UnBooks:Public Relations:The Line
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"Quickly, Mark!" I yelled, as the limo raced down the streets of LA. "Get those assholes off our tail!"
"I'm trying, man!" replied Mark. "I'm driving as fast as the speed limit's gonna allow!"
"Well, the paparazzi's crossed the speed limit! You don't see any cops harassing them, do you?"
"Goddamit! They can see us!" cried my assistant, Luigi. "Brace for flashes!"
"NO! Get us outta here!" I yelled, my patience wearing thin.
But before we knew it, we'd crash-landed onto the pier. And I'd blacked out.
edit Chapter 1
It had been the deal of a lifetime. And I had the great privilege of having been part of it. The deal of managing the PR of hotshot pop idol Conrad Bieber's heavily-anticipated new record "Disbelief". Me and my colleagues Mark Wex and Lugi Costanza had awaited with bated breath for when Conrad would contact us again. But that day never came. We began to lose hope, thinking that we'd been ditched by the great Conrad for somebody he was more comfortable with. But one day, everything changed.
That day I received an e-mail containing a recording by Conrad. It said "Work has come to a standstill. I just don't believe in my music anymore. Not with everybody hounding me about the creative process. No. My time is done. I'm outta here."
Realizing how badly the publicity of his career had affected him, I decided to travel with my colleagues to find Conrad. We would figure out where he was holed up, and would help him with his creative process. We would do something no PR company ever bothered to do-respect his right to privacy. Our promotions would be based entirely on is work. And with our celebrity-friendly strategy, we would gain Conrad's eternal love and loyalty.
With that goal in mind we went to the city of London, which doesn't put its filthy tabloid glare on people who aren't British citizens. We searched the little-known back-alleys of the city, hoping against hope to find Conrad in some budget-rate apartment. We met with little luck. Until Luigi caught hold of a radio broadcast-
"Yeah, this is Conny B., showering all residents of the Shire apartments with the best beats of the month and a lotta LOVE." Being a major fan of him even early on in his career, I recognized that voice. Conrad had impersonated his earlier avatar of a house-music producer, even to the extent of getting back his childhood Brooklyn accent! Now, it was only a matter of time until we located Conny B's apartment, and sealed our breakthrough as a PR organization.
We went over to the Shire apartments disguised as hippie musician collectors. We inquired as to where Connor B. may be residing, and found out that his house number was B-86. To our shock and horror, we discovered Connor's apartment was deserted and trashed up, save for a few British detectives roaming the place. Detectives who were quick to point their guns at us.
"Stop right there!" yelled one Detective. "You fucking Hippie squatters picked a bad time to revisit your illegal abode! Officer Frank, arrest them!"
Frank quickly came over, brandishing three pairs of handcuffs. Realizing that our arrest could completely waylay our plans to find Conrad, we revealed our true identities and purpose.
"So Conny B. was actually Conrad Bieber the whole time! Good golly, the case just got a whole lot more complicated."
"Whatever do you mean, detective?" I asked concerned.
"Conny B's missing from his apartment since last week. We initially though this would be a simple, low-key investigation, as obscure DJs come and go all the time. Now that we know that he was the Beebs of all things, we're going to have all the British tabloids breathing down our neck!"
It was then that we realized the gravity of what we'd done. The very brazen publicity that had forced Conrad into hiding was now coming back to haunt him. But maybe it was for the best. Maybe something bad had indeed happened to Conrad, and the best way to find out the truth was to cooperate with the police. Hell, if Conrad was okay, he could easily inform his fans via a Twitter post or vlog update. We hadn't really done anything to rob him of his privacy!
edit Chapter 2
So Conrad became the stuff of headlines for the first time since his mysterious disappearance. The tabloids raged with concern over the heartthrob's whereabouts, and we tried to help the police investigations the best I could. We never held back from the authorities, always giving them what they asked for. Conrad was as big a concern to us as he was to them, and we wanted to leave no stone unturned to find him.
Unfortunately, the search progress was slow. And the media glare on Conrad was unwavering. As I'd feared, things took an ugly turn, with various media reports speculating on Conrad's seedier side, his alleged drug abuses, his infidelities and all the shady stuff his girlfriends brought him into. It was a cruel and heartless way to treat a missing person of such talent and brilliance, and I could barely contain the disgust and contempt I felt for every new update that arrived on the net.
"This is unforgivable." I said, "The way things are going, nobody will want to buy Connor's record once he resurfaces! And if he doesn't, his legacy will me marred forever!"
"But what should we do about this?" asked Luigi. "You know how crazy speculations can get about missing celebrities! There's no way we can stem the tide!"
"No way, unless we find him ourselves!" I exclaimed.
"What?" they both said.
"I think it is about time we went off the beaten track, gentlemen. The police have their limits. We need not." said I, and they hung on to every word I said. We packed up our bags and went off in search for Conrad yet again. And this time, no one would be privy of our quest.
However, finding an elusive celebrity on your own is easier said than done. It was a long and arduous road to discovering any significant leads to where Conrad may have gone, but it was during a phone call to one of his old label's execs that I began to get an idea of where Conny B. may have gone post deserting his apartment.
"Oh, yeah, we did have an old friend pay us a visit." said Walter White, an executive producer of Kaze! Records. "Said he wanted to get back to his roots, and cut a new record with us. I, however, advised him against it. You see, we were facing a lawsuit at that time."
"Yeah, a few disgruntled ex-clients had ganged up on us, were demanding all sorts of things we weren't willing to pay heed to, so they took us to court. Poor Conrad, didn't want him caught up in all the politics."
