I had a partner, O said, and note the had for this was long ago, long ago now.
O had taken to carrying a huge black flashlight with him.
No one had ever seen him turn that flashlight on.
My partner was charged with, what was it called, O said, community relations. Yes, that is correct. It was community relations before it was constituent relations before it was stakeholder relations before it was soft power which, I believe, is the current terminology, although to be entirely honest, I have not kept up. One tries, for awhile, to keep up but after a time it seems no longer worth the effort. Or, put another way, there is no longer an obvious pay off.
O drank from O’s fancy insulated mug. There were rumors about what O kept in that mug, but none were proved.
This partner—well, community relations—what was it really but staging feel-good video events where somebody else put up the money and our enterprise received the credit. We were the sponsors. And that was then. Without our sponsorship, our expertise, these little charity stories, these little heart warmers, would never have appeared on the local news. My partner was out there, at first, trolling for appropriately sad tales and packaging them. I’ll say it artfully—the man was a first-rate producer, and that served us and that served him for quite awhile.
O waved the flashlight.
But things changed, as things, for reasons we can not understand, always must. While my partner was out there moving the heartstrings our way, I was busy running the operation which, of course, led to the consolidation of fiscal control, and once I had it, questions naturally arose.
O drank deeply, looked down, shook his head.
By then there was no need to win hearts. Or minds. That thinking so obsolete as to be unrecognizable. It was simply unnecessary. It was simply no longer needed. And that, if there was a hard part, was the hard part. People did not and do not want to let go. They will not understand that what seemed necessity yesterday must be jettisoned as luxury today. People are resistant to these new, sometimes uncomfortable, realities. So we name them. That is what it is today—the triumph of nomalism. Of course such a concept, the depth of that abstraction, is not for everyone for it can not be commonly understood.
My partner could not understand. He saw my necessary questioning of his worth as an attack. Nothing was further from the truth. I can prove this. If something is worthless, how much do you pay for it? Nothing, right? Tell me, was that an attack? No. It was a fact. A fact is not personal. It has no malice.
Yes, he tried to wriggle out of it. The begging, the tears—I’ll spare you the indignity he would not spare himself. Finally I had to tell him his cultural construct was no longer valid. That, and call security.
O drank, looked up into the lights, blinked slowly.
Downhill from there, I’m afraid, but we all know the rest. All that varies is the particulars. And then the end. Each case a case finished. Yes, I believe he ended when the police shot him in a cheap motel. In Florida.
Greg Mulcahy is the author of OUT OF WORK, CONSTELLATION, CARBINE, and O’HEARN. He lives in Minnesota.