Alec Fett walked through the enormous doors of the hotel into a suitably lavish foyer. Dark marble lined most of the interior, gleaming and reflecting the light and reflections of the equally expensive furniture and people. He felt right being there. It was his time now, the rising star of the Global News Network. He had come far on his impeccable record and well made contacts. He had been invited to this most majestic building in the heart of Dubai by the man himself. Alec was not informed of the reason for the event, but an all expenses paid business trip in such surroundings was certainly not going to be turned down, not that one would dare turn down the man on any offer regardless. Besides Alec was certain that this must be a good thing, after all who would spend this much money on a person that was about to be confronted or fired.
Alec prepared for the meeting as best he could given he had no idea of its agenda. He spent hours reading up on GNN’s latest reports, news, stock portfolios as well as The CEO’s biography and interests. Alec had to make sure he made a good impression on the man, he knew that further progress with the company would depended on it.
During his research Alec became engrossed in the history of GNN. He knew many people disliked the idea of a Globalized corporate media, but Alec had always agreed with it. As a successful reporter himself he valued the endless supply of potential information and resources, especially after public submitted news became a hit and was recognized as a legitimate news source. Yes, it did mean the quality of news being reported had diminished and investigative journalism had become all but extinct. Not to mention the sometimes blatant bias and advertising that was reported as news, but the quantity and the availability of news now was nothing short of spectacular. One giant never ending continuous news feed, and all of it thanks to the corporate Medias that eventually became GNN.
Alec waited for the CEO’s PA to come and take him up. He looked around the busy bar adjoining the foyer, he always dreamed of being rich and successful enough to come to places like this and he hoped this meeting would bring him that much closer to it, hell he already looked the part, ‘dress to impress’ one of the many mottos that Alec swore by. He looked at the cocktail menu, it was pricey and he knew it had the taste to back it up. He considered ordering a Brandy Alexander the company was paying after all. But Alec wanted all of his wits about him when he went upstairs, he decided he would treat himself after the meeting and ordered a coke instead.
He went and sat in one of the black leather lounges, it felt better then it looked. Alec was happy to be there and he thought about all he had been through to get to this point. He had worked hard and sacrificed much on his quest to become the star reporter of the South East Asian News Zone, he knew he could be the editor of the entire zone if this meeting went well enough, he certainly had the skill for it, He was the first reporter to get a story on air after Delhi was destroyed. Yeah, he got a major career boast from that one, He was on a different story at the time, it was pure serendipity he happened to be in the area when it happened. Alec appreciated that fact. The right time and the right place can make all the difference to anyone’s career.
Alec’s attention was drawn to a family sitting in the foyer, a baby that started crying, that shrill terrible cry that only babies can make. The noise was further amplified by the reflective surfaces’ that can make a man feel powerful by echoing his steps down the building or embarrass a mother who quickly tries to calm her distressed child. Alec’s trained eye for detail wasn’t interested in the crying child though, it noticed the teenage son accompanying the two, who put down his thick text book to help his baby sister and mother. Holding the baby and rocking her just so in an attempt to calm her. He did a good job, to the relief of all present Alec was sure. Alec squinted to read the spine of the book, he recognized it, ‘The Philosophy of Men’ funny, Alec thought, that was one of his favourite books from school. The concepts of morality and meaning were big influences on him and helped form his decision to become a journalist in the first place.
Fresh out of school, Alec remembered being so honest, so dedicated to being a good journalist, he wanted to travel to the darkest places, investigate and report the injustices. He was going to make a difference. Alec smiled.
Well that didn’t happen.
Somewhere along the road the truth became less important than getting ahead, being a journalist now days, you had to get ahead. If you were too sensitive, too moralistic to report a potential hit story, there were always a hundred bright eyed young journalists ready to take your place.
Alec learnt quickly, in the world of corporate news, you report the hit stories, the money stories. The more potential for marketing your stories have, the quicker you move up the food chain. Unfortunately, that meant bad fucking luck for the people that didn’t sell. The more hard luck stories that came out of the U.S, The less the world heard about Darfur. The more the world heard of celebrities embarrassing themselves in public, the less was heard of corporate corruption. You sell the stories that are popular, and you get popular in the process and that’s the way it is, Alec knew that, he played by those rules and that’s why Alec was about to meet the Man.
