Monday, August 03, 2009
Virtual Vice by Jason Kays
In Virtual Vice by Jason Kays, readers follow disillusioned entertainment attorney Ian McKenzie as his professional life takes a decided turn for the questionable when he is hired by the charismatic and dangerous Scott White to represent Scott’s interests in his cutting edge Internet startup, Metropoleis Multimedia. Unfortunately for Ian, Scott has more in common with Scarface’s Tony Montana than Apple’s Steve Jobs, and things go from questionable to deadly in no time flat. As Scott’s confidant and consigliore, Ian soon finds himself caught between the Feds, La Cosa Nostra, and the Cali Cartel in a fatal game of corporate winner-take-all.
About Jason: Jason M. Kays is an intellectual property attorney with fifteen years experience in both information technology and entertainment law. Kays is an accomplished jazz trumpet player and his passion has always been music, technology, and convergence of the two in today's digital age. This is his first novel.
Read an excerpt:
The return of the Talking Head
The day of the Talking Head’s return to the compound for broadcast of the Metropoleis Messianic Minute was a tense affair for the Board members and Netcast crew alike. In fact, “Iron” Mark Rimer was insistent that all MIII executives be off-premise the day Clarice Westwater was on location for the weekly live Netcast. Westwater pulled up to the compound at break-neck speed in a 1955 sapphire blue Series 62 Cadillac convertible. A huge spiraling conical plume of dust marked her wake. Accompanying Westwater were two particularly striking fellow female flight attendants: one driving the car, the other serving as personal assistant, and tightly clasping the Talking Head’s Hermès agenda and portfolio. A third woman, a 5’11” tall striking Eurasian make-up artist sporting a Versace dress that left little to the imagination, shared the back seat with Clarice’s personal assistant. The Talking Head deigned to carry nothing more than the “pooch purse” containing her beloved dog, Bitsie.
Clarice’s entourage followed her lock step at a brisk pace into the Ministry’s broadcast studio. Westwater led the ensemble, with her handlers fanning out behind her as she walked, forming a quadrangle. This formation permitted the Talking Head’s minions to deflect any riffraff that might attempt to approach their leader from the rear or flank, such as the gawking and dazed johns stumbling from the dimly lit whorehouse into the blinding Arizona sun. The johns and the few sex workers milling about came to a standstill and stared at the procession, as it made its way towards Mark Rimer’s welcoming outstretched hand.
The CTO warmly greeted the Talking Head and walked her into the studio. The crew, accustomed to Westwater’s enormous ego, flamboyance, and eccentric excesses, found themselves staring at this latest display of pomp and circumstance. Those that didn’t check themselves and avert their gaze in time out of deference to MIII’s royalty were treated to Clarice’s icy, reproachful stare. Rimer found himself shifting position, using his body to shield the Talking Head from the invasive gaping of the “little people”, as she commonly referred to MIII staffers. Clarice asked Rimer to take her directly to her dressing room. Once she was seated, her make-up artist hurriedly began assembling her face, while the self-appointed diva barked orders to anyone within earshot for coffee and bottled water in her distinctive South-East U.K. accent.
Usurpation with a smile
Primped, preened, and primed for her adoring unwashed masses, the Talking Head summoned Pastor Petey for a pre-show huddle. No shrinking violet himself, Petey had been humbled by the Netcast’s drop in ratings and revenue since Westwater’s departure, not to mention the torrent of bad press. The Talking Head directed the good pastor to sit in a chair across from her. Her demeanor was as cool and detached as her eyes were inflamed and focused. Much like a fighter pilot’s targeting system locking in on its military objective, Westwater’s piercing eyes fixed themselves on the pastor’s pallid, weary face. She said nothing for a good thirty seconds, simply staring at her new subordinate. Although it was an affront to every fiber in his person, the pastor knew he was outranked by her. Clarice’s brilliant blue eyes seemed to take on an ethereal quality in contrast to her blood red Vera Wang dress. Pastor Petey likened the penetrating force of Westwater’s countenance to a horrific memory from childhood of watching a neighbor boy slip near a commercial chipping machine, and his skin being stripped from hand to elbow in mere seconds. The de-gloving of skin from bone, surgically and instantaneously carried out by that machine was not unlike the ability of Clarice Westwater’s brutalizing stare to cleave psyche, soul, and flesh. These past few years with Scott White had caused the pastor to question the existence of his God – any god. Sitting across from Westwater, Pastor Petey may have doubted the existence of God, but he was convinced of the existence of the Devil.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, the pastor tired of the manipulation, and decided to launch in with forced cordiality: “Clarice, great to have you back on board. I admit there have been a few awkward moments between us, but I always have appreciated your contribution to the Ministry’s work, in general, and to the Metropoleis Messianic Minute, in particular. I just felt awful about . . .”