"What did these people want from you, exactly?"
"Oh, it isn't something you should worry about. The whole affair was an ugly mess, if you ask me. Not something I'd ever wish on anybody."
"Look, Walt. These people could be the same ones responsible for spreading the lies about Conrad we're seeing in the press. If anything can help me find him, or clear his name, it is something I'd like to know."
"Well, if you insist..." the exec paused for a few moments, then added, "They mainly asked for money. And renewal of contracts. I told them we had no issues with renewal, provided their fees weren't so exorbitant. They said they felt insulted, that we didn't care for them anymore..then they began looking for loopholes in their older contracts that would force us to pay them their huge fees anyway."
"Why were they so desperate for money, anyway?" I asked. "Seems a little odd for so many people to demand so much."
"You're telling me. This was why I didn't want anybody near the case. It was really fishy back then, and it's been giving me nightmares to this day."
"Thanks for your information, Walt" I said, and hung up.
"Luigi" I told Luigi, "I want you to dig up all the dirt you can on Kaze! Records. Something about the guys signed up there's resulted in the horror Conrad's been through. It's about time we found out what it is, and how we can set things right."
"Set things right? That's a bold objective, boss."
"Fortune favors the bold." I said, sounding unintentionally badass. "Get searching."
edit Chapter 3
After a week, Luigi came up to me with some very intriguing intel.
"Boss, I've got some very eerie news. All the artists signed up to Kaze! Records were not only collectively extorting the label, they also happen to be living in the same neighborhood."
"Yeah, I mean, I find it weird too. I did extensive research on all the signed artists and their well-known aliases. Practically everyone named in the lawsuit against Kaze! Records has rented a house in the Jack South borough of Brent."
This was a mystery that merited further investigation. So I traveled to Jack South with my coworkers to further investigate the mysterious ex-artists of Kaze!
Almost immediately after reaching, we fell into deep trouble. The artists knew we were coming, which was why a terrifying greeting was made for us, to be blared out of a loudspeaker set specifically for our arrival. "So the paparazzi comes here at last! Trying to embroil good, hard-working people in another scandalous scoop, are you? Well, go fuck yourselves!"
Before we knew it, all around us, cars had boxed us in. Creepy, thug-like people coming out of them. It took me just one good look at their faces to realize we were in deep, deep shit.
"Now, now we're not going to kill you or anything!" said the voice on the loudspeaker. "We're just going to knock some sense in your sensationalist heads in a very literal manner, and we'll leave you to ponder over the consequences of trying to bother us again!"
"It doesn't have to be this way!" I screamed, "Just answer our questions, and we'll leave you in peace!"
"That's what all of you say, but the cameras never stop flashing do they?" said the voice.
"What are we going to do now, boss?" said a visibly terrified Mark.
"The only thing we can do. ATTACK!" I yelled, and all of us charged at the thugs. It was a brutal fight, with many a finger bitten and many a head whacked over with a club. But in the end, we emerged victorious, albeit battered and bruised. The thugs those artists had sent up lay on the floor, some bleeding, all knocked out.
"That's it. It's about time we found out what these assholes were up to, and put a stop to it!"
"Boss, how about we just get out of here? Leave this to the authorities to deal with?"
"You think they'll just let us leave? And what will the authorities discover? These are top-level ex-artists we're talking about, masters of secrecy and cover-ups. No, there's only one way their nefarious schemes can be brought to an end. DIRT!"
"So we need to search the place? Find out what they were hiding?"
"Yes, and once that happens, plaster it all online! Once the world is rid of such abusive artists, people like Conrad will be able to resurface in peace."
We went around, searching the neighborhood. The loudspeaker voice kept on taunting us- "Now, now, that wasn't very nice. You people seem pretty darn desperate to make the headlines, don't you? Well, be careful what you wish for, that's what I always say."
"We could have kept this quiet if you'd just listened to us!" I spat back, "You brought this upon yourselves!"
"Sure, keep telling yourself that. In fact, how about you tell that to those people coming at ya?" the voice said. And then we saw another army of thugs coming at us. Our investigation was slowly turning into a Double Dragon-style beat-em-up.
edit Chapter 4
We kept going, heavily drained and exhausted. Our expedition had turned pretty much the entire neighborhood against us, which meant we had stumbled onto something big. Some serious shit. No wonder Conrad had gone into hiding, being surrounded by these devious conspirators.
I was just beginning to forget where we were going and where we'd come from, when Mark shook me up "Boss! In here!"
We followed Mark into a warehouse, and what we saw defied our expectations.
The warehouse was a huge printing press. Different types of paper, plastics and press plates were scattered everywhere. As we walked, we began to understand the full extent of their operation. "This...this is a major counterfeiting racket." I finally said.
"Yeah, boss. These guys have been trying their hand at all sorts of things. Traveler's checks, green cards, heck, even UK visas."
"They've even put some names on these passports." said Luigi, "Hernandez, Sanchez...these are all people from South America and Mexico."
"Illegal immigrants. These ex-artists were funneling in illegal immigrants. But why?" said Mark.
"Maybe it's drugs. They may have connections with drug cartels." said Luigi.
"Or maybe they know these people. I've got friends in Mexico who can't afford to cross the border. They might be working for family and such."
"Either way, we've got to call the police. These guys have barricaded the way out. There's no way we're going to get out of here unnoticed."
"But, we can't just do that! We could be destroying people's lives here! They've invested so much in this racket...I don't know what's gonna happen if it falls apart!"
"We don't have a choice, Mark!" Luigi said.
