The agent anxiously sees his end-of-year bonus before heading to a client’s Halloween party. 2,746 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Global Talent Assets was located in the heart of the Beverly Hills business district. Casey sat in his office with the door closed. He was speaking very quietly on his burner phone with a partner from the competing agency Synergy. Casey was ready to hang up if anyone came to the door.
“You guys just need to sweeten the pot a little more,” Casey assured Michael.
“Come on, man. We agreed that you’d be signed by end of business today. Billy and Mark are starting to think you’re jerking us around. Do you want this or not?”
Casey loved working two different agencies to his own advantage. “Of course, I do. We could be done if you guys give me what I’m want.”
“Casey, no one else in our lit department is getting money even close to what you’d be getting,” Michael argued, his voice growing impatient.
“That’s because no one else is bringing in The Goose,” Casey reminded. “Cheyne Gold is the top action writer in this town. Of course I want to negotiate the best deal for myself. You’d do the same if you were in my shoes, Michael. Just go back to the guys and tell them what I need.”
Casey noticed his assistant standing outside the door, his hand in the shape of a “C” which meant Cheyne was on the phone. “Listen, that’s The Goose on the other line right now. I’ve gotta jump…”
“Tell him we can’t wait to work with him,” Michael said eagerly.
Casey hung up the burner, threw on his headset, and picked up his office line. “What’s up, my friend?”
“I’m fucking pissed off. That’s what. They’re trying to turn my script into a damn U.S. Army ad.”
“Slow down. Just explain to me what’s wrong.”
“They want to have one of the guys in the unit always saying, ‘Let’s roll,’ and I’m not down with that. If they try to put that in, I’m done. Period.”
The last thing Casey wanted to do was alienate the most powerful movie studio in Hollywood, especially over two words of dialogue in a brainless action film which Cheyne had received over $3 million to write. “Let me put a call in to Fran,” Casey said about the studio’s vice president in charge of production who was overseeing the project. “But before I do, can you explain why you object to ‘Let’s roll’? Just so I know?”
“I’m surprised you don’t know. It’s what the Flight 93 passengers said on 9/11 just before they fought the hijackers and ensured the jet went down in Pennsylvania. I’m not exploiting their heroism for some action movie,” Cheyne said, sounding like he was addressing a preschooler.
“Okay, I get it,” Casey said, pulling apart a paper clip off his desk.
“Tell me what Fran says because I’m uninviting her to my Halloween party tonight and never writing another word for that studio if they fuck with me on this.” He was calmer now that Casey was getting involved.
“Speaking of your party,” the agent interjected, “I picked out the sexiest Geisha outfit for Lori. And I’m coming as a Samurai warrior.”
“Sounds good,” Cheyne said, distracted.
“Just between us, what’s the theme?” Casey asked.
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you. But the one thing I can say is that you of all people are gonna love it. Trust me on that. I’ve got eight thousand things to finish for tonight. So call me back and tell me what she says.”
“Cheyne, it’s handled.”
“Or I’m gonna lose my shit.”
Dick, Casey muttered aloud after Cheyne hung up. Then the agent had a moment of panic. “He didn’t hear that, did he?” the tenpercenter asked his assistant who had been listening on the call.
“No, he was gone,” the assistant assured. Casey let out a long sigh.
The agent pulled off his headset and leaned back in his chair. The stress of Cheyne’s call had caused Casey’s stomach to act up again. He was headed to his private bathroom when his assistant stopped him.
“What?” Casey asked, his voice curt.
“This will take a minute.” The assistant seemed to gather his courage. “No, it will take more like five minutes, if I’m being totally honest.”
“I’ve gotta use the head. And then we have to roll calls.”
“Well, I don’t know if you remember that I’m clean and sober now. For like sixty-three days.” Casey found it annoying that the kid was always posting twelve-step slogans on Post-Its around his desk or constantly texting with his sponsor. “But if I’m not rigorously honest, then I can’t stay clean and sober. And that’s my number one priority right now.”
“Right, right, I get it. You can’t start smoking pot again. Dude, more power to you. But there’s too much going on today to get into this.” The assistant looked at Casey crushed. “OK, we’ll talk about it after lunch.”
Casey entered the bathroom. He was one of the few agents who had his own sanctuary. He relished the silence. This was the only place where Casey could have peace and quiet and just think for five or ten minutes.