The teen son gave his little sister back to their mother, apparently she was just hungry. The son went back to his book, the same book that had given Alec his personal ethics so long ago. Read it son, Alec thought, Hope it guides you better than it did me. Alec went back to his coke and wished he’d ordered the Brandy Alexander instead.
“Mr Fett?” A soft but unmistakably confident voice said, Alec looked up and saw The CEO’s perfectly dressed P.A. She was young and attractive but with a strong and striking face that reminded Alec more of a KGB agent than a model, not the usual presence he had come to expect from personal assistants. He figured that’s how she managed to get the position, so close to the man.
“Hello” Alec said as he stood, he held out his hand and made sure his expensive watch was visible
“Linda Koslov, a pleasure to meet you Mr Fett, Mr Mann will see you now, if you would please follow me.”
Koslov, what were the odds you would be Russian? Alec smiled at that, “certainly, lead the way miss Koslov.”
She smiled back and proceeded towards the shiny gold doors of the elevator, anywhere else but Dubai and Alec would have doubted that those doors were really gold.
She pushed the button for the top floor, fifty two. They both watched for the arrow to light up next to the lift they would take. Alec thought he would be nervous when he got this close to the man but he found his anxiety was easing, he was finally on his way up and the waiting was the worst part. The lift doors opened and they proceeded inside, more gold, everything was a reflection, Alec liked that. He wished he could get the designer of this hotel to make over his apartment, they clearly had similar taste. Alec watched the floor numbers ticking up fast on the display like a reverse countdown, that made Alec feel slightly cold, it reminded him of a bomb from any one of those cheesy ninety’s action movies, where every bomb had to have a huge display screen ensuring everyone around knew exactly how long they had until the hero disarmed it just in time. If only bombs really worked that way. The one in Delhi didn’t.
Delhi, Fuck. Alec never let on to those around him, but Delhi shook him up, The career report that almost broke him. He was in New Delhi when the bomb went off. A Soviet era RDS-6, 400 kilotons. Numbers Alec would never forget. He was doing a story on another internet billionaire from India at the time, one of those ‘anyone can get rich’ stories, they were always popular. The interview was going well, Alec liked his subject, die hard capitalists were always more than just interesting to Alec, he wanted all the ideas he could get for his own fortune. Then the lights went off, Alec remembered looking out the window, all the lights were off. Then they felt the earthquake. Alec had covered enough quakes to know that the lights should go off after the event, not before. It didn’t last long but it shook all of New Delhi up, people filled the black streets, the excitement, the fear, you could feel it everywhere. Alec and his crew as well as the billionaire went to the street too. Apart from the glass everywhere there didn’t appear to be much damage. Probably why everyone was more excited than scared, but of course they hadn’t known what had happened to Delhi yet.
Alec’s phone rang, it was his editor, Alec answered it excitedly, asking if the editor had felt the quake. His editor was nervous, near panicked, He told Alec a helicopter was on its way with NBC suits for him and his crew, he was to get to Delhi and get footage of the city before anyone else did. So that’s what Alec did, he went to Delhi, he got the footage and he saw things no person should ever have to see. And he got an award for it. The footage that got aired, had lots of great angles, great views of the destruction but every shot was so well constructed, censored. So the rest of the world didn’t see what Alec saw. Things that followed him in his dreams. Dreams of being fused to cars and walls of buildings like the people he saw had been. His shadow permanently etched on the concrete as his body vaporized. No. Alec would never forget that.
The lift calmly ‘binged’ and the fabulous golden doors opened. Floor fifty two. The two were greeted only by a long corridor softly lighten. At the end of it there was a single pair of doors that led to the only room on the floor. The CEO’s Room. They walked together down the menacing hall, the doors getting ever so much bigger with every step, A noticeable feeling of dread struck Alec, maybe his nerves weren’t so calm after all. They reached the door, she swiped her pass card, they could both hear the mechanism slowly releasing the lock. And Miss Koslov opened the heavy door.