"We always have a choice!"
"No, Mark. No, we don't." I said. "We'll have to carry out our original plan. Photograph this place and post it online. Then call 911. It's our only way out of here."
"Whatever you say, boss." they said, and began doing as they were told.
Predictably, we were rescued by an RAF team soon after our call, though that wasn't quite necessary given how everybody in the borough went into hiding the moment they heard the sirens. The cops found us at the warehouse, and a full-blown investigation into the counterfeiting racket ensued.
We never heard the end of it in the news. All the ex-artists had been rounded up, and chargesheets were drawn up against them. Then little by little, we learned the full details of their immigration racket.
Though Mark had been closer than Luigi to the real motives behind it, both were pretty off the mark in their assessment. The ex-artists pleaded no contest to the charges leveled against them, but in media interviews their defense council began to elaborate on their motives.
One of the artists had a Mexican cousin and Brazilian uncle, both of whom had recently been deported. Unable to find an affordable home, they had been forced to live in one of the dreariest colonies in Mexico, and an equally terrible neighborhood in Brazil. Everybody in these places lived in abject poverty, but all their efforts to get a visa to the US or UK had failed miserably. Discovering the plight of these people, the ex-artist Carlos Ferrer had hatched up the immigration racket in order to help his cousin and uncle, as well as all their friends and neighbors find a new and better home. However, due to our expose, these people were now back to their helpless, miserable position, being effectively left to suffer and die.
The liberal media reported on the developments with thinly disguised contempt for me and my agency, but Mark was even more furious.
"I told you! I told you we shouldn't have done it, and you didn't listen!"
"Our hand was forced, Mark. Who knows how far they would have gone to protect their secret?"
"I would have done the same thing if my cousin was living like that! Or should I say DYING!"
"It's alright, Mark..."
"NO! It's not alright! We ruined their lives! He made us destroy their lives!"
"We need to keep moving." I said, finally.
"Huh?" they both turned around, apparently noticing me for the first time.
"We need to look for Conrad. His former colleagues get caught up in a scandal, and he still doesn't show up. There's probably more to this than the racket. We need to find out what's happening."
"Oh. Oh right, Conrad...." Mark said, and sat down.
"So where should we look now, boss?" asked Luigi.
"Look up Universal Studios. Conrad films his music videos there, doesn't he?"
"Yeah. Yeah, he does."
"He probably booked it under a fake working title, perhaps under an associate's name. He'd announced his single "Boyfriend" before abruptly stopping work on the album and disappearing. I think he may have made some progress with the video."
"Hmm...let me see. Ah, yes! He booked room 301 under his manager's name, DJ Scooty 3 weeks ago!"
"Let me guess, no new bookings for the room?"
"Then we're flying back to the USA."
edit Chapter 5
We drove to the studio just a day after our return. Room 301 was actually an unguarded shack located on the outskirts of the studio, where security was negligible. Indeed, nobody saw us as we entered the sets of Bieber's abandoned music video.
The place was full of props, such as mechanical gears and mirrors. There was even a foam machine and an ice machine, but everything looked abandoned.
"Yeah, this place does look familiar." I said, "I'd actually interviewed Conrad on this very set." Then my cellphone began ringing.
I checked the caller ID but did not recognize the number. But the voice that spoke to me once I took the call was unmistakable.
"Hello." spoke Conrad, "I see you've come over to the last place anybody ever saw me. And I see you've carried out your role in my master-plan quite brilliantly."
"Master-plan?" I replied, though I wasn't truly surprised to hear that.
"Yes, my plan, which I'm pretty sure you're trying to work out right now. Let me spare you the trouble. My whole disappearance has been an act. In fact, I was the one who e-mailed my recording to you. Nothing like a curious PR agent whose deal just got screwed up to get me back in the limelight, eh?"
"So this is your whole promotional spree, Conrad?"
"Yes, but it's more than that. It's about my survival, plain and simple."
"So that whole racket I exposed..."
"Yeah, an unfortunate but necessary move. I had to trash up my ex-colleagues and old record label. You won't understand it yet, but I really need the masses to appreciate the new me."
"Well, if you want my personal opinion, the new you sucks."
"I'm sorry to hear you say that. How about we discuss this like men? You just follow my instructions, and I'll tell you where to find me."
"Guess I've got no other choice, do I?"
"You do. You can let me go. But we both know you're not going to do that, don't we?"
"You read my mind."
"I'll call you later. In the meantime, why don't you check out my vanity van? It's not too far from here." he said, hanging up.
"What happened, boss?" asked Luigi.
"Conrad called me." I said, smirking. "He's been playing us. Playing us the whole time."
"Playing us?" said Mark.
"We're all pawns in his new promotional spree. He wants the public to appreciate the 'new him'. Well I'll show him." I said, and began searching for the vanity van.
My colleagues followed me, apparently unsure of what I was doing. But they'd understand. Once I was done with Conrad, they'd understand everything.
I finally found the van, not too far from the studio. It was painted over with what looked like the cover of Conrad's "canceled" album "Disbelief". I myself had to chuckle in disbelief at this.
I turned back to my colleagues and motioned for them to follow me in. They looked visibly uneasy.
"Boss, are you sure you want to go in there?" asked Mark.
"Yeah, Conrad himself told me to. If we're gonna find him, we have to do as he says."
We went inside. The van was a neat little place, with a blue carpet covering the floor, and Conrad's posters on the wall. But what quickly caught my attention were two contracts lying on a table up ahead. And a pen lying right next to them.
It was then my cellphone rang again. "Hello, Conrad? What have you brought me in here for?"