Casey was back at his desk. The flat-screen TV on his office wall was muted but he could still read the text scrolling across the bottom of Fox News Channel as he talked to Fran. She was one of the few openly gay female studio executives and a power player.
“What’s up?” she snapped.
“There’s a slight problem with Cheyne,” Casey began cautiously.
“If this is about the ‘Let’s roll’ thing, we’re going to have trouble. Because we paid over three million bucks for the script, so we can change the whole title to Let’s Roll and have it set in outer space with little blue men fighting sumo wrestlers in G-strings, if we want.”
“Franny, I agree with you a hundred percent. But I want to tell you the reason why Cheyne has some difficulty with the phrase. But first I should tell you about another Cheyne spec he wants to give you,” Casey lied.
“You’re such an agent,” Fran said with a sarcastic laugh. “Go on.”
Casey stuck his middle finger up to the phone. Just then the Twin Towers were shown on FNC with a picture of Hillary stumbling at the 9/11 ceremony seven weeks earlier when she had pneumonia. Or so her campaign claimed. “I’ll tell you about the other script in a minute. But let me first ask if you knew that Cheyne lost someone in 9/11?”
“He doesn’t talk about it much. I mean, he talks about it to me because we’re like brothers. I was with him at the 9/11 Memorial last month and he just lost it. Literally couldn’t talk. So broken up.”
“That’s terrible,” Fran said. “Jesus, who’d he know?”
Casey now was watching a commercial with a pretty woman holding a box of tampons. “It was his first girlfriend. She was in the second tower when it went down. They had just broken up when it happened.”
“That’s the worst.” Fran’s tone completely softened.
“So you can’t blame the guy for not wanting to exploit 9/11 in any way. And especially not in this script he wrote.”
Fran’s response was just silence. Finally, she spoke. “Okay, I guess we can live with ‘Let’s Go’ for now. But, I swear to God, if I ever find out you lied to me about this, I’m going to rip your balls off with my bare hands.”
Casey’s stomach went into a knot. Maybe he’d crossed the line, but there was no way to take it back now. “Fran, please. I would never manipulate a man’s personal tragedy for some Hollywood crap,” he said, focusing on the TV screen. FNC was showing a clip of Donald Trump at the debates. “Now, about Cheyne’s new script—”
Afterwards, Casey leaned back in his chair, mentally replaying the conversation. Fran will bury me in this business if she ever finds out about the lie. A soft knock was at his door, followed by his assistant.
“I need you to get Cheyne on the line.”
“Could we have that talk first because I know you have to go upstairs in fifteen minutes.”
“I told you that I think your sobriety is great. But I have a ton of shit to take care of. Now is not a good time for this.”
“When do you think—?”
“Tonight, okay? At the party. We can talk about it.”
“Thank you for that.”
“Now I have to go upstairs and collect my bonus. When I come down, I want you to get me Cheyne on the phone.”
Casey headed out the door and down the long marble corridor past the other offices to the elevator. He was going over what he would say to the GTA partners. In his head, he practiced the speech he’d been working on for months: Let’s just cut the bullshit, guys. I should have been made a partner here years ago. You’re lucky to have me. I’m the biggest rock star in the entire lit department. I’m the one who signed Cheyne. I’m the one who gets his deals done right. You know it, I know it, and everyone in this town knows it. He wondered if they would offer him a partnership or his bonus check first. If they didn’t, he’d walk into the waiting arms of Synergy and bring all his clients. Casey felt he was in the driver’s seat.
The elevator door opened. A two-time Best Actor Award winner was inside, with an entourage so big that Casey could barely squeeze in. Two of the agency assistants were escorting the star and his posse, and they all exited on the talent department floor. Alone now, Casey took a deep breath and did a few air punches to boost his confidence. The elevator stopped and he walked straight to the massive conference room where two senior partners sat at a long table.
“Casey, thanks for your great work this year,” the senior partner said.
“Thank you, guys,” Casey replied. “It’s been productive.”
“It has and we appreciate it, as you’ll see from what’s inside this envelope,” said Manny, the head of the agency. Casey took it, wanting to see the check right away. But he restrained himself. He had to play it cool. Manny continued, “We know your contract is up for renegotiation and we’re planning on talking to you about that next week.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Casey responded. But he was thinking, I’ll stay only if you add a zero to my paychecks and give me a new title. He slipped the check into his suit pocket and walked out of the room.
When he got into the elevator, it was filled with other agents. “Gonna be a major rager at Cheyne’s tonight, huh?” one of the agents said to him.
