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Cassandra Devine was not yet thirty, but she was already

“Media training,” they called it. She’d been
doing it for years, but it still had the ring of “potty

Today’s media trainee was the chief executive officer of a
company that administered hospitals, twenty-eight of them
throughout the southeastern United States. In the previous year, it
had lost $285 million and one-third of its stock market value.
During that same period, the client had been paid $3.8 million in
salary, plus a $1.4 million “performance bonus.”

Corporate Crime Scene, the prime-time investigative
television program, was doing an exposé and had requested an
interview. In her negotiations with the show’s producers,
Cass had learned that they had footage of him boarding the company
jet ($35 mil) wearing a spectacularly loud Hawaiian shirt and
clenching a torpedo-shaped—indeed, torpedo-size—cigar
in his teeth while hefting a bag of expensively gleaming golf
clubs. Unfortunate as it was, this footage was only the appetizer.
The main cinematic course was video of the company’s recent
annual “executive retreat” at a Bahamas resort of
dubious taste. It showed the client, today’s trainee, along
with his fellow executive retreatants—doubtless exhausted
after a hard day of budget cutting and crunching
numbers—drinking rum punch dispensed from the breasts of
anatomically correct female ice sculptures, to the accompaniment of
a steel drum band, a limbo bar, and scantily clad waitresses
dressed as—oh dear—mermaids. It would all make
for a spirited discussion on the upcoming episode of CCS,
especially when juxtaposed against the footage they were also
running of patients parked like cars in an L.A. traffic jam in
litter-strewn corridors, moaning for attention, some of them
duct-taped to the wheelchairs.

“So they don’t fall out,” the client

Cass took a sip from her seventh or eighth Red Bull of the day and
suppressed a sigh, along with the urge to plunge her ballpoint pen
into the client’s heart. Assuming he had one.

“That last one was a lot better,” she said.
They’d done four practice interviews so far, with Cass
pretending to be the interviewer from the television program.
“If you have the energy, I’d like to do just one more.
This time, I’d like you to concentrate on smiling and looking
straight into the camera. Also, could you please not do that
sideways thing with your eyes? It makes you
look . . .” Like a sleazebag.
“It works against the overall tone of you
know . . .transparency.” The man was as
transparent as a bucket of tar.

“I really don’t know why we’re even agreeing to
the interview.” He sounded peeved, as though he’d been
frivolously talked into attending a performance of The Marriage
of Figaro
when he’d much rather be at the office,
helping humanity, devising new and more cost-effective methods of
duct-taping terminal patients to their wheelchairs so they could be
parked in corridors all day.

“Terry feels that this is the way to go. In cases like
this . . .” The client shot her an “I
dare you to call me a criminal” glance of defiance.
“That is, where the other side has a strong, uh, visual
presentation, that it’s best to meet them in the center of
the ring, so to speak. We’re looking to project an image of
total . . .up-frontness.”

The client snorted.

“That no one is more upset at the”—she
glanced at her notes to see what artful term of mendacity they were
using at the moment—“?‘revenue downtick.’
And that you and management are”—she looked down at her
notes again, this time just to avoid eye
contact—“working around the clock to make the, uh,
difficult decisions.” Like where to hold next year’s
“executive retreat.” Vegas? Macao? Sodom?

The client generously consented to one final practice interview. He
left muttering about persecution and complaining of the indignity
of having to fly back to Memphis via commercial aircraft. Terry had
sternly forbade him the company jet. Tomorrow, the client would
spend an hour in a soup kitchen ladling out faux humanity to
Memphis’s wretched, an act of conspicuous compassion that
would be inconspicuously video-recorded by one of his aides. If
Corporate Crime Scene declined to air it, perhaps it might
come in handy down the line—say, during sentencing
deliberation. Cass sent him off with a DVD of his practice
interviews. With any luck, they’d cause him to jump out his
corner office window.

Cass wanted to go home to her apartment off Dupont Circle, nuke a
frozen macaroni-and-cheese, pour herself a goldfish bowl–size
glass of red wine, put on her comfy jammies, get under the covers,
and watch reruns of Law & Order or Desperate
or even the new reality show, Green Card,
in which illegal (but good-looking) Mexicans had to make it across
the U.S. border, past the Border Patrol and minutemen and fifty
miles of broiling desert, to the finish line. The winner got
sponsorship for a green card and the privilege of digging ditches
in some other broiling—or, if he was lucky, frigid—part
of the country.

Yes, that would be lovely, she thought, then realized with
a pang that she hadn’t posted anything on her blog since
before work that morning. There was an important Senate vote on
Social Security scheduled for that day. She hadn’t even had
time to glance at CNN or Google News to see how it had turned

The light was on in Terry’s office. She entered and collapsed
like a suddenly deflated pool toy into a chair facing his

Without turning from his computer screen, Terry said, “Let me
guess. You had a wonderful, fulfilling day.” He continued to
type as he spoke.