"To show you how showbiz works. To show you what I have to deal with everyday."
"And signing contracts is a chore you couldn't afford to do yourself?"
"Well, things aren't all that simple. Before I left, these two Canadian artists came to me, requesting that I take them under my wing, as I was planning on launching a record label of my own. But I do not have the necessary resources to launch them both, and both of them have some nasty skeletons in their closet."
"On the left is the contract of Ramsay Freeman. A major crack dealer and user in his youth, he evolved into a wonderful singer, so brilliantly expressing the frustrations and problems of his generation. Unfortunately, he's an unpleasant dick who's near impossible to tolerate. I'd hate to work with him, but he would make me a lot of money.
On the right is Marty Ray Jensen. He was a former contestant of Canadian Idol, and produced some great material after his elimination. But he's gotten sloppy, and his music trite and repetitive. But he's a wonderful guy to have on set. In fact, we're very good friends.
Who do you choose? The guy with more promising music who you can't stand to see, or the guy on a downward spiral who'll at least be nice to you? Choose!"
"What's going on, boss?" asked Mark.
"I have to choose..." I said, my mind in a whirl. I'd still not hung up on Conrad, when he spoke again, "I'm not a very patient man. You need to be quick with the choice you're making. After all, we don't want anyone to find out you're trespassing now, do we?"
Just then, I heard some footsteps in the distance. "Oh, boy. Looks like someone's coming. Be quick with whatever you're doing, boss!" said Mark.
After some hesitation, I signed the dotted line on Marty Ray Jensen's contract, and turned back. "Let's move." I told Mark and Luigi, and we left the van and the studio before anybody saw us. Or so we thought.
As we ran down the pavements of L.A, I saw that we were being followed. "Surprise, surprise." said Conrad. "These people saw you inside my studio, and would love to ask you a few questions about what the hell you were doing. See you on the other side, if you ever get there." he finished.
"Boss, there's a mob forming up ahead. I don't know, but I think they're after us." said Mark.
"You're right, Mark. Let's just turn back, and walk away slowly. If we try to run, they'll just chase us down."
And so we walked, not looking back, and doing our best not to break into a run. Unfortunately, even after turning the corner, the sound of footsteps behind us never faded. They were on to us.
edit Chapter 6
We broke into a sweat. We knew it was only a matter of time before we got captured and interrogated, and all sorts of crazy ideas began popping into my head. But in a twist of luck, a woman appeared right in front of us. She seemed to recognize me, too. She put up quite a pretense, as a typical onlooker, but I knew that there was more to her than that.
"Oh! Aren't you the PR team that Conrad had signed up for his new album."
"Yeah," I replied, guardedly. "But he's been missing for a while."
"Oh, I know. That poor guy. Listen, do you need to talk to somebody? I could give you a lift."
I immediately took the cue, and said, "Yes, we would very much appreciate it!"
We followed her to a sedan with enough room for us three in the back. The mob had stopped following us the moment she had come along, for fear of hurting an innocent bystander. As the car drove away, however, she took of her scarf, and confirmed our suspicions that she was anything but an innocent bystander.
"Well, you boys seem to be magnets for trouble." she said.
"So you've been following us?" I asked.
"Yes, actually. Believe it or not, I happen to be on the same mission as you people. Finding Conrad."
Luigi and Mark snorted. But I was more eager to believe her.
"Really? You knew about his disappearance too?"
"Yeah, I know something's off when a celebrity like him disappears without a trace when his new album's supposed to be coming out. I came across the three of you by chance, and I must say, you picked up some pretty solid leads. But of course, I forget my manners. I'm Elisa Riggs, entertainment correspondent from Metro News One."
"Yeah, well we're from a PR company that was supposed to be promoting Conrad. Imagine having a deal like that slip through your fingers."
"Ouch. That must have hurt."
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't." I said. "We've tried so hard to find him. But now it turns out he was playing us."
"Yeah. Conrad's been playing us all along in order to promote the 'new him'. At least, that's what he told me on my cell."
"Oh, well, this is intriguing." she said, and stopped her car. "Here's my house. You'll be safe here from the mobs."
We went inside. The place was modest, but comfortable. "Come, have a seat. You can take your time to figure out if you want to trust me or not. I'll go change."
The sofas we sat down on were very comfortable, and we were finally beginning to relax a little. Then the burning question came up.
"So what do we do, boss? Do we answer her questions, or do we just keep shut and get outta here?" asked Mark
"Elisa's been the closest thing we've had to an ally so far. I say we take her help. We're both looking for the same thing, after all." I replied.
"Well, okay boss, but I don't really know if you can be so sure of somebody's intentions in such a short amount of time."
"I won't deny she may have ulterior motives. But right now, she's our best shot at getting Conrad. Without her, we'll always be at his mercy. I'm not going to be pushed around anymore."
"Oh, but that's exactly what she'll do to you three." spoke Conrad's voice. I started, realizing he was still on the line with me. I quickly hung up, not wishing to hear his voice again.
It was then that Elisa came back. She'd changed alright, and the way she looked now seemed a clear attempt at bringing our guard down. Which essentially meant she was looking smoking hot.
"So," she said. "Have you made up your minds?"
"Yeah. We need your help." I replied, trying my best to sound level-headed.
"Okay, then." she went on. "You remember that immigration racket you people exposed? I have reason to believe Conrad may have been involved in it."
This took me by surprise. But I soon began to see the sense in it. Of course Conrad would help his "old friends" in their illegal scheme. It was the only way in which he could ensnare them into something that may cost them careers. The sheer degree of Conrad's cunning kept on surprising me.