“No doubt,” Casey replied, touching the envelope and hoping it was at least 500 grand. The elevator landed and he shoved through the door first. He walked quickly past his assistant and entered his office and locked the door behind him. He ripped open the envelope.
Please be 500 fucking grand. He stared at the amount. His jaw dropped.
“You. Cheap. Mother. Fuckers,” he shouted, his jaw clenched tight.
The amount was $350,000. He began shaking with rage. He thought about calling his lawyer to fix this with the senior partners. But, no, this had to be dealt with now. Right fucking now. He put the check in his pocket and stormed out, heading back up to the conference room.
Outside the conference room, Casey cut in front of another agent who was about to walk in. “This’ll just take a second,” Casey explained.
The partners were surprised to see him again.
“I’m here about my bonus,” Casey confronted them with a combination of anger and adrenaline.
“We thought you’d be happy with it,” one of the partners said.
“No, I’m not,” Casey continued, “I’m really not.”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room.
“We thought it was a very generous amount,” another partner said.
“It would be for someone who hadn’t made the agency as much goddamned cash as I did.”
When the head of the agency spoke next, everyone else was silent. “It’s true. Your clients did make us a a lot of money. But it was a team effort.”
Casey lowered his eyes as he responded. “Sorry, Manny. I have to differ with you. It was a team effort some of the time, but Cheyne is my client. I signed Cheyne, not ‘the team,’ and Cheyne had three sales last year that added up to over a million bucks in commission. And that’s not even including the fees from my other writers. You know how much they made.”
“We know the numbers you pulled,” Manny said.
“Yeah, well, I’m not seeing it here,” Casey said, pulling out his bonus check and shaking it for emphasis. He hated all the partners for humiliating him like this when they should have been rewarding him with more.
“Casey, why don’t you calm down and we’ll talk about this Monday?”
“I need to talk to you about what my contract’s going to look like next year before I discuss staying here any further. Because if this is any indication of what you guys think of me…” Casey said, his voice trailing off. “I also need to know when, not if, you’re going to make me a partner.”
“You better take the weekend to cool off or there won’t be anything to talk about next week,” Manny said, his voice rising.
Silence filled the room again as Casey stuffed the check back into his pocket and stormed out. As he got into elevator, he could only think of his talks with Synergy. This GTA bullshit excuse for a bonus had sealed his fate. He couldn’t wait to take all his clients with him to the other agency.
Still fuming after leaving work early, Casey sat at the wheel of his Lexus stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on his way home. In his mind, he was slaying every GTA partner with his Samurai sword. Then he was celebrating by having sex with the Asian waitress from this morning. Ripping open her dress shirt, tasting her skin, licking her nipples. Casey pictured fucking the Rose Café server in his shower, water splashing all over his face as she went down on him.
His fantasy was interrupted by a tightening in his stomach, followed by a low grumbling noise. It was his extremely sensitive digestive system acting up again. He turned on the radio to hear an angry right-wing Sirius Patriot Channel commentator in the middle of a rant: “These little lefty bozos are doing what they always do: lying. Mr. Trump has built countless billion dollar companies. What has Hillary ever done besides hiding emails and blowing Benghazi. If she wins, the election is rigged. And shame on you, mainstream media, for your smear tactics. The American people are not going to let you get away with it. Mr. Trump is going to sue his accusers.”
Casey nodded in agreement. Then he went back to thinking about the waitress. Five minutes later he was in West L.A. driving past a building he had never noticed before with a neon sign that read: ORIENTAL MASSAGE.
He slowed down. He knew he should turn around and head to Brentwood and his home to get ready for Cheyne’s party. He felt guilt that Lori was waiting for him there, compounded with the fear of getting caught. Yet the prospect of a sexual thrill always won out.
Casey slipped the Lexus into the alleyway and found a parking place. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and thought, Lori would fucking kill me if she ever found out. He stepped out of his car and didn’t see the entrance. How can they not have a backdoor? What if someone sees me?
He let out a long sigh and walked back to his car. He popped the trunk. Sitting on top of his golf clubs was a black baseball cap with the name of his agency printed across the front. He put the cap on and shut the trunk.
He scurried quickly towards the front door of the Asian massage parlor and entered to get a blow job, like a meth addict about to get another hit.
This is an updated excerpt from the novel American Pride released under the author's pseudonym Michael Ker in 2015 by Publisher By The Seas.