The room was enormous, and very well lit by nearly 180 degree view of Dubai’s Beautiful cityscape. The room was well furnished with the centrepiece being the large, sturdy mahogany desk which the man was presently standing behind, he was decently dressed but certainly not impressive, Alec noticed lots of billionaires did that, He guessed they didn’t need to concern themselves with first impressions anymore. He didn’t look up at first. He finished placing numerous documents into a suitcase, which he then closed with its electric lock.
“Mr Mann, you’re twelve O’clock is here,” Miss Koslov stated as she approached the desk and collected a silver tray holding a glass with ice, and the remaining traces of a brown liquid. “Thank you, Linda,” Mr Mann responded, giving her a smile as she walked into what Alec assumed was the kitchen. Alec stood on the other side of the room which he was sure felt much bigger than it really was.
“Alec Fett! Henry Mann, It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Mr Mann walked to Alec Holding out his hand for most of the trip. Alec shook it and gave a confident smile that was well rehearsed.
“And a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Please take a seat, Alec.” Mr Mann pointed to a very comfy looking Chair, Alec did as he was told.
“What are you drinking, son?”
“Oh, nothing, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Nonsense,” Mr Mann waved Alec’s comment away, and walked quickly to a chest on his desk.
“Linda, two Brandy Alexander’s please,” Alec’s heart smiled, how did he know that?
I’m sorry Mr Mann, It appears we are out of cream, I’ll order some more. Care for something else in the mean time?” Miss Koslov spoke from the kitchen before appearing in the doorway.
“Mojito, thanks Linda and…..” Mr Mann gestured to Alec.
“Mojito. Sounds good” It wasn’t, Alec thought as his inner smile pouted and Linda disappeared back into the kitchen.
Mr Mann brought two cigars back from his desk, he gave one to Alec before sitting down opposite him.
“Thank you, sir” Alec said as he looked at the cigar and noticed the cutter, ash tray and matches on a small glass table next to him, he noticed that Mr Mann had a similar set up next to his chair. Mr Mann nodded to Alec, he was already puffing on his. He sat down and gave out a large cloud of smoke.
“So, Alec. You are wondering why you are here,” Alec nodded as he took his first puff. The cigar was good. Very good. Alec continued with his well practiced confidence.
“Yes sir, what do I owe for this great pleasure?” He smiled, he hoped his well balanced cockiness would pay off today. Mr Mann put his back into the chair and made himself comfortable, Alec figured this conversation may not be.
“Well Alec, You have done some excellent work for my company, truly excellent. Your coverage of Delhi particularly was some of the finest journalistic work I have ever seen.”
“Thank you sir, that means quite a lot coming from yourself,” Alec liked the way the conversation was heading.
“The thing is Alec, I need good people like you. People who can keep cool under pressure, who know how to lead. I need people who know the value of organization and of co-operation to get the best coverage of unfolding events.” Mr Mann took a long puff of his cigar before continuing.
“But most importantly Alec, I need people who understand the profitability of reports, and that’s a trait not everyone fully develops, but I think you have, almost.”
“Yes sir,” Alec made sure his replies were short and positive, he made sure he always spoke that way to his superiors, especially when he wasn’t sure what they wanted.
“I have high hopes for you Alec and I think you have what it takes, so the question is; are you ready to play with the big boys?”
Alec took a long drag himself, he pretended to think it over, but really his decision was made long ago, this is what he had been waiting for. This is what he had been working for and without hesitation he knew what his answer was. “I would love to, Sir” His smile was no longer fake, neither was Mr Mann’s.
Miss Koslov returned with the drinks. She placed one on each of the chair’s glass tables and a fresh box of matches next to Mr Mann.
“Thank you Linda, you are truly an angel,” Mr Mann said, gazing into her eyes. Alec figured there might be another reason why Miss Koslov had her job.
“You’re welcome Mr Mann. Will there be anything else?”
“Not for now Linda, if you would please excuse us.”
