Friday, June 29, 2012

Star Whacker-06

It’s quite important in the gossip business to maintain relationships, because that’s how one gets and keeps the access necessary to do this job. Assassination has a similar pressure, in that it’s a wise thing to treat human resources well while they remain at all useful to you. Therefore, I did keep my promise to my German colleague and contacted that former lead singer; I redeemed the time by having one of those “Where Are They Now?” interviews while he cut together a mix-CD of his live stuff from years of local radio appearances. I even got it shipped out the same day, and by the end of dinner I had both the hyper-local blog updated with the venue and dates scoop, and I updated my day job column with the aforementioned interview.

Now I turned my attention to my rivals. I knew that most assassins were either ascended crooks or burned spies, and my target would command a prize great enough to attract the former as well as the latter. If you’ve seen films like Smoking Aces, then you have an idea of just how dangerous this scenario can be- especially for a non-traditional such as myself. However, it is not the spies that concerned me most; the crooks worried me, because they are often both ambitious as well as incompetent- if they were, they wouldn’t have a record. Both sets had to be dealt with.

I am not some protagonist from a John Woo film. I am not an All-American James Bond. I am an otherwise-ordinary man that just happens to be good at killing people. These guys could wipe the floor with me if I played their game, so I can’t allow that. I needed intelligence, and I needed it now. This put me in a bind, as I’m a gossip columnist and not a crime beat reporter. Fortunately, everyplace has That Guy—the celebrity gossip addict—and I knew that if I just get an in with someone in the local FBI office I’d be able to leverage that into a source.

I needed that in. I didn’t have it. I spent my evening watching American Idol thinking about how to fix this gap. When the late news came on, I had my answer: I figured that someone on the security beat would have that in, and once the press release went out I’d have a reason to come by for a visit- I’d be expected to talk to the local FBI press liaison and get their press release. That’s how I could get that in.

The following morning the national morning shows released the new U.S. tour schedule, and an hour later I put in a call to the local FBI office to get a response. I could not believe that they had none, so I followed up with the expected “I can’t believe your serious.” line of questions until I sensed that I’d score that meeting- and then I got it. We met across the highway at one of the famous landmarks in town—a dining car—and got the table in the far corner from the door. I expected the liaison, but he brought a colleague- and that was the one I hoped for, the gossip addict.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Star Whacker-05

Back home, I resumed the daily routine as a gossip columnist and blogger. I made my calls, watched all of my social media feeds, kept an eye on my email inbox, and made my social calendar fill up with lunch dates, dinner dates, movie outings, and the usual stuff that I need to do to make this work. I did this with renewed vigor due to my decision to camouflage my preparations for the hit through my day job- and if I was to succeed, I knew that I had to fix things well before the fact, and that meant that I would win or die now.

My target was on tour, promoting a new album release that—as we insiders knew would happen—flopped. In order to salvage the failed commercial venture, the target had to ramp up the tour schedule and aggressively push the merchandise. That meant adding dates, and because of this fact I saw my target added a three-night stand here where I live. (Normally, this is not the case; normally, I have to go to Chicago to get this sort of experience, and I do resent this sort of treatment.) Given the arena-sized scope of the target’s entourage, only two venues in the area would be acceptable where I live, which meant that I had to scope out only two public venues. Each one had only one acceptable hotel nearby, so I only had one hospitality venue to scope out. Once I knew where my target would play, the only variable left would be the other assassins.

I got a break during a lunch date. I sat at one of my favorite pubs in the area, out on the patio, having a pint while I waited for my order to arrive. I had my tablet with me, and I got a Skype call from a European contact I met a few months before in Germany. In brief, the important parts when like this:

“Good day, Mr. Smith. It looks like you’re enjoying yourself.”

“It’s lunchtime where I am. You look like you just had dinner. What’s the word from the heart of Europe?”

“I got your query, so I arranged to get an interview after the show. You were right about using a red bracelet; that’s what made the difference.”

“I know this isn’t a social call, and your site hasn’t published any interview, so what do you have for me?”

“Dates, Mr. Smith. The press release isn’t due until tomorrow morning, your time, so you’ll get a scoop that your local readers will love you for…”

“…in return for?”