Westwater abruptly stopped Petey in mid-sentence by raising an alabaster hand with index finger extended heavenward. She spoke briefly and pointedly, instructing God’s servant thus: “Ahhh Petey, so good once again to be in your company! We both know that if Scott felt he had a choice, I wouldn’t be here. But he doesn’t have a choice, does he? The Ministry, and MIII along with it, is up against the ropes. Not only that, but news of MIII’s tailspin has been splashed all over the business section of the world’s most prominent newspapers. This can’t be good for investor goodwill; forget new investors, you’ll be lucky to hold onto the present shareholders. So, let’s cut the crap, Pastor.”
As if on cue, Clarice Westwater’s assistant handed her a portfolio containing the grim financials for Metropoleis Messianic Minute’s last two business quarters. The Talking Head was flanked by her personal assistant and driver, while her stylist continued to fine-tune her boss’ formidable head of hair. Clarice rattled off figures, as her bookends watched the pastor squirm uneasily in his chair. Then she continued, “We can sit here and argue the numbers, but it’s a moot issue: the Netcast is flat-lining. Hooker Nun’s lips weren’t able to bring it back from the dead, so I’ve been brought in for a mouth-to-mouth. Never send a whore to do a courtesan’s work.”
Pastor Petey bristled at the slur targeting his love interest, but let it go. Westwater concluded, “I don’t count necrophilia among my fancies; so the faster I’m able to get a pulse and make my exit, the better. No doubt we are like-minded here. If there’s a way to resuscitate the show, I’ll find it; in the interim, you and your trollop need to step aside. You still have a place in the Netcast, but it’s limited to doing what you do best – preaching from that dog-eared book of yours. I’ll be both hosting and scripting the shows. ‘Sister Lorelei’ had best return to what she excels at – blow jobs – and leave grifting to the professionals.
“As for the live audience – using your prostitutes and johns? If you creative geniuses ever bothered to leave the confines of this loony bin, you would see how this, more than anything else, has made a mockery of the show and turned it into a sitcom among the majority of your viewers. Since when have comedians received tithing, particularly when the comedy is unintended? No one is going to pony up donations for something they can see for free on network television. The studio audience goes. The Netcast’s audience – and its bad press – have grown exponentially, not because it’s good, but because it’s so bad. A big audience is never a bad thing, but it becomes irrelevant when a broadcast has no sponsors and its ability to attract donors has atrophied. My publicist has already sent out email circulars announcing my return to the parishioners. From here on out, I’m Christ’s Commandant; you follow my lead. For heaven’s sake, have make-up do something with that ever-present shine on your forehead before we greet our pious masses. That’s all for now, Pastor.”
Pastor Pete Huckalby was furious at this upbraiding, but knew better than to take on the Talking Head. Petey saw Clarice Westwater as a true paradox: both victim and victimizer. In his line of work, he often counseled battered women to leave their spouses. While each case was unique, there was a common pattern and shared traits. Westwater was different. Scott White had deposited her at death’s door numerous times and, more often than not, she had endured the ordeal without going to the police, family or friends. She would appear defeated and vulnerable in the aftermath of this violence. Yet, she always quickly reverted to her cold, calculating, unfeeling self, then proceeded to dish out the abuse verbally, psychologically, and emotionally to all, but her closest confidants – and that was a very small group, indeed. The Talking Head was so inherently manipulative, parasitical, and self-serving that it was difficult to have compassion for the woman.
“Lights, cameras, Jesus!”