“Of course, I will be next door if you need me.” Miss Koslov gave a slight bow to Mr Mann and Alec, and then quietly left the room, the door barely making a sound as she closed it behind her.
Mr Mann’s gaze left the door and returned to Alec “Before we go any further Alec, I need to ask you a question, and you need to give me a correct answer.” Mr Mann’s face had taken a very serious turn, he reached for his Mojito and drank slowly, Alec felt that Mr Mann was enjoying the aura of suspension he so perfectly made.
“GNN is the main source of public information across the world, that information Alec, is worth trillions of dollars annually, that’s spelled with a T, you understand?”
“Yes Sir, that’s why I’m playing for the winning team.” Alec hoped his observation of the Man’s obvious like for sporting analogies would score him some points.
“Damn straight you are, son” Alec was right.
“Alec, what do you think it is that has made GNN the world’s biggest news broadcaster?” Alec thought hard on that question, he took a sip of his drink to give him more time on it.
“Well sir, I think it is because we are the best. We are the hardest working, the most dedicated-”
Mr Mann laughed and waved a finger at Alec.
“Please, Alec. There is no need for the PR bullshit here. Especially to me, hell I wrote that book.”
Alec felt embarrassed but he knew how to take back the initiative, he was good at turning conversations around when they weren’t going his way. It was a skill vital to his trade. But then again he thought, he was dealing with the master.
“Perhaps sir, you would be gracious enough to enlighten me?” Alec took a long drag and sat back in his chair.
“GNN isn’t the best because we report the news, Alec, GNN is the best because we create the news.”
Mr Mann raised his eyebrow and grimaced at Alec with that thick cigar in between his teeth. Alec was caught off guard, he certainly hadn’t been prepared for that.
“Sir, what do you mean when you say create the news?” Alec felt like he was in an interview, maybe that was what Mr Mann wanted to see, how well Alec could interview him. Alec decided he would try and impress him. Mr Mann smiled to himself and looked out the window, It was clear to Alec that he was reminiscing.
“When I was a young reporter Alec, It was always my dream to make it big, I wanted to be the best most respected reporter around. I would take on the hardest assignments, the most compelling stories, anything I could do to further my career.”
Mr Mann scoffed to himself almost under his breath. “I got the respect alright, from my peers and superiors but the career advancement, far too slow for the young ambitious man that I was.”
Alec could see the similarities between himself and the Man. He hoped Mr Mann saw them too.
“Then, one day I had an epiphany.”
Mr Mann made grand hand gestures with his comment that waved away a thick cloud of smoke. “It wasn’t me that was going to make the story huge. It was the story that was going to make me huge. I knew I had to be in the right place at the right time if I was ever going to get noticed, just like yourself Alec, and Delhi.”
Alec shuddered, he still had a hard time associating Delhi with anything positive.
“Only my moment never came, No matter how good my sources were I could never get to a big story in time.”
But Mr Mann did get his big story, Alec thought. Sophie Miller, American corporate heiress and world famous media chaser and TV personality. One of the pop icons of the early 21st century, there was a whole pack of them, rich kids who became famous just for being famous. But Sophie Miller topped the list. She was at one of Hollywood’s biggest award shows which would become forever infamous after that night. At one point Miss Miller entered the bathroom. Until that point the biggest news was the shock win for best supporting actress, but after Miss Miller entered that Bathroom, no one even remembers who won. The footage is still circulated today and remains one of the most popular online searches. The cameras were zoomed in on last year’s best director winner, reading out the nominations, then you can hear a faint but clearly audible scream, you can see the people all turning towards the back of the hall. The camera swings around. You see an actress in her red gown backing out of the bathroom. Screaming. The camera focuses to show that only the back of her gown is red, from where she slipped onto her back, the floor was that slippery. Sophie Miller, stabbed fifteen times in a crowded hall, yet no one heard or saw a thing.
It was Mr Mann that first brought all the facts to light, he got an award for it and soon after moved up the ladder and founded GNN. The story is legendary in the news world.
“But Sir, you did have a big story, you reported the Sophie Miller murder. Everyone knows that, your report is used in school as a primary example of investigative journalism.”
