Chapter 3: A Can of Schlitz
While Viktor Horvath winched his jaw off the floor of the Oval Office, in New York Lou Dimitriov and his security team hustled to keep up with Roni Bartels on their way to Denny Dash’s fortieth-floor office.
Roni was all chop-chop. She was anxious to personally hand Denny his official TARP form and watch Lou’s security goons escort him from FC2 Tower. Ideally, this would provoke a physical altercation that would end with Denny being soaked in pepper spray, dragged into the elevator, and hurled into Madison Avenue traffic.
She was too late. Denny was gone by the time they got there. Lou was relieved.
He had given Denny an illegal heads-up after Roni’s phone call ordering a TARP. Lou had always liked Denny. Denny was a guy who did what he wanted and how he wanted and he didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else said or thought. Lou wished he could still be like that. He sometimes wished he had never left the police department.
Grace was in Denny’s office, picking items off the floor and putting them into a box: a bundle of brochures for a West Pacific golf resort; the current issue of Extremely Wealthy Traveler magazine; a family photo of Denny, Jenny and their baby girl, Penny, inside of a shattered frame; half a dozen unopened subpoenas and child-support orders; a CheeseChump paperweight composed of a single fried curd floating in a block of Lucite, like an insect in amber. It was a lugubrious task, like washing away blood and flesh and bone matter after a murder.
Grace lingered over the family photo. She wondered where that cute little baby girl was now, so many years later. She knew Penny had dropped her father’s last name and legally taken her mother’s, Pollock. She couldn’t have finished college since Denny had stopped paying her tuition in violation of a court order. What was she doing instead of school?
Roni took a wide-angle view of the wreckage. The whole chaotic, pathetic panorama disgusted her. The loser office of a loser copywriter with his loser secretary picking up her loser boss’s loser stuff.
“Where is he,” Roni demanded. She was already riffling through Denny’s files for evidence of anything—heroin, cocaine, Russian brides paid for with corporate credit.
Instead, she found a handwritten note Denny left for her: “Great view, long fall.” She crumpled it up and tossed it aside.
“Grace, did you hear me?” Roni repeated. “Where is he?”
Grace didn’t even notice Roni was there until Roni reached into the box of Denny’s stuff Grace was cradling and withdrew one of the brochures. “SoftHarbor at Pu’ukan®. An FC2 Resort,” she read. Roni had never heard of it. Which meant that Denny—which meant that Harold Felcher—had been going around her back on a major corporate initiative. And she the chief operations officer. Oh that burned.
Lou, meanwhile, had slipped behind Denny’s desk and was looking out the window to the street forty stories below. There was a man dashing to a cab at the curb.
That’s him, Lou thought. That’s Denny. He could tell by the blur of color. You could spot Denny’s shirts from the International Space Station.
Roni stepped to Lou at the window.
“Couldn’t even wait till he got fired,” she said. “Coward.”
Roni gave Lou a suspicious look, then spun around on her high heel and barked orders like Ahab on the deck of the Pequod.
“All right, I want this office secured and scoured. Papers, documents, invoices, client files, billing sheets, vouchers—I want it all. Make copies of everything before we turn it over to Legal. But I see everything first. Lou, is that clear?”
Roni turned to Grace. “You, burn the rest. Then fumigate the place. It stinks of Cheese Doodles in here.”
Grace didn’t react.
“What’s the matter with you, Grace? You look like your dog just died. I thought you hated the guy.”
“I guess I did.”
“So why the hell are you in mourning? He’s gone. You should celebrate. I know I will.”
“I guess I should.”
Roni shook her head. “Whatever. You can keep the box of tchotchkes if you like, but I get that carton of brochures. You,” she said, snapping her fingers at the taller of the security goons, otherwise indistinguishable in their ill-fitting blue blazers, gray slacks and Rockports. “Bring those files back to my office. Let’s move it. Go, go, go!”
Lou was still looking out the window. He was talking quietly on his cell phone.
Roni heard Lou’s side of whatever meaningless conversation he was having—a disjointed series of “Yeahs,” “OKs,” “Got its” and “Sure things.” It confirmed her impression that Lou had an IQ equivalent to a can of Schlitz.
“Lou? We can arrange for you to go off into the sunset with Dash. Would you like that?”
“Oh uh, no, no. Sorry, Ron. Roni.” He ended the call, and crossed the office to turn on the T.V.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s Jay Buckman,” Lou said. “He—we should watch it.”
“Who said we should watch it?”
Lou pretended not to hear the question.
It was two minutes to ten a.m. Time for “MarketingMinute With Jay Buckman” on CNN. Roni hated the segment. It was Denny Dash’s idea for FC2 and CNN to cobrand a daily marketing report. FC2 paid for the air time, in return for which it got publicity for itself and its clients under the patina of the world’s most trusted news network. Jay Buckman hosted the segment, but Denny wrote most of the copy. The whole operation sickened Roni, especially because it had become must-see T.V. in the marketing world. She had no alternative but to discredit it.
“Turn that shit off,” she ordered.
“Hey, isn’t that Pitch Farnum?” Lou said. “He was downstairs doing a PSA a few days ago.”
