Blow the dog, Episode 1

Cavendish was standing in a hotel room. She was standing at a window and looking out over Berlin, watching it slowly descend into the utter chaos that she was ultimately responsible for. She hadn’t written the playbook for the unfolding mayhem. It had not been part of the campaign, and it hadn’t been anticipated. But here it was. An added bonus. Buildings were burning, the city was on fire: it was an Armageddon brought on by a media sleight-of-hand. A communication error, if you will. The skies over Europe were currently burning because she’d failed to hit what they called in her line of work a KPI - a Key Performance Indicator.  She’d so nearly been a game-changer. 

The suite that Cavendish was standing in was beautiful: oak-panelled, it cost nine-thousand Euros a night. It would be charged to her dead-letter credit card.  American pop stars had stayed in this suite. Russian, English, French and American diplomats had all, at one time or another, had sex here with minors, elderly, colleagues, friends, and enemies. They had been filmed by Russian, English, French or American secret services in doing so. An American pop idol had reunited Germany here.


The suite in which Penelope Cavendish was standing was a room with a history. There was an odd smell of fire and metal hanging in the room; gunpowder, burnt bone, and the metallic tang of type A blood. The window panes were shattered but not, as with most of the windows in Berlin on this November afternoon, shattered from the outside in, but from the inside out. Penelope Cavendish looked at herself in the desolate reflection of a fucked-up mirror and noticed that there was a wound to the side of her head. She was bleeding. There was blood on her white blouse. There was blood on the pleasant carpet. 


The Whistleblower Winterstone was in the bathroom. Penelope couldn’t see him but she knew that he was in there, sitting on the toilet with his trousers around his ankles. His glasses had fallen to the floor and shattered. She walked across the main room of the suite and slowly opened the bathroom door. There he was. She considered Steven Winterstone’s moronic spectacles and the months that they had cost her; the dinners she had missed, the wedding she had missed, her own damn wedding for heaven’s sake. The eight years she had missed. All because of Steven Winterstones’s glasses. 


“Visionary patriot”

Steven Winterstone was sitting on the toilet in the suite of a hotel in Berlin, with a bullet in his head. Such a wonderful bathroom, Penelope thought; big and clean, with a bath the size of a small hybrid car. It was a bathroom fit for Presidents: gold taps, black and white fabric conditioned towels and, just fucking sitting there in the corner on his morbid throne, was Steven Winterstone soiling it all with blood, shit and death. A clean shot. Straight in with no messing around. There was no exit wound and no shattered tiles. Just a neat little lump of lead, rattling around the skull of a man who was called a visionary patriot. 

“Visionary patriot”. Penelope had been particularly satisfied with that piece of writing and had even managed, from time to time, to put aside her animosity towards Winterstone. She had been pleased with how easily convinced this rather annoying IT-subcontractor had been with the notion of being visionary, the fucking moron. “Visionary patriot” had been her idea, her words and it was a bloody miracle that she had been able to get it into the campaign playbook. Nathan had been against it. Nathan always was. Nathan had a dick. Nathan was a dick. 


Hell was breaking loose on the streets of Berlin, London, Madrid and Moscow. Things were going pear-shaped in Washington, too and it was all because