"So, I need you to think and think hard. Who all were the people involved? Because that's where we'll need to continue our investigation."
"But those people are already in jail! You can easily figure out who they are!" said Mark
"Some of them were mere pawns, Mark." Elisa said. "I'm looking for the big fish. The people who were involved every step of the way."
"I'm sorry, I can't tell you that." I said. "All the details we have were a result of what we'd heard in the news. We actually abandoned this racket after we'd exposed it. There was nothing more to look into."
"Oh, but I think you might remember more than you're letting on." Elisa said. "I need you to think. Think carefully. What exactly did you see in that warehouse?"
I tried to remember. At first, it was just vague images flashing through my head. Then I began to see the warehouse again. And I could hear Luigi reading the names on the fake passports...."Garcia....Hernandez....Sanchez"
"Wait, did you just say Sanchez?" Elisa said, interrupting me.
"Yeah, yeah I did."
"Did you mean Cher Sanchez? Tell me!" she said, visibly excited.
"Maybe...I don't know, there was a photo in there too..."
"How about you show me all those photos you originally took of the warehouse? We really need to find Sanchez, it's critical."
"Okay, Elisa." I said. "They're back in my apartment, on my laptop."
"Well, let's get over there. I'll drive, you give me the address."
edit Chapter 7
After arriving at the apartment, I showed Elisa the pictures me, Mark and Luigi had taken. We hadn't released all of them to the general public, mainly because it seemed unnecessary at the time, but we hadn't bothered to delete them either. I now felt relieved that we hadn't, as we searched picture after picture for Cher Sanchez. Eventually, we found his passport. And Elisa's joy knew no bounds.
"Excellent! Thank you guys so much for your help. We couldn't have carried on without it." she said, giddy with excitement.
"We?" Luigi cried out, but my heart was already sinking. I then noticed her speak into an earpiece I could see only just then, "We've got him. I'll mail the photo to you. There's no way he's going to get out of this one." she said. Then hanging up, she turned towards all of us, beaming.
"Okay, what's going on here?" said Mark.
"Well," said Elisa, logging into her e-mail, "I haven't been completely honest with you guys. I did give you all my real name, but I'm not really a journalist. Ah, there. Done." she said, having mailed our photo to whoever she was working for.
"If you're not a journalist, then..."
"I'm an agent of Interpol." she said, turning towards me. "I actually contacted you all to get enough evidence to nail Sanchez."
"And what did Sanchez do?" I asked.
Her face then flushed with embarrassment. "Well, he was actually a messenger. You know the racket you guys exposed? It wasn't just limited to a handful of neighborhoods. It was a systematic plan to get illegal immigrants into the US and UK from quite a number of underdeveloped colonies scattered across South America. Mexico and Brazil were only just the beginning."
"So, you're saying there were more people involved? More people who could've escaped those horrible places they have to call home?" said Mark, horrified.
"Hey, look." she said, with a tender motherly smile. "I understand you're not happy about this. It wasn't a pleasant mission for anybody from my team. But it was the right thing to do. Immigration laws have to be respected."
"Well, you sure seem pleased with yourself, Miss Riggs." said Luigi, also horrified.
"Hey," she said, taking my hand, perhaps because I hadn't said anything yet, "Sometimes hard decisions need to be made. But of course I'll be happy now that I've done my job. Because I know it's for the greater good."
"Oh good God, I can't take this." said Mark. "I'm going out for a walk. Anybody care to join me?"
"I'm right behind you." said Luigi. Neither of them bothered to call me.
I sat there, numb. "Hey," Elisa said, shaking me. "Hey, can you tell me your name?"
"My name," I said. "It's...it's Perez. Perez Walker"
"Look, Perez. For what it's worth. I think you're a brilliant investigator. And a good person. I know you don't completely understand why I did what I did, but if you ever want to talk about it, or anything else, just give me a call." she said, slipping me a card. She then got up and left. I staggered to the front door and shut it.
edit Chapter 8
I didn't know if it was a nightmare or reality. I just knew that I was alone with Conrad. Alone in a dark room. He was laughing at me.
"Nothing seems to go right for you, does it, Perez? All you wanted to do was to help people. Instead, all you've ever done is destroy them. Thanks to you, thousands of impoverished Mexicans, Latinos and God-knows-who-else are going to live in their hell-holes till the day they die. Let's hope it comes over quickly."
"Oh, you were played? You didn't know what you were doing? Well, that doesn't change anything now, does it? Thousands of people have no reason to hope anymore, and it's all because of you..."
I woke up with a start. I felt a surge of relief that it was all just a dream, that the conversation with Conrad never happened. Conrad. Conrad....
I got up, and went over to brush my teeth. It was when I began making breakfast that I realized neither Mark nor Luigi had returned yet. I was about to place a phone call to them when I heard banging at my front door. Before I knew it, the door fell down, and I was confronted by three thugs armed with baseball bats.
"Rise and Shine, Mr Walker. That is your name, right? Walker?" blared a voice.
"Wait...wait, you're that loudspeaker guy!"
"Yeah. You've caused me a lot of trouble, Mr. Walker. Why, just last night, I had cops breaking down MY front door. I hope I chose the right location to exact my plan of revenge."
"Wait...you're Sanchez, aren't you?"
"Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is Sanchez is very much in police custody and might be ratting off the whole immigration plan as we speak. The bad news is, you've just confirmed what I already knew. Guys, let's teach him a lesson."
