George leaned back in his chair, lit a hand-rolled cigar, and looked out the window. He caught his reflection and smiled. Thick brown hair, strong jaw, steady brown eyes and just enough time in the tanning bed for a winning glow; ten years younger and he could be president. He straightened his tie and winked at himself.
He’d recently moved his operation to the 200th floor of an office building near the harbor, and still felt queasy whenever he looked at the streets below. A car flew by, leaving a faint vapor trail in front of the small message blimp that floated between the buildings. At first, he couldn’t decipher the images on its screens, but as it drifted closer he recognized pictures of one of the new floating vacation communities in the Florida Keys. He wondered if this job was the one that would finally allow him to retire somewhere similar. He blew a few smoke rings in the air, watching as they dissipated into blue haze, rising toward the ceiling.
He spun around, and looked at Gene, the skinny 23-year old interviewing to be his intern. George noted his cheap gray suit, darting blue eyes, thinning blond hair, patchy goatee and skinny wrists. George snapped, “OK, read me what we have.”
Gene gulped, and looked at the five-foot computer screen. “Monkey Head. The Monkey Lovers. Monkey Dog. The Purple Monkey People. Monkey Mafia. Zoo Monkey. Hey, That’s My Monkey. More Monkey More Better. Night Monkey. One Less Monkey. Monkey Music. Zabba Dabba Monkey. Monkey Fight. Monkey Talk. Uncle Monkey. Monkey Mania.”
“Hmm…I’m not getting any closer. Shit.”
Gene trembled a little as he spoke. “Mr. Ziller, I don’t mind assisting you like this, I mean it makes sense as part of the interview process and all, but can you tell me more about what the internship will involve? Your recruiter was a little vague. He just said you wanted an intern for your band creation machine. I’ve read your name a lot in marketing and advertising publications so I know you’re somebody I’d be lucky to work with, but it’s still not clear what I would be doing.”
George made a few playful sucking and spitting noises, then nodded his head. “Fair enough. Here’s the overview. I need an assistant, someone to help me with my creative process. I get paid to come up with complete band packages for the big entertainment companies. You know, Sony, Virgin, Google, companies like that. The whole process was more haphazard until about 2060, when the record labels realized that it was wildly inefficient and left little room for them. So, they decided they had to be proactive if they were ever going to return to the glory days when they ruled the music world.”
Gene was excited. “Yeah, yeah, I read Suzuki’s book about his stint running Google. Really inspiring. He single-handedly resurrected the music industry with his full-package approach.”
“Exactly. In the old days, a few kids would get together, play the music they liked, fumble around with a name and a look, maybe get a few fans on the internet and play a few gigs, then start looking for a manager. But with worldwide marketing and the need to choose a name that works cross-culturally and lends itself to online media, big companies want a comprehensive strategy before their musicians play a single note. I give them a complete, ready-made package, then they go out and create the band and make billions. I tell them the type and number of instruments, age and gender of the musicians, title of the songs on the first album, the internet marketing strategy, and a name.”
“But aren’t they just using marketing computers to do most of that these days?”
“Sure, a computer can do all of this for you, even do a pretty good job, but I’m still one step ahead of those circuits and electrodes. I’ve helped launch some of the most successful bands in the last twenty years, and I do it the old fashioned way. Blue Dog Bonanza, The Leech Lovers, Late Night Pancake, Breakfast Massacre, The Lazy Lickers. All mine, and all very successful franchises.”
“I had no idea you started all of those. I was listening to The Lickers on the way here.”
“Yep, my babies. My clients know I’ll make them a lot of money, and they pay me pretty much whatever I ask. For this latest gig, the client’s only demand was that I use monkey in the name of the band. Their research department thinks this is the most marketable word for the young generation. Who knows? Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve got everything but the name finalized, and I told them I’d be all done today.”
George smashed the tip of his cigar into the ashtray. “Shit. I have to come up with something!” He looked Gene in the eyes. “OK, if you’re going to be my intern let’s see what you can do under pressure. I read your resume. You did some good work programming the naming and branding computers for that sex bot campaign, but let’s see how you do using your own brain. This band will be a hard-driving, post-punk goth group with two male guitarists, a female drummer, a transgender keyboardist and Zoran, the six-foot four female lead singer bass player with red hair. How can we work monkey into the name? Dazzle me.”
“Well,” Gene stuttered, “Okay, okay, what about The Lovely Monkeys? Red Monkey. Monkey Butts. No More Monkey. Snow Monkey. Monkeys Love Zorna. Zorna and the Monkeys. Bitch Monkey. Monday Monkey. Z and the Space Monkeys. Bad Monkey.”
George sat up straight. “Stop, stop. Bad Monkey? Come on. It’s obvious you’ve got some talent, but you’ve got a lot to learn about this business.” George put his elbow on his desk, and rubbed his thumb and index finger together, a few inches in front of his face. “Let me ask you this. Have you ever done anything you were so ashamed of you won’t ever tell anyone? Not your wife, not your mistress, no one? I’m not talking about murder, but something despicable and selfish.”
Gene squinted. “I…I don’t know. I’m a pretty honest person.”
George stared into his eyes, and waited, his face flat and expressionless.
Gene took a deep breath, and rubbed his goatee for few moments, then nodded. “Yeah, I mean, I guess when it comes down to it we’ve all done something awful at some point in our lives, right?”
George sat back in his chair. “Not me. I was just asking if you had. And how often do you think about it, this terrible thing you’ve done?”
“Well, since I’m being honest, almost never. I’d almost forgotten about it until you asked me. Like you said, it’s not like it was murder or something.”
“I’m glad you were so forthcoming. Most people pretend to be a saint, and there’s no such thing.” George opened a drawer and grabbed a small paper ticket. “Here, if you want to be my intern go and pick up my dry cleaning. My secretary will have the papers ready for you to sign when you get back, and then you’ll start officially.”
Gene grabbed the ticket. “Thanks Mr. Ziller. You won’t regret it.” He got up to leave, “Really, I think you’ll like what I can do. I’ll be right back.”
“We’ll see, and no need to hurry back. Go and have your self a celebratory beer. But just one. I’ll need those suits in an hour.” Gene packed his briefcase and bounced out of the room.
George shook his head, then turned to the computer screen and said, “Computer, split screen.” The screen split the display in two. The left still contained the band name; the right was all black. “Call John Wright.” An old-fashioned phone appeared on the right, and Calling John Wright appeared under it.
George spun his chair back around, and watched as fog rolled in from the harbor, his view of the city fading as it crept between the buildings.
A voice spoke on his sound system. “Hey George baby. I hope you’re calling me with a good name. Today’s your deadline you know.”
“John, get a bottle of champagne ready, I’ve done it again. Are you sitting down? Are you ready to start the biggest launch since Tickle Patrol?”
“I’m always up for earth shattering news. I got the other details you sent earlier. The artwork’s amazing, the musician bios look promising and I like the musical style. Really it’s all great, but what is the damn name? The monkey thing didn’t throw you, did it?”
“Not at all. I never met a band I couldn’t name. It’s Bad Monkey.”
For five seconds there was only silence on the other end, then, “I like it. It’s simple and short, but it really captures the mood of today’s youth. You are a god, George. I have to admit I thought you were losing your touch after the Furious Furball fiasco, but this one sounds like a winner. How’d you come up with it?”
“Just old fashioned hard work and genius. The same formula I’ve used for thirty years.” George paused to light another cigar. He put his feet up on his desk, and continued, “The dry cleaners is sending my best suit up right now. Once I get it I’ll change and head over. We can have a celebratory toast.”
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Portland Fiction Project
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