Mr Mann Smiled and pointed at Alec with his cigar “Is that so Alec?”
“Well like I said Sir, everyone knows that story.”
Mr Mann took another long sip, Alec could see he was thinking something over, hard. He finally put down his glass
“Actually Alec, only a few people know what really happened that night. You see, to be a great reporter, and I mean to become a truly great reporter, you need to understand that knowing the truth and reporting the truth are two different things. You can make the best reports in the world if you know the absolute truth. It’s that knowing that gives you the power and opportunity over everyone else.”
Alec couldn’t believe he was being taught reporting lessons from the Man, the greatest living reporter on the planet, Alec was so caught up in that thought that he was barely paying attention to the lesson itself.
“Do you understand Alec? You need to create the news. The opportunity won’t come on their own, you need to make it happen.”
That sentence did catch Alec’s attention and he felt the dread flooding his system. He couldn’t believe he was actually going to ask this;
“Sir, are you saying you had prior knowledge of the Sophie Miller murder?”
What a ridiculous thing to say Alec thought to himself, Why did you say that? You fucking idiot. But to Alec’s astonishment, the smile on Mr Mann’s face grew larger. He puffed out the biggest cloud yet.
“No Alec, I’m saying I carried out the Sophie Miller murder.”
Alec felt the butterflies in his stomach. They froze, dropped and died. Alec’s breathing got heavier, he was stunned.
“You have to create the news Alec.”
Mr Mann, still leaning forward, extinguished his cigar. His play time was over, it was time to get to business.
“GNN, Alec. The world’s biggest, most powerful corporate news empire. Trillions of dollars with a T, annually. You think we got there on fate? Luck? Investigative journalism?”
Alec felt the stress wave over his whole body but he kept his calm, he didn’t let it show.
“We spend money to make money, We create news to make news. We had no idea at the time, just how successful the Miller murder would be. Because we did the deed, we had all the information, we had stuff the cops didn’t, we had the news the world wanted. We reported it and we got noticed. We had discovered the winning formula.”
The truth hit Alec like a tidal wave, every piece suddenly fit into place and everything Alec thought he knew, ended. He still didn’t show it.
“The Russian parliament killings?”
“Yes. We destabilized the country and helped create the civil war. The thing we didn’t anticipate was that the audience didn’t really care about the Russian civil war, After Iraq and Afghanistan people were bored of long drawn out, low death toll, brushfire wars. The ratings didn’t even pay the costs.”
Alec knew exactly where this was going, he dug deeper to confirm it.
“So GNN set up the famine.”
“Exactly. Disasters bring in ten times the profits of a small protracted conflict. As Russians died by their thousands, we made a hundred times that number in profits. Every. Day.”
Alec, didn’t know what he was hearing, he had been taken so of guard he felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights of truck.
“Why are you telling me this, Mr Mann?”
“I already told you Alec, I need good journalists. Good journalists like you, who don’t buckle under pressure, who understand the profitability of the news. Who are ambitious, people who want to create history.”
“Mr Mann, I never knew GNN was a part of any of this.”
“Of course you didn’t, would you have gone to Delhi if you had?”
Alec looked away. Out the window. He knew that was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear. Alec knew who this man was now and he knew he had to get out. He also knew he had to go along with Mr Mann’s plans. Alec could guess what would happen to him if he disagreed.
“Everything in Delhi was planned and set up, so you would get the advantage no other reporter would-”
Alec saw the bodies.
“We made sure the interview was conducted just out of the weapon’s range, the helicopter was on its way even before the bomb was detonated-”
Alec saw the molten charred bodies.
“The point is Alec, We set you up to make a great story, and my boy, you didn’t disappoint.”
Mr Mann stood up and walked over to his desk. Alec sat back against his seat, his palms were starting to sweat he wanted to scream, he wanted to run away, he wished he had never come to this meeting.
“Thank you sir,
Mr Mann picked up the briefcase on his desk and brought it back to his seat, he sat and opened it.