I immediately charged at the thugs. Clearly taken aback by my aggression, they couldn't defend themselves swiftly enough. I wasn't thinking clearly during my plan of attack, but was instead kicking and punching at everything that moved. I ignored all the blows I received from the thugs' bats, and delivered my own as fast as I could.
In the end, all the thugs lay on the floor, bloodied and bruised. My head was spinning, though I hadn't felt such a high in years. I smiled at all the unconscious big guys, proud of what I'd done. I then went on to call up Mark.
"What is it, Walker? You don't sound too good."
"Oh, the loudspeaker guy, remember him? Yeah, he had his thugs break into my house."
"Oh, dammit, the apartment! Are you alright!"
"Yeah, just got a few bruises here and there, that's it."
"Alright. Me and Luigi are gonna get back up here, okay. You sit tight!"
When Mark and Luigi finally returned, I'd already begun packing.
"What's going on?" asked Mark.
"We're not safe here. If three armed thugs came up over here today, God knows who could be at our door tomorrow."
"He's got a point." Mark said to Luigi. "We'll help you out, okay?"
We packed away food from the refrigerator, a change of clothes, and a camera. I dearly hoped we wouldn't stay out of our apartment for too long. But I had to do more than just hope...
"We need to find the man behind the loudspeaker." I said. "He's been giving us a lot of trouble. Who knows, maybe he's working for Conrad."
"Well, I agree with you, boss. Fortunately, you made our job a lot easier with these thugs."
I'd bound and gagged the thugs. before Mark and Luigi's arrival, originally intending to just leave them like that. But now that we'd thought about our next course of action, interrogating them seemed the right thing to do.
We went over to the dining table around which the thugs had been tied up. I removed the gag off one who seemed to be regaining consciousness.
"Who sent you?" I asked him.
The thug did not reply, so I backhanded him across the face.
"I ask again, who sent you?"
This time, the thug stared at me with contempt. I realized he'd need to be treated the hard way. But just then, a transistor attached to the man's hip began creaking.
"Alright, alright. I hear what you're doing to my boys, so I'll spare you the trouble. I'm playing at the Casanova Bar, tonight at 9. You show up, maybe we can work things out."
"And what if it's a trap?"
"Oh, Mr Walker. After what you've done to me, I'd much rather make you pay myself."
"Okay, then. We're coming for you."
"I'll keep that in mind." said the guy, and hung up.
edit Chapter 9
So it was at 15 minutes to nine that we walked over to the Casanova Bar. Apparently, our names had been entered on the guest list, so entry wasn't a problem.
But when we did enter, we found the bar deserted and dimly lit. It was then that Mark screamed "Look out!"
I dived quickly to the side, narrowly dodging what looked like a dart.
"Welcome, welcome, my favorite PR agents! Boy do we have a party for you! In fact, we're holding a tranquilizer dart throwing competition right now!" roared the loudspeaker.
"And let me guess," I said, breaking into a run, "We're the targets?"
"Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! That's the correct answer! Too bad you weren't playing for money, though." and then he fell silent.
"We need to be really careful around here." Luigi said, and just then, very loud trance music began playing from above.
"Oh, hey hey! Almost forgot about the music! Can't have a party without that now, can we?"
Another torrent of darts flew past us.
"I think they're using guns to shoot these things! Do any of your cameras have a lighting feature?"
"Mine does. Yours doesn't, boss?" said Mark.
Mark took out his camera and turned on the lighting. That made it slightly easier for us to see where we were going.
We needed to get to the top floor of the bar, from where the DJ usually operates. But wandering the dark, dilapidated bar with no way to protect ourselves was a terrifying idea. Fortunately, that worry didn't last long.
We saw one of the dart-shooters race across the dance floor, presumably to gain a better vantage point. We saw him hiding behind a row of amplifiers.
We snuck up behind the amplifiers, our ears hurting from the sheer loudness of the music. However, that very music masked the noise that the subsequent fight between us and the dart-shooters created.
In the end, we'd taken down five shooters, and their weapons and ammo were ours for the taking. We then slowly crawled up the staircase, wary of anybody possibly spotting us. But we managed to get up to the second floor undetected. It was in that corridor that we saw some dart-shooters patrolling about. If we tried to rush up the stairs, we'd be spotted. So there was only one other option.
"Mark, you take point. Luigi and I are gonna cover you."
Mark went over to the edge of the corridor and opened fire. Three shooters were down before an alarm was even raised.
"What is this, now? You people want in on the dart-throwing thing too?" said the man on the loudspeaker.
"Oh, just wait till we find you!" Luigi roared, reloading his gun.
The firefight quickly grew intense, with the shooters completely blocking our way to the top floor. I began to pick up unconscious bodies and began using them as shields. At one point, Mark and Luigi descended upon three shooters who were busy reloading, and beat them to pulp. And in time, the stairway to the top floor finally cleared away.
We walked up to the top floor, where the DJ sat behind his console. "Oh, so you guys finally made it." he said, turning around to face us.
"Tim Berg! Never figured you to have a thing for Latinos." Luigi said.
"Well, I've gone on tours to raise money for hunger and shit. Sympathy for those guys was inevitable. Besides, unlike you American scum, we Swedes actually take human rights seriously."
"Alright then, I get it! Mr Berg, sorry to have laid your plans to rest. Maybe if you hadn't broken the law-" I said.
"I lost respect for your laws a long time ago."
"But maybe we can give you some level of retribution. Was Conrad Bieber involved your little immigration racket?"
"I wouldn't know. I never saw him around."