“Farnum?” Roni asked, suddenly interested. She ordered Lou to turn up the volume.
“He’s a senator, isn’t he?” Lou asked.
“Fed nominee now,” Roni said.
Roni watched the segment with a mix of emotions. What a coup for Dash and FC2—your client becoming chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve, the most powerful banker in the world, possessing the ability to print money and command the attention of corporate marketing departments the world over.
The retainer alone would be worth millions. Too bad Denny couldn’t enjoy any of it now that he was gone.
How Denny Dash could piss that all away on some cheesy potato-chip delusion was beyond Roni Bartels’s ability to comprehend. Hadn’t someone already invented Cheese Doodles, cheese crackers, cheese puffs, cheese balls, Cheezits, CheezWhiz and cheese logs? Could the market bear yet one more vile cheese-flavored snack? And what was Dash doing inventing snackfoods anyway?
“We don’t make the crap,” Roni had to remind Harold when she learned about the CheeseChumps. “We just help sell it to the slobs who eat it.” Harold had assured her that he had dumped the Chump. Wrong again, she thought.
“What the hell is Pitch Farnum doing on ‘MarketingMinute’?” Ray Jarecki asked to no one in particular as he stared at the T.V. in the Oval Office.
“I spent weeks preparing him for his confirmation hearing,” Roger Swing said.
“And now this.”
Viktor Horvath remarked that he had just read the daily schedule very closely and had seen nothing about CNN broadcasting a video of his Fed nominee cavorting with strippers on global T.V.
That was a lie, Ray thought: The president had not read the schedule very closely.
The rest of it was pretty accurate, although the strippers were actually Veronica’s Story panty models.
The president lit a fresh cigarette. He now had two burning, one in his mouth and one on Asheville. “Strippers on cable T.V. in the morning, Senate Finance in the afternoon. This is great, Ray. Just great. I know I don’t have to run for re-election, but I
had hoped not to get impeached over someone else’s sex scandal.”
“Technically,” Ray said, “they seem to be models rather than strippers.”
“What’s the difference?”
“About a square inch of rayon over the areola and another small patch over the genitalia. Plus they’re selling swimwear and undergarments as opposed to fantasy pussy.” Dina LaFollette slipped out of the office. They were now three men aghast.
“Well they’re damn near naked and their tits are damn near hanging out their tops and they’re definitely grinding their hips against my Fed nominee’s shoulder and leg and running their hands through his hair. As for pussy, take that square inch of fabric away and your panty models are big-titted pole dancers at a clip joint.”
“That’s an important piece of fabric then,” Ray said.
On the T.V., a breast whose circumference compared favorably to that of a honeydew melon was pressed into the crook of Senator Farnum’s neck while long fingers dangled orange-colored cheese plugs, greasy and glistening, over his gaping gullet like a mother bird feeding a chick.
Roger Swing had gone from dudgeon to despair. “He was supposed to be doing a public service announcement for the Financial Education Board. I didn’t realize the board was partnering with Jugs magazine.”
Jay Buckman was having a wonderful time narrating the video that had fallen into his lap earlier that morning, just as Denny Dash had promised. He had played it half a dozen times already.
“That’s right. United States Senator Willburr Farnum, the president’s nominee for the Federal Reserve, demonstrates his negotiating style with three dynamos from the retail sector,” Jay said. “I’m telling you, folks, those CheeseChump things are gonna go through the roof with this kind of branding! Though I’m guessing Farnum’s finished, and Felcher’s right behind.” As Jay pointed out, the copyright information imprinted on the bottom of the video screen indicated that it was produced by FC2. Denny had seen to that.
Within minutes, Harold Felcher’s phone rang. It was Dina LaFollette calling on behalf of President Horvath.
“The president?” Harold asked.
“Yes,” Dina LaFollette said.
“Of … the United States?”
“Of America, yes.” She said President Horvath would like Mr. Felcher to turn on
“Yes, CNN. The cable news channel?” She pulled the receiver from her ear and looked at it in disbelief.
Harold was nonplussed. Why would the president of the United States want him to watch CNN? No one watched CNN.
When he turned on the television, Harold saw what the president wanted him to see: Pitch Farnum romping with strippers for the favor of a cheese curd. When he saw the copyright, his brain lobes melted into one another. There seemed to be a breast in
Farum’s face. That’s a huge tit, Harold thought. That’s like a honeydew. Then he heard the senator call out to someone off-screen.
“Hey guy!” Senator Farnum could be heard saying. “Turn that purple shirt off and come on in!”
Harold’s jaw dropped, and a DipChip fell from his fingers. Sour cream and onion.
In Denny Dash’s office, Grace Dawes dropped the paperweight on her foot.
Denny Dash’s cab sprinted up Third Avenue. He imagined the scene at FC2 Tower: Roni Bartels sweeping blissfully into his office to measure the windows for black drapes. Harold at his desk, weeping and masticating like a melancholy cow. Grace being wheeled out on a gurney.
The cab approached the Midtown Tunnel. Denny texted Lou Dimitriov to say that he wouldn’t forget the favor.
“Do me a favor,” Lou replied. “Forget.”