“Delhi was a lot of work to set up Alec, A big investment and you, more than any of our other journalist on the ground, brought in dividends. We made so many follow up stories after that, that he practically doubled our stock value! Especially once we started the reports of potential threats reaching the U.S. Ha! They didn’t have a clue.”
They weren’t the only ones, Alec thought.
Mr Mann composted himself after his bout of excitement, he sat back, had a solid sip from his drink, and brought out a folder from his briefcase.
“I know much of this must come as a shock to you Alec, but you understand, none of our reporters on the ground can ever know the truth about how it works. The integrity of our reporters cannot be compromised, otherwise the stories won’t work. Without the emotion, without the surprise, the stories don’t work. The stories don’t work, you understand?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
Alec did understand, he understood the motive, he understood the logic, he understood men like Mr Mann. He had come across similar personalities, every time he had interviewed a war criminal, an organized crime boss, even serial killers. He only saw the numbers, he didn’t feel the emotions other people feel. He only saw two numbers and how they interacted. Mr Mann’s equation was simple, more dead equals more money. But Alec did feel the emotions, even though he had spent much of his career pretending he didn’t.
Alec felt the tears welling in his eyes. He pretended to yawn to try and disguise them.
“Excuse me, sir, jet lag.”
Mr Mann looked at Alec with a steely gaze, Alec knew there was no fooling him, he ate human emotions for breakfast.
“Alec, you cry now if you have to. Just this once. You let it all out, because after this, there is no more room for weakness or pity. You are inner sanctum now. You understand?”
Alec fought them back. “Yes, sir of course. I’m fine.”
Mr Mann reached for the suitcase that was by his side. “I know you are Alec, that’s why you are here, I know you can hack it, and trust me, it gets much easier each time.”
He put the case onto his lap and fumbled the locks before it sprung open. “Much easier once you read this.” He pulled out the piece of paper that was within and handed it over to Alec. It was rare for Alec to take note of a paper’s quality.
“Your new contract Alec. Senior Editor. South East Asia. And that is six zeros at the end of that number. Annually.”
Alec pictured the Golden elevator doors in his house. He pictured the cars in his garage. He pictured his shadow forever caught on that gold and his hands fussed to steering wheels. The tear finally ran down his face.
“No, sir. I can not accept this deal.”
Mr Mann looked at him, his stillness unnerving.
“Ok.” He finally said. “Linda. Plan B.”
Alec saw Linda walk in from the kitchen. She held a small pistol in her hand. She walked up behind Alec.
“I’m sorry, Alec, I really thought you would be one of us. A shame.” Mr Mann motioned his hand and Alec winced. The gun shot made him jump, as he saw the tiny hole pass through Mr Mann’s head. Red mist settled around the floor behind him.
Alec felt the hot barrel press against the skin of his neck.
“Under your seat there is a recording device, your whole conversation with Mann. You will take it to China State Press, and report on how Mann killed himself in front of you.”
Alec held his hands up, the burning in the back of his head was intense. He breathed heavily as panic filled his body.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Who are you?”
“You work for us now. The top story tomorrow will be the Mann confession and suicide, it will make CSP a front runner in the world media overnight.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you people, can’t you see what we’ve become?”
Alec took a deep breath in, the clarity in his mind, was peaceful.
“No.” He said as he exhaled. “I may have loose morals, but I still have them. Somewhere, deep inside me. And this is not the game I signed on for. Do the story without me if you have to. But I’m done with this.”
Miss Koslov lowered the gun and walked around to in front of Alec. She knelt down in front of him.
“You know, Alec. Nothing has changed, you knowing all of this, it’s still the same game. You do what you have to do, to get ahead. Your part in this story, it gets us both ahead.”
Alec looked at Mann, still, white, and oozing.
“Ahead of what?”
Miss Koslov sighed. She reached under the chair and placed the device into her pocket. She then raised the gun and pressed up against the base of Alec’s chin.
“Ok,” she said, “You can still help me, I’ll just make the story a murder suicide instead.”
(I wrote this story in 2010, it’s scary how close this is to reality ten years later -Max Black 2020)