Tuesday, 21 February 2017

New Blood (story 4)

This is the fourth installment of the 'appendix' to my post Shadows of Science: finding a new voice ...

‘When I found her, she was catatonic and emaciated, eyes vacant, arms protecting her chest, knees drawn up, almost foetal. I don’t think she’d have survived much longer in the darkened room where she had evidently been hidden for weeks.’ Oh, and I suppose she was naked too, right? Come on guys, you’re better than this … this, whatever-it-is. Our demographics peak in the 15-30 year band, and they’re mostly women: modern women. We don’t have the audience capital to make a rip-off James Bond; you sound like Tina Turner wanting her hero fresh from the fight for goodness sake. Pull it together, and quickly if you want to keep your jobs. Sam and Francis arrive tomorrow morning with their new legal team, and I don’t have a good feeling about it. Get to it.”
Zac clapped his hands twice as he turned and left the writers’ den; the irony of his use of an obvious physical cliché wasn’t lost on them and that at least brought some weak smiles to this room of frowns.

The writing team knew only too well just how tough were the times at most of the independent studios in their creative arts ghetto, and none were under pressure more than theirs. Realism wasn’t the issue here, the frowns were nothing to do with the potential for upheaval. These people were frustrated, confused and downright angry. It was no surprise to anyone that it was Beth who spoke first. She was their shiny graduate intern. This fact alone made her into a rare treat for the team, although she brought with her so much else that was uplifting, not least a naïve directness that made them all want to up their game – and thereby to remember and to begin to recover their earlier love of words. Passion is an odd thing: they could so easily have closed ranks and shut her down, but individually and severally they had, for reasons no-one chose to explore, opened to her without reserve. This was her undefined reward of course, but Beth’s interpretation was more straightforward: they were cool, and she liked them.

“What a prat. He’s just walked away from the best synopsis he’s ever likely to have seen; he didn’t even read it through properly. Idiot!”
One by one the other people in the room, eyes without expression, either tried to respond or sighed and nodded in assent.
“He’s got form Beth; once his mind is made up, no matter the evidence or the argument, there’s no turning him. It’s rubbish, but what can you do?”
“Jared is right Beth. I know it stinks, we all agree, but he’s the boss and we all need to keep our jobs if we can – I’ve got two kids and an ex who contributes almost nothing …”

“So, so what do we do?”
Beth was apparently undefeated, although puzzled and not a little exasperated. For the first time, the edge to her voice needled a couple of them into thoughts they’d not entertained before: of upstarts and the folly of carefree youth, and of jealousy for her possession of that which they had left by the wayside somewhere along the way.

It was, however, the obvious question, and it fell to their team leader, the once formidable Gwen, to define a way forward.
“OK folks, we have to be realistic about this. We have an afternoon to get something drafted, then those who are able might do some editorial polishing through the evening, yes?”
No-one spoke or even nodded, private thoughts, or none at all, consumed them in that never-ending moment of defeat. Gwen took the silence as acceptance – not that there was a viable alternative forming in anyone’s mind. She continued, although she was by then talking more to profiles than to faces: staring blankly out of the windows was a favoured way of avoiding eye contact, she’d slipped into it herself many times.
“Those who can get here early tomorrow will agree the final version and circulate copies. I see only one option given the timescales. We’ll have to use the same basic framework but try swapping the characters around a little to make the obvious victim a guy and the person who opens the door a woman.”
There was at this point the beginning of movement in the team. They were professionals after all, and they didn’t want to undermine Gwen.
“Come on; I know this is hard, but we need to make a start.”

It was Beth’s turn to drift away now, disappointment adding itself to her uncertainty; this was turning into a hard lesson, and she didn’t like it one bit. In a merciful attempt at diverting her focus, Gwen asked her to slip out to get some fruit and other goodies for the team. It would perhaps give her some time to process and reflect on what she’d seen. Beth accepted the proffered cash and left without saying a word. The closing door provided the catalyst for everyone to sit down and to begin. Jared got the rejected synopsis up on the screen and acted as their critical scribe whilst they jointly began to tear it apart and then try to put it back together again in a coherent form. None of them were surprised that the fruit didn’t arrive. It was a tough few hours.