"Well, he was. In fact, he's made you and all his ex-colleagues at Kaze! Records patsies to be taken down. He was the guy led us to the racket in the first place, and if you help me, we can make him pay for making both our lives a living hell."
"Oh. Oh, okay, then." Tim said, and took out his wallet. "I never met Conrad as part of our immigration racket, but he had signed me up to be a guest DJ in a promotional concert he'd scheduled for 'Disbelief'. In fact, it was supposed to be held in a few days from now. Here are all the details." he said, giving me the card.
"Thanks for your help, Tim." I said. Then Luigi pointed his gun at him, and fired.
Tim recoiled and slumped into his chair. "I wonder how the cops are gonna feel finding him like this." Luigi went on, taking out his phone.
"What the hell are you doing!" Mark said, snatching it away from him.
"What's necessary! That asshole sent an army of thugs after us! He needs to pay for what he did!"
"He cooperated! He's given us all the information needed to get to Conrad, and you repay him by giving him over to the police!"
"SHUT UP! Both of you!" I said. "We're here to find Conrad, nothing more, nothing less. I don't care if Tim Berg gets arrested or not, I want to expose Conrad for who he really is!"
"Okay, boss." said Luigi. "What would you have us do, then?"
Just then, my cellphone began to ring.
"Hello, Perez. Seems you've come a long way in your desperate search for me."
"Oh, I know where you are, you son of a bitch. Sit tight, cause I'm coming for you."
"But what about all the guys coming for you? How about you go downstairs and take a look?"
I went downstairs, followed by Luigi and Mark. And there I saw it-a huge, angry mob of people making their way over to the bar.
"Oh, I've made sure Mexicans and Latinos all over the city know why they won't be seeing their dying families anytime soon. It's a real shame. You were so close to bringing me down, but I guess you'll be taking the fall after all." he finished, hanging up.
edit Chapter 10
The security guards lay unconscious on the floor.
We'd been forced to break into the parking garage, thanks to Conrad. However, since we'd already broken numerous laws throughout our search, shooting down a few security people didn't seem like such a big deal.
I was fortunate to have Mark with me. His cousin was an auto mechanic, and had taught Mark how to hotwire a car along with many other things. But the hotwiring was the only thing I cared about as we finally got into a Chevrolet and Mark began getting to work.
The ignition started successfully, and Mark took the car out and drove us out of the garage into the streets. But the mob was quick to spot us. They tried their best to chase us down, but we easily outran them.
We were just breathing a sigh of relief when we saw that we were being followed by another Chevrolet. Luigi took one good look at the windows to see that the guys in there had cameras.
"Looks like the paparazzi knows about what happened down at the bar. They've got guys with cameras coming after us, and I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be seen in the tabloids tomorrow."
"Don't worry guys. We'll lose them soon enough." said Mark.
"My God, it's strange..." I said.
"What happened, boss?" said Luigi.
"I mean, we did this already!"
"Nothing, just lose the damn car!"
Luigi looked very worried as Mark drove the car as fast as the speed limit would allow. Soon, even that began to rattle us.
"They're gaining on us, Mark!" I yelled.
"I'm driving as fast as the speed limit's gonna allow!"
"Well, they're crossing the speed limit! They might even run a few red lights!"
"Oh, no! A guy with a camera's leaning out! He can see us!" cried Luigi.
"DO SOMETHING, GODDAMIT!" I screamed.
And then we crashed into the pier, and I blacked out.
edit Chapter 11
When I woke up I was floating. Floating on the water of the sea. I looked around me, but the shore was nowhere to be seen.
"It's a real pity, isn't it? When everything you set out to do just falls apart." said Conrad.
"CONRAD! Where...where the hell are you!"
"Nowhere you can find me, my friend. In fact, there's nothing you can do about anything now."
"What....what do you mean?"
"Fifteen thousand people would be living the American dream if it wasn't for you. Fifteen thousand people would have had a second chance at life. What's going to become of them now, I wonder?"
"Well, I guess this is it. The world's probably going to be a better place without you, anyway." he said.
I then saw a massive wave building up. It was headed straight for me. "Mark! Luigi! Help! SOMEBODY HELP ME!" I screamed.
The wave submerged me. I swam and fought the best I could, but it was of no use. I kept on drifting down, down....
"Boss! BOSS, wake up!"
Mark shook me again and I tried to push him away. "Oh, oh thank God you're okay!" he said.
"Mark...where...where is everyone...where is...Lu...Lu"
"Luigi? I'm so sorry, boss. He didn't make it."
I looked around, and saw Luigi's body sprawled over the back seat. He had bled quite a lot, and glass shards littered his corpse from top to bottom.
"Oh, oh God. My...my wallet..."
"Oh, of course, boss, just a minute." he fumbled in my pockets, and dug it out.
"Yeah...yeah, just give it to me." I said. I took out the card Tim had handed me.
"The..the marina. That's just a few blocks down from here, isn't it?"
"Alright, then. You've got enough ammo in your tranquilizer gun?"
"Wait, let me see...yeah, boss, yeah we've got plenty."
"Good. We'll need it." I said, and struggled to get out of the car. I staggered a little bit in the beginning, but regained my balance quick enough.
Mark followed me down the coast. Up ahead I could see a wooden gate. "The Marina." I said, smiling. "Where Mr. Conrad will be hosting his comeback."
"Not if we can get to him first, right boss?"
We went over the gate. It was closed, but a smaller pedestrian gateway opened to the side. We staggered over there, where a guard leaned lazily against the wall. Seeing us, he quickly grew tense, but I put a dart in him before he could assess the situation.