Terry Tucker had built a successful PR firm, Tucker Strategic
Communications, on the premise that those with a debatable claim to
humanity will pay through the snout to appear even a little less
deplorable. Terry had represented them all, from mink ranchers to
toxic waste dumpers, dolphin netters, unzipped politicians, makers
of obesity-inducing soft drinks, the odd mobster, and pension fund
skimmers. Terry had apprenticed under the legendary Nick Naylor, at
the now defunct Tobacco Institute. Cass had been with the firm for
eight years. Terry had promoted her quickly, given her regular
raises, and promoted her to partner. He’d never once made a
pass at her. He treated her like a kid sister or niece.

“Jesus, Terry. Where do you find these clients? In
Dante’s Inferno?”

He kept typing. “Huh?”

“The man’s . . .I’ve seen more
sympathetic people on the E! Channel’s True Hollywood

Terry’s fingers went on clickety-clicking. “This
‘war criminal,’ as you put it, is a client of Tucker
Strategic Communications. Someday, if all the crap we learned in
Sunday school is correct, he will answer to a higher authority.
Higher even than a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick.
In the meantime, our job as strategic communicators is

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just—couldn’t we find like
maybe just one client who wasn’t . . .I
don’t know . . .”


“Well . . .yeah. Basically.”

Terry stopped typing, leaned back in his leather chair, massaged
the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger, exhaled
pensively. Theatrically, the gesture was just shy of a sigh.

“Do you know what I’m working on right now? What I
was working on, before you came in to do an existential

“Let me guess. Raising money, pro bono, for juvenile

“The only time, young lady, you’ll hear the phrase
pro bono around this office is if someone is expressing a
favorable opinion of an Irish rock star. No, I was doing talking
points. For our Brazilian client.”

“The one who wants to relocate the Indian tribe to make room
for the gold mine?”

“Uh-hum. Were you aware that in 1913, this same tribe—I
can’t pronounce the name—killed two Mormon

“Well, in that case, obviously they deserve whatever they

Terry frowned at the screen. “I know, needs work. Maybe if
they fed them to piranhas or something. I’ll massage it. Want
to get a pop? Defaming indigenous people always makes me

Ordinarily, Cass loved going out for a drink with Terry. Listening
to his war stories about defending the tobacco industry with Nick

“Can’t tonight. Gotta go back and blog.”

“?‘Gotta go back and blog.’?” Terry shook
his head. “I’m offering martinis and mentoring. But if
you want to go home and blog . . .” He looked
at Cass with his “kind uncle” expression. “Excuse
me for asking, but do you by any chance have a life?”

“It’s important, what I do.”

“I didn’t say it wasn’t.” He reached out
and typed. Onto the screen came the blog’s home page.


Americans for






Reduction and


“How many hours did it take to come up with that

“I know, bit of a mouthful.”

“She was a goddess of something.”

“Daughter of the king of Troy. She warned that the city would
fall to the Greeks. They ignored her.”

“And? What happened?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Just educate me.”

“Troy fell. It was on the news last night. Cassandra was
raped. By Ajax the lesser.”

“Is that why they called the other one Ajax the major? He
wasn’t a rapist.”

“Whatever. She was taken back to Greece by
Agamemnon—you remember him, right?—as a concubine. They
were both killed by his wife, Clytemnestra. In revenge for his
sacrificing her daughter, Electra.”

“A heartwarming story. No wonder Greeks look

“Cassandra is sort of a metaphor for catastrophe prediction.
This is me. It’s what I do. During my downtime. When
I’m not media-training our wonderful clients.”

“It’s none of my business—”

“Whenever you say, ‘It’s none of my
business,’ I know I’m in for a five-minute

“Just listen. Your generation, you’re incapable of
listening. It’s from growing up with iPods in your ears. I
was going to say, Kid, you’re young, you’re
attractive—you’re very attractive. You should
be out, you know, getting . . .you
know . . .”

“Laid? Thank you. That’s so

“You look so, I don’t know, oppressed. You
work your butt off here—by the way, I’m giving you a
bonus for the Japanese whaler account, good work, sales of whale
meat in Tokyo are up six percent—and then you go home and
stay up all night blogging with people who look like the Unabomber.
It’s not healthy.”


“No. Instead of staring at a computer screen all night and
railing against the government and shrieking that the sky is
falling, you should be out exchanging bodily fluids and viruses
with the rest of your generation.”

“Earth to Terry. The sky is falling. You saw about
the Bank of Tokyo?”

“No. I’ve been working on the Brazilian

“It led the news this morning. For the first time in history,
the Bank of Tokyo declined to buy new-issue U.S. Treasury bills. Do
you realize what that means?”

