you do that? Because I’m telling you, and I’m the better man – as indicated by my position behind this desk and my charge of all your old accounts (apart from the ones I’ve handed down to the juniors), but most of all—“

“If you really think I came here to listen to your bullshit—“

“But most of all, Spencer, because of the contents of this video security tape.”

“What?”

“If you’re going to fuck your secretary in the office, Spencer – a cliché hoarier than making your offer available ‘for a limited time only’ – try not to do it on camera.”

“So… what? You’re blackmailing me now, Hank?”

“Hmm… let’s see. Date on this tape – August 15th, 2007. When did you get married again, Spencer? Last week in July, wasn’t it? I seem to remember it was just after we launched the new Pepsi viral. So… couple of weeks in Hawaii, you were back in the office for… well, if I can do the math, I’m sure Linda can. She’s a smart woman. PhD, isn’t it? Cornell? Congratulations on your impending arrival, by the way. I’ve always thought ‘Henry’ was a good name for a boy.”

“I… I see.”

“I thought you would. So we’ll say no more about this silly commission business then. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass, and all that…”

“Yes. Yes. I was just taking one last look at the view before I… You’ve got a pretty good sight of the Sumo Blowjob poster from up here. Lot of mainstream coverage for that campaign. New York Times, Stewart, Stern – they were all over it. Not to mention the awards. I saw you on Colbert, by the way. Very entertaining.”

“Oh. Well, thank you, Spencer…”

“Be a shame if everyone was to find out where you stole the idea from.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you don’t. Some anonymous Wisconsin blogger with an illegal copy of Photoshop and too much time on his hands. Still, the original post was deleted a long time ago. I’m sure you paid him off handsomely, or dealt with him in some other fashion that I really don’t want to think about. You ought to be careful, though. There’s these… what do they call them? Online cache archives… dated screen captures… all kinds of little techy things I don’t pretend to understand myself, but… well, if this was to get out–”

“Touché, Spencer?”

“A very palpable hit, Hank.”

“I suppose… I suppose I could talk Franklin, Jr. You could say I’ve got his ear these days. We may be able to come to some kind of arrangement. To keep you out of Butler.”

“Butler?”

“Butler Correctional, Spencer, up in Wayne County. It’s where Archie Peretti ended up, following the whole Trasker Automotive misunderstanding. ‘Embezzlement’ – I always think it’s a word ill-suited to what it actually describes, don’t you? Personally, it puts me in mind of a stage conjurer – bewitched, bedazzled, that kind of thing. But there’s hardly anything magical about theft, is there? From your employer, from one of your employer’s biggest clients—“

“You’re not suggesting I had anything to do with Peretti, are you, Hank? That really would be grasping at straws—“

“No, no – you misunderstand me, Spencer. I know you’re smarter than that. But I do think you learnt a lot from Archie’s mistakes. So that any evidence of… misappropriation, shall we say… from the Wendy’s account, just taking one example… I’m quite sure you made certain that any paper-trail that might have led back to yourself was well and truly shredded.”

“But on a purely hypothetical level, Hank – if that were the case…”

“Of course, as you pointed out earlier, technology these days allows us to achieve all kinds of fantastical things. What was it you…? “Online cache archives, dated screen capture…” How about that anti-shredding software then? Sifts through the confetti and pieces everything back together onscreen. Fascinating to watch, it really is. Just unbelievable what you can find if you take the time—“

“All right. All right, Hank – you want to play hardball? Let’s talk about the Ghost Keys campaign. Let’s talk about an innocent young woman with a bright future who’s afraid now to even leave the house since you—“

Later that afternoon…

MUCH later that afternoon…

“…in an unmarked grave somewhere in Hoboken, Spencer. I’m sure you don’t expect anyone to ever find the bodies, but really—“

“Stop, Hank. Just… just stop it, OK. This has gone on long enough, and really, we’re just dancing round it. The elephant, Hank. I never thought I’d have to… There are some things even I would rather just leave… But I don’t see you giving me a lot of choice right now, so… let’s talk September 11th, Hank. Let’s talk the third plane. The Pentagon. Let’s talk…”

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Rol Hirst was the first man in space from Huddersfield. The Russians still beat him up there.

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