She held up an album cover for one of my hometown’s many notable musical acts, comprised of a handful of decent people whom I have some respect. They have since broken up and gotten into the far more regular and lucrative business of scoring films, television series and video games.

“The lead, I assume?”

She nodded.

“I have an in with him. Anything in particular?”

“Live performances.”

I smiled. “Not a problem. It’s as good as done.”

“Okay. I know you’ve done right my some of our mutual acquaintances, so I know you’re good for it.”

She then gave me the dates and the venue, which meant that I knew the hotel. My target must have the children along, as that venue’s close to all of the child-friendly attractions in the area. That’s a good thing to know; it gave me more options as to where to make my move.

“I’ll put in the call before I’m done here and get that fan service for you, and I’ll let you know when it’s on your way.”

German fangirls squee in a most adorable fashion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Star Whacker-04

I chuckled at the CEO’s allusion to Becket.

“Many of these troublesome talents are troubled themselves. They are prone to habits that are self-destructive in nature. Should we not just let them end themselves? As it is, people still think that Elvis is still alive and he died on his own toilet. You can’t avoid conspiracy theory, so you might as well make it work for you.”

The CEOs chuckled. As we were all media professionals, we all knew the truth of that.

“Have you ever considered writing for something other than a column?” the other CEO asked.

“Do you have an offer? I didn’t know that you had any interest in anything other than material for your superhero books.”

“We’re looking to expand our other imprints. You’ve got something that could be a good answer to that popular Japanese comic.”

“You mean Death Note?”

He nodded. “Exactly. Villain Protagonist and all that.”

Even for me, this was surreal, but this was an opportunity so multi-layered that I could not refuse the challenge.

“Put that in writing, and we’ll do business.”

The first CEO then spoke up again: “If it’s really good, I’ll ensure that it gets the movie treatment.”

“All well and good, gentlemen, but again: put it in writing, and then we’ll talk business.”

They looked at each other, exchanged glances, and then we shook on that.

A week later, I received a letter by Registered Mail from those CEOs. Within was that very letter I asked for and it was indeed a contract offer. While the language—even to a legally-educated mind—only spoke about writing stories for comic and film production, the subject matter conveyed the true subtext of the contract. This was their offer to me of a contract to kill one of the most famous talents in the world, an idol so prominent that one name alone is sufficient to identify this celebrity. The cover for them was to supply a conduit for a so-called “inspired by” crime thriller, following Dick Wolf’s long-going Law & Order franchise. This was their deniability, and thus their out should they decide to burn me.

As I considered this contract, I also checked my usual celebrity and entertainment sources. The stories regarding my target also talked about issues regarding sketchy religious issues and with equally sketchy talk about disreputable associations abroad. I scowled, and I now saw what this was really all about. Rival parties wanted had their own reason to see this fading, troublesome target taken out- this one had long ago irritated the industry’s power-brokers, and alienated the community that nourished the target’s rise to fame and fortune, so these shot-callers deemed this a vulnerable target so now came the time to take it out.

Another hometown hit. At least I knew the territory. That would be the one advantage I would possess over the other assassins. The payment would, therefore, be greater than the contract’s stated compensation. I sensed that a greater game again unfolded before me, and that I was not one of those at the table. Instead, I was one of the pieces on the board. Again, I felt that I’d been set up to prove my worth; I realized then that I was no less a talent to be used and discarded than the celebrity I’d agree to kill.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Star Whacker-03

They smiled. All of us knew what I meant, and yet no one overhearing us would think me anything but an idealistic altruist, which is what all four of wanted. One might expect this to go on to discuss a hit. That did not occur; we resumed our inebriated small talk about celebrities, gossiping like everyone else. The drinking gave us the social cover needed to ignore that the serious subtext ever occurred.

As I made ready to return to the United States from Japan, I received an invitation to travel in the company of one of the most famous entertainment corporations in the world—theme parks, films, television, iconic comic characters, music, etc.—and recently acquired one of the two greatest comic book publishers in the world to make into a subsidiary for the purpose of exploiting its own set of iconic characters. I would be with the Chief Executive Officer of that corporation as well as that of the same comic publisher. I learned as I got that invitation that I came recommend by the Japanese executive that I dined with just a few nights before. It was then that I recalled the ties between the animation studio and the entertainment corporation; the other night was an interview, not the usual shmoozing.