After a visit to wardrobe and make-up to address that cranial glare, Pastor Petey joined his imperious co-host on the sound stage – littered, once again, with the Talking Head’s opulent rococo and Greco-Roman props. The set was saturated with rich embroideries, gilt, and tassels. Gold, purple, forest-green, and blood red predominated. Even Westwater’s pug, Bitsie, managed a disapproving countenance, lording over the scurrying grips and stagehands from atop her leopard skin recamier. Petey loathed the brainless purebred, but Bitsie’s return had been a precondition set by Clarice.
The Talking Head seated herself in a regal high-back chair, with her pug to her right. Both on and off-stage, Pastor Petey dressed with the conservative minimalism of a Quaker. His somber attire clashed dramatically with the Talking Head’s choice of wardrobe. Her outfit screamed “secular humanist”. Clarice was seldom satisfied with the imported haute-couture offerings of New York’s textile district. When her income allowed, she purchased directly from the various fashion houses in Europe. To mark her return, she was sporting a lavish Jean Paul Gaultier formal, dark green gown with plunging front and back. The empire waist accentuated her saline bosom. Clarice’s left shoulder was left bare by a drop strap, while ostrich feathers embellished the gown’s right shoulder, extending upwards, over the shoulder, and cascading down the back of the dress.
A technician cued the Netcast’s theme music, as Petey moved stage center to announce the return of Clarice Westwater from her (wholly fictitious) humanitarian crusade in Africa. The Talking Head’s reworking of the Netcast began with its theme music. The saccharine refrains of puddin’ pop alto saxophonist Kenny G. had been replaced with the sternum-vibrating Gangsta Rap beat of artiste Fifty Cent. The Talking Head intentionally hadn’t forewarned her co-host about the switch to throw him off his game. She succeeded in her endeavor. Historically, the Metropoleis Messianic Minute opened with a darkened stage and Pastor Petey in a soft blue spotlight, head bowed in piety, arms crossed prosaically, holding the Good Book snug against his crisp white starched shirt. Unbeknownst to the pastor, Clarice had replaced the aging audio equipment with six eight-foot-tall studio monitors and a bank of subwoofers, fueled by a rack of Crown power amplifiers, putting out 50,000 watts of libidinous lyricism. Fifty Cent’s “Candy Shop” hit the studio like a neutron bomb, following Scott White’s voice-over introduction of the show’s topics. Six back-up dancers – three male, three female – emerged from either side of the stage. The dancers, their lithe, near naked bodies well-greased, began to gyrate to the music. The wall of sound sucker-punched Pastor Petey, knocking him back on his heels. He lost his grip on his dog-eared Bible, dropping to his knees to catch the book before it hit the floor. While rising to his feet, Petey noticed the scantily clad dancers and dropped the Bible again.
The synchronized pelvic thrusts of the dancers slowed in rhythm as the music faded. The dancers struck rigid, statuesque poses behind the pastor: three female dancers to his right, three males to his left. The soft blue spotlight morphed to red, then purple, as Petey cleared his throat and head to speak. He was furious over the audio ambush and the change in show format. His face turned a deep crimson with rage at the mere thought of having to lavish praise upon the Talking Head, much less enact his new role as her footman. There were no doubts about her malicious intent: he could clearly see the mischievous grimace cross Westwater’s face as she watched Petey struggle to steady himself.
After regaining his composure, the pastor spoke into Camera #2 through clenched jaws, trying to conceal his anger, while feigning enthusiasm about the Talking Head’s return. He briefly summarized her manufactured mission to Africa, heaped praise on her for her bravery and selflessness, then welcomed her back to the MIII Ministry fold. From center stage, Pastor Petey pivoted towards the seated Clarice, hands clasped in prayer, as he exclaimed, “Back from doing her fearless and fearsome work in Hell’s abyss, the MIII Ministry’s Dove of Divine Providence – Clarice Westwater!” With that, there was an encore of Fifty Cent’s hit song, and the spotlight swung stage right to reveal the Talking Head seated regally upon her throne. At the Netcast’s opening, the loud music had terrified Bitsie, causing the dog to seek refuge under the stage manager’s chair. Bitsie, like Pastor Petey, had, by now, adjusted somewhat to the aural assault, and returned to her mistress’ side.