Call On Me
Liz Jolene rifles through her mansion's walk-in closet.
“Now where is that necklace?” Liz huffs and flips her auburn hair as she turns another corner of this cavernous closet. Beyond the shawl wall, past the pantsuit rack and underneath the jewelry hanging from chandeliers, Liz scans the rows of shoes. A gold sparkle catches her eyes of emerald green.
“A-ha!” She contorts her body to reach for a stiletto three rows back. She knocks this out of the way and grabs the gold underneath.
“A coin?” She pulls the round metal closer. Benjamin Franklin's face smiles from its front.
“My Pulitzer!” She grabs this top prize for journalism, which was named for its benefactor, Joseph Pulitzer, who made his fortune by creating sensationalistic and tawdry yellow journalism. A flood of memories from her past life crash into her.
She dreamed of becoming a journalist since she was a young girl. Part detective, part superhero, she'd spend her life uncovering misdeeds and exposing wrongs in the world. She had gotten her undergrad degree in journalism and had won two Pulitzers in her decade as a journalist. Yet, it still wasn't enough to feed her and pull herself out of debt. Homeownership had just felt a foolish dream.
The biggest scoop of her career was when she exposed the tumultuous yet symbiotic relationship between Big Pill and religious conservatives. Big Pill was the nickname given to the largest vitamin and alternative medicine manufacturers. This industry made billions of dollars each year selling substances whose only power was to paint toilet bowls in hues of yellow and orange. With high profit margins and few regulations, the industry fought hard to inoculate itself from any government oversight.
Big Pill sought to stamp out a bill that would require the Federal Drug Administration to inspect all vitamins, minerals and supplements that advertised having a health benefit. These health claims were integral for marketing these snake oil tonics.
Christian conservatives feared the bill would require government regulation of faith healing. An unholy alliance was formed and Big Pill paid to bus thousands of bible thumpers from the districts of each of the bill's sponsors. Crucifix carrying women marched through the Capitol building, singing hymns in the rotunda and making prayer circles in front of congressional offices, halting anyone from entering. Photos of the members of congress stepping over these women accompanied headlines that blared the coalition's main talking point: “Congress tramples religious freedom.”
Liz smelled a rat as she scoured the lobbyist filings for this coalition. She tracked the front groups that funneled in funds to the three largest vitamin companies. As a mousy white woman, she realized she could give herself the Kim Davis-makeunder to infiltrate this group. Frizz up the hair, frump up the clothes, adorn herself with a giant cross and she's ready to go.
After a month attending vigils and rallies, she was accepted into the coalition's inner prayer circle. She uncovered that the religious conservatives were all hired actors, mostly down-on-their-luck single moms seeking a quick payday. Big Pill even offered her a substantial salary to become a full time activist.
She leaked the story and the footage online. Though this story won her a Pulitzer and a host of accolades, it did nothing to stop the bill from passing.
As the article's author, she was attacked. Her car's tires were laced with acupuncture needles and her exhaust was stuffed with herbal supplements. Though both prescribed attacks had no physical effects, they did cause psychological reactions. She became anxious and scared. This constant stress caused inflammation and of host of health problems. That same week, her web magazine said that it would be cutting pensions, health benefits and laying off 70% of its staff.
She saw the writing on her medical bills and opted for an advancement in her career. She cleared her desk, cashed in her retirement fund and enrolled at the University of Southern California's ExxonMobil School for Communication and Journalism. The world's largest oil company had bought the naming rights, displacing the Annenberg family. The focus shifted from investigating and uncovering the news to “creating” the news. At the end of her second year, she came to the twin realizations that she was being primed for a career in public relations and was saddled with $400,000 of debt.
But she was good at the work.
She remembers her practicums well. The students where given a problem and asked to create the solution.
For example, one problem read: “Your client, Susie, an actress in the middle-to-late stage of her career, has been absent from her film set all week. She's about to be fired by its producers. At the same time, you get a tip that a video of her stumbling drunk out of a club is being shopped to three press outlets. What do you do?”
This was laughably easy. She couldn't believe when she won top honors in her class and was asked to read her solution in front of an assembly of five hundred students and faculty.
As she walked up to the podium, she savored the attentive faces of her peers and the smiles of the faculty members before she began her answer. What a change this was! In her previous career, her reporter coworkers had been either too exhausted or too jaded to give two shits about any of her work.
“Obviously, you fake a serious illness, like pneumonia. It has to be life-threatening yet still allow her to recover quickly. Find a quack who can fake medical records and pay for two witnesses. Find a sweet old lady in Central Casting and have her act as the hospital roommate for Susie. Pay the old lady extra for each tear she can cry as she recalls choking in the middle of the night, waking up Susie and how Susie saved her life by performing the Heimlich maneuver and alerting the nurses. The other witness can play a flower delivery guy who shot over the moon when Susie agreed to sign autographs for all eight of his daughters. Remember, it takes only a little nudging to turn alibis into character witnesses.
“Now with the media outlets, go on the offensive. Demand to see copies of the video. Explain that it would be libelous of the outlet to even think of showing the video without trying to contact Susie or her people for a response. Once you've got access to the video, find ways to discredit the trustworthiness of it. For example, knowing that it took place at a club, early in the morning, the video should be dimly lit and grainy. The videographer is likely drunk and stumbling herself, creating a shaking environment. Find a distinguishing characteristic of the supposed Susie in the video. Perhaps its the long blonde hair that obscures part of her face. Then cut the real Susie's hair and say that she had donated it to Locks of Love the week before this alleged incident. Doctor some photos of Susie after the haircut to include a newspaper or some other artifact of that earlier date. This will confirm that the real Susie couldn't have had long hair when this video was taken.
“And that is how you bring Susie from almost out of a job to tucked warmly into the hearts of millions.”
The standing ovation was rapturous. She soaked in their adoration.
After graduation, she was making a comfortable six-figure salary spinning reality into happy distortions for one of the nation's largest communication firms. Oil spills became community clean up opportunities. Ocean acidification provided health benefits to humans and was rebranded as ocean unalkalinization. Within six months on the job, she was elevated to be a talking head for the twenty-four hour news channels. Her ritual before each interview was to twirl in her chair three times while chanting: “spin, spin, spin!” She'd stop, coif her flaming locks of auburn hair until they cascaded perfectly down her ivory skin.
Each night, Liz slept serenely in her mansion, under 3,000-thread count silk sheets, free from debt and knowing that there were countless other scrappy journalists out there doing the hard-hitting work that she abandoned. And of course, she supported them! She was a board member of PR Gives Back, which provides scholarships and a gala dinner for young journalists.
She was in the process of a coup, stealing clients and coworkers from her current firm to start on her own company, PubLizity Public Relations (based off her name.)
As Liz lies on the floor of her closet, she smiles at her gold medal and the accomplishment it signifies, glad that she's doing her part to help this shaky industry.
“Ooo!” She squeals realizing she should call a few of the scholarship recipients for lunch and grease them up for a few future projects.
Her holophone rings.
“Call from, Lukasz Higgins.” The phone's monotone voice repeats.
“Alexis, send to voicemail.”
Liz walks out of her closet and plops on her bed. She sips a white wine spritzer. After a minute, a text message appears in a hologram floating from her holowall.
“Liz, it's Higgins, I've got the opportunity of a lifetime for you.”