“They already have enough of our debt?”

“Precisely. Do you get the significance of that? The largest
single purchaser of U.S. government debt just declined to finance
any more of it. As in our debt. Meanwhile, and not coincidentally,
the first of your generation have started to retire. You
know what they’re calling it?”

“Happy Hour?”


“Good word.”

“Mountainous debt, a deflating economy, and seventy-seven
million people retiring. The perfect economic storm.” Not
Cass thought, making a mental note to file it away for
the blog. “And what is the Congress doing? Raising
taxes—on my generation—to pay for, among other
things, a monorail system in Alaska.”

Cass realized suddenly that she was standing, leaning forward over
his desk, and shouting at him. Terry, meanwhile, was looking up at
her with something like alarm.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean
to . . .Long day.”

“Listen, kiddo,” Terry said, “that resort in the
Bahamas where our client Albert Schweitzer threw the party with the
ice sculptures . . .why don’t you go down
there and check it out? We’ll call it research, make Albert
pay. Least he could do. Take your time. Stay for a few days. Bring
a bathing suit and a tube of tanning oil and a trashy paperback.
Take a load off. Get . . .you
know . . .” He waved his hands in the



“You use that word more than I do. It’s my
generation’s word, not yours.”

“It’s useful. It may actually be your
generation’s major semantic contribution so far. It’s
pure Teflon.”

“What’s Teflon?”

“They coat frying pans with it so stuff doesn’t stick.
Spin-off of the space program. Like Tang.”


“Never mind. Look, go home. Go to the Bahamas. Hang an
‘Out to Lunch’ on the blog or something.”

He was already back to typing by the time she reached the door. On
her way out, he shouted, “If you get any brainstorms on how
to make my Brazilian Indian tribe look like bloodthirsty savages,
e-mail me.”

The computer screen was glowing at her in the dark of her
apartment. A prior generation would have called it psychedelic; to
hers it was just screen saving.

She showered, changed into comfy jammies, ate a peanut-butter
PowerBar, and washed it down with Red Bull. She unscrewed the
safety cap of her bottle of NoDoz, hesitated. If she took one, she
wouldn’t get to sleep until at least four. Unless she popped
a Tylenol PM at three. She wondered about the long-term effects of
this pharmaceutical roller-coaster ride. Early Alzheimer’s,
probably. Or one of those drop-dead-on-the-sidewalk heart attacks
like Japanese salarymen have. She popped the NoDoz. She could sleep
in tomorrow. Terry wasn’t expecting her in the office. She
wanted a cigarette but had given them up (this morning). She
chomped down on a piece of Nicorette gum and felt her capillaries
surge and tingle. Shock and awe. She flexed her fingers.

She logged on. There were 573 messages waiting for her. Her Google
profile had searched for reports on the Senate vote and auto-sent
them to her inbox. She read. They’d voted in favor of Social
Security payroll tax “augmentation.” Jerks.
Couldn’t bring themselves to call it a “tax
increase.” She felt her blood heating up. (Either that or the
effects of the pill.) Soon energy was surging in her veins in equal
proportion to outrage. Her fingers were playing across the keyboard
like Alicia de Larrocha conjuring a Bach partita.

She typed: “The buck has been passed to a new

She stared at it on the screen, fiddled with the font color and
point size. It occurred to her that as most of her readers were in
their twenties and thirties, they would have no idea it was a steal
from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech, “The
torch has been passed to a new generation.” Even fewer would
know that she’d grafted it onto Harry Truman’s famous
slogan “The buck stops here.” Whatever. Cassandra was
starting to get hits from older readers. And the mainstream media
were also starting to take notice. The Washington Post had
called CASSANDRA “the bulletin board for angry,
intelligent Gen-W’s.” Gen-W being short for
“generation whatever.” Even one or two advertisers were
starting to come in, feigning interest.

In a moment of weakness, she’d posted a photograph of herself
on the home page, thinking it might bring in a few male viewers. It
did. A third of the 573 messages were from men who wanted to have
sex with her. She was, as Terry had put it, an attractive girl or,
to use the word of her generation,
“hot”—naturally blond, with liquid, playful eyes
and lips that seemed always poised to bestow a kiss, giving her a
look of intelligence in contention with sensuality. She had a
figure that, when displayed in a bikini or thong at the resort in
the Bahamas, would draw sighs from any passing male. All in all, it
was not the package you’d expect to find sitting in front of
a computer screen at three a.m., wired on over-the-counter speed
and railing at the government for—fiscal irresponsibility?
Girl, she thought, get a life.

by by Christopher Buckley

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve
  • ISBN-10: 0446697974
  • ISBN-13: 9780446697972