We went further into the compound. There wasn't much of activity to be seen all around. "He's gone through a lot of effort to keep the concert on the down-low, security and everything be damned!"
"Be quiet, boss. I'm pretty sure Conrad's own make-up room would be guarded pretty well."
"Oh yeah, the make-up room. That's located on the third floor, isn't it?"
"Seven years of covering concerts from here, I'd say yes it is."
We snuck into the building, darting two other guards who were patrolling the back-door. The freight elevator provided an easy passage into the third floor. "Too easy." I was beginning to wonder, but it was too late to back down now.
And I was right. We were within inches of the hall of makeup rooms when the sirens began to blare.
"Dammit! The cops know." I said, and saw that Mark was bolting.
"Mark! Where are you going!" I called after him.
"The cops want a trespasser! I'll give them a trespasser!" Mark said. "I'm turning myself in, boss! You go ahead and take care of Conrad!"
"Mark, no you don't..." but Mark was already running away.
Realizing I had no choice but to do this alone, I went into the hall, wary of any security detail. But instead, Conrad called me up.
"Hello, Perez. I've been waiting for you. You know where my room is. Come on in."
"What's the meaning of this? Where's all your security!"
"Security! Why would I want them to deal with you? I want to speak with you face to face, Perez. I'm waiting." he said, hanging up.
Bewildered, I went down the hall, searching for Conrad's room. I eventually found it, and went inside.
At first, I was shocked. There was nothing in here except for a bright white light-bulb. Then I saw a curtain, and a man in front of it.
"Hey, hey look, don't hurt me!" the man was saying. "Nobody knows about this yet, so could you please just let him be? Don't shoot me, man!"
"I need to see him." I said, and shot the guard.
I went over to the curtain, and pulled back.
edit Chapter 12
The room was large and airy. In front of me was Conrad, painting on a canvas. "Oh, hey Perez!" he said, noticing me come in. "Sorry if the guard outside gave you any trouble. This is a shady business I'm in, where there can't be too many secrets."
I looked at the canvas. It showed a poverty-stricken village. People were half-naked. The ribcage of many of the little children could be seen through their skin. The sun was shining mercilessly on all of them.
"Yeah, I actually started on this a while back. Being as famous as I am, you've gotta look at the troubles of the world sometimes, don't you? I was just trying to picture what it might be like, in a place where nobody cares about you. The more I thought about it, the more it broke my heart." said Conrad.
"It's the same place where Carlos's uncle's going to spend the rest of his life. I've always heard that there's plenty out there for everybody. In which case, the money isn't really being spent where it's needed, is it?"
"Why did you call me here? What do you want from me? Is this some kind of joke?"
"Oh, I assure you, Perez. This is no joke." he said, and disappeared behind a doorway.
I followed him in, only he was nowhere to be seen. All that was in the room was a lavish-looking carpet, and on it, a coffin. I walked up to the coffin, and tried to pry it open. It was unlocked, and yielded to my efforts easily. And the dead body of Conrad Bieber lay inside.
"Looks like reports of my survival were greatly exaggerated." he said, appearing out of nowhere. "You've been chasing a ghost this whole time, Perez. Congratulations, you finally found him."
I staggered backwards in horror. "But...but..."
"But what? But you were going to expose me? But you were going to find the real reason why the people in South America have nowhere to go? You really couldn't live with yourself after what you did, could you?"
"I...I was forced to..."
"Really? What did Kaze! executive Walter say to you when you asked around for my whereabouts?"
...but I advised him against it. You see, we were facing a lawsuit at the time...
"He even told you not to worry about it. But you just had to get your hands dirty, didn't you?"
"...the police have their limits. We need not."
"But...but we could've found you!"
"You knew chances of finding me were poor at best. But you just had to go on! Do you want to know why, you had to go on?"
"I wanted to help you..."
"That's what you've always told yourself, but it was never the real reason, was it? You wanted to become something you've never been. You wanted to be a hero."
we would do what no PR company ever bothered to do-respect his right to privacy. And we would gain Conrad's eternal love and loyalty.
"You wanted to be the PR manager. The guy everybody with a public life could go to without fear of being cheated on or manipulated. But your skills lay elsewhere."
...No, there's only one way their nefarious schemes can be brought to an end! DIRT!...
"No matter how hard you tried, you could never really deny what you really were, could you? Even when the consequences of your actions were there for all to see?"
"We ruined their lives! He made us destroy their lives!"
"So you created me- a calculating mastermind. A schemer who was using you and your colleagues this whole time. A man who needed to be brought down. And you manufactured this whole new mission within your mind."
"What's happened to the boss? Why's he taking us into this run-down van?"
"Contracts? I don't see any contracts! What's going on, Mark?"
"He's saying he has to choose...choose what?"
"And now you know. You know that Luigi's dead because you couldn't live with yourself. Mark's in jail because you couldn't live with yourself. But you can't run from yourself any more."
I then saw a reflection of myself. Conrad came up behind me, and his reflection too I could see. And I saw him pull out a gun.
"A 9mm. You had it registered for self-defense, remember? But you never used it. Probably forgot you even had it. Well, it's your one last chance to save yourself. I'm going to count to five, and then I'll pull the trigger. Think fast. One."
"Wait, this is all in my head, isn't it?"
"Is it? Maybe it's in mine. Two."
"I...I never meant to hurt anybody!"
"Nobody ever does. Three."
The shot rang loud and clear. I collapsed on the floor, my senses quickly leaving me. The last thing I heard before the world faded into darkness was, "No. My time is done. I'm outta here."