Everyone was in by about 8:00 the next day, which was pretty amazing given school runs and so on, but they all wanted a bit of mutual affirmation before the CEO, Samantha Barnes, and her PA, Francis what’s-his-name, turned up with Zac and goodness knows who else. Beth walked in just before 8:30, struggling to control the door without up-ending the huge bowl of fruit balanced on a box of doughnuts on her arms. Gwen, grinning from ear to ear like the rest of them, rushed to help. Oh, how they’d needed the laughter that followed.

Some forty minutes or so later, Zac was holding the door open for Sam’s procession: Jared, of course, followed by three androgynous suits and their appended attaché cases. The supplicating introductory pleasantries dealt with, Zac dutifully stepped back a little to give Sam the stage.
“Good morning. I’m not going to beat about the bush, you’ll be well aware that the syndicate is under pressure, as so many others are. Much was riding on this new script proposal. I regret to have to tell you that I’m disappointed – deeply disappointed – and I cannot now see how we can continue to justify an in-house writing team of this sort. I have therefore instructed Zac to outsource operations from this point onward; these ladies and gentlemen accompanying me will explain to you your options in detail and answer any questions. I’m truly sorry to be obliged to deliver this news, but my primary concern is for the sustainability of the syndicate overall.”

The stunned silence that followed lasted only a second or two before Beth strode into the no-man’s-land between the team and Sam and her entourage.
“I’m not surprised in the slightest that you hate the synopsis Zac forced them to supply, it’s crap. But before you waltz off, please grant us a little respect and do yourself the huge, huge favour of reading what we’d originally crafted. Here.”
Beth handed her a paper copy. To everyone’s surprise, the frontal attack had an effect and without uttering a word or even registering a change to her body language, Sam actually started to read through the synopsis. In contrast to Zac’s peremptory evaluation of yesterday Sam, although reading very quickly, went past the opening scene. She followed the protagonist out of her prison room, through days of medical evaluation and into the months of therapy and the potentially re-traumatising trial. Turning to the final page Sam saw her rise above the simplistic success of the guilty verdict and take flight, as though, she imagined, on into the dawn of the very first day.

She lowered the stapled sheets to her side, but was otherwise quite still; no-one dared move or speak. With her arm guiding Francis to the far side of the room, Sam spoke briefly into the side of his attentive face; she returned to her commanding position whilst Francis repeated her manoeuvre with the suits. “Let me be sure I have this straight: this was the original synopsis you wrote as a team and submitted to Zac, but which he rejected in favour of the re-write I was shown this morning: yes?”

“Yes.” Beth and Gwen spoke in unison.

“OK, thank you for that confirmation. This is gold; pure, pure gold.” A smile could be seen forming on Sam’s face, slight and mostly from the eyes but good to see nevertheless. “Zac, would you walk with my colleagues to your office please – they’ll have some papers for you to sign. I’ll be there later.”
She waited for the door to close, never having made even the slightest eye contact with a shell-shocked Zac as he walked out, utterly dejected.
“Gwen, as team leader I’d like you to cover Zac’s role in the interim please. You’ll need to compete for the post in due course, naturally, but even a temporary exposure to the role should be beneficial.” Gwen nodded, although in truth she didn’t fully understand what was to be required of her.

Sam turned to the young warrior in front of her. 
“Beth isn’t it? Let me be clear: if you ever speak to me in that way again you’ll be fired on the spot: do you understand?”
“I’m an intern Ms. Barnes: I’ll be gone soon enough more’s the pity.” 
“You were an intern Beth: welcome to the syndicate. HR will be in touch within the next few days.” At which, she spun around and walked out through the door that Francis somehow already knew needed to be opened.


A few hours later, feeling an unaccountable concern for Zac and wanting to be able to bump into him in the supermarket without being enveloped in a cloud of bad feeling, Gwen turned up at his house. There was no answer at the front so she wandered around to the back as she had often done in the early days for staff BBQs and the like; it was a lovely evening, maybe he was on the deck. As she rounded the corner she found him, he looked almost trance-like and drawn, eyes vacant, arms across his chest, knees drawn up, almost foetal.

© R.J. Newport, January 2017.

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