This corporation is notorious for its in-house talent farm, many of which go on to careers that often end early with either a tragic accident or a sudden shift out of the spotlight due to their falling before a planned irrelevance, only for them to try again by submitting their own children to the same system of exploitation that used and abused them. As I sat on the plane with this CEO beside me, he said to me this:

“Many of the difficulties that these young performers face can be met, and my colleagues do work with their people to see that those difficulties get defeated, but some of them simply can’t be dealt with because they are beyond our reach. The business as a whole gets In its own way because once-great performers from a previous generation choke out the life of these young people, bolstering their own fading relevance as vampires feed off the blood of the living, ruining them in the process. If only someone would remind them that their part is played out, and they need to get off the stage.”

He looked at me as he said that last part. I glanced over, across the aisle, to his colleague from the comic publisher, and he nodded in concurrence. Given the talent in their recent big-picture items, I can see why both of these executives would want to do away with the elder generation of talent.

“It’s pathetic.” I said, “Too many hangers-on depend on this cadre of creeping cadavers to tell them the truth, and too many others don’t have either the means or the drive to clear out these idols so long past their time. They are irrelevant, and they need to be pushed out to make room for those that are relevant.”

The CEOs nodded. “Will no one rid us of these troublesome has-beens?”

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Star Whacker-02

Pulling Down the Idol

I became a contributor to one of the larger celebrity gossip aggregators online, and while that on its own doesn’t mean much, what it did mean is that far more established and successful colleagues in this game saw me as a promising new talent. I reached out to them, and they began introducing me to their friends—some of them being celebrities—and over a period of a year I built up my network of sources and contacts throughout the entertainment world. I enjoyed traveling throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, throughout continental Europe, Russia, Japan, South Korea and so on. I also became aware of the far wider world to which I now belonged.

I already knew some of the standards of the scene by this time, such as avoiding the naming of names so long as they—or their estate—can retaliate against you. This is a habit that I choose to push to this memoir; I expect that my executor will, in time, obey my instructions and release the version of this manuscript that names names after I am gone. As you, reader, likely come to this from reading the work I produce for my cover identity, I expect that you will not balk at this practice- and that you will be thrilled to guest the identity of the people I refer to herein.

While in Japan, I joined a colleague of mine—a Canadian-born journalist that had become a permanent resident and now worked as an independent investigator—for dinner. He and I joined a well-regarded international film producer and his assistant at an upscale restaurant, one that I knew had a history with the Yakuza. I felt this to be a curious thing, one that doubled when my colleague revealed that our table sat in a very quiet, secluded section away from prying eyes- a V.I.P. room, if you will. That was when I took a moment to look up the name of this restaurant online, and saw that this business also had a history with the Yakuza. When I remembered that my colleague also had ties to them, I realized that this was no ordinary evening talking about the entertainment business and the issues influencing it.

You would not believe that this executive was at all tied to organized crime. He had neither a personal nor a familial history, and neither was the family business—an animation studio—known for it. He was a friendly—even to foreigners—man, even when drunk. Neither he nor his assistant—a quiet, but sufficiently pleasant, young man—showed any of the tells associated with that notorious group. So, when the conversation—after a few rounds—turned to the subject of celebrities, I found myself quite surprised to hear the old man say the following:

“Idols are tools. We use them while they’re useful, and when they’re broken we throw them into the trash and get new ones. Idiots think otherwise, and I know you’re not an idiot, Mr. Smith.”

He got me. I did not expect such a direct move by him, and my colleague revealed his part in this play now.

“Mr. Smith is no fool.” he said, “Remember that clipping I showed you?”

The old man smiled and nodded. His assistant refilled my glass. I realized that they knew about the incident that I recounted above, which did get reported in the press in the form I intended. I’d been made, and all that remained was to see what they wanted of me.

“Indeed.” I said, “I follow the words of William Shakespeare with regard to any individual’s worth in life.”

My colleague and the old man smiled widely, and my colleague clapped in appreciation.

“So, Mr. Smith,” the old man said, “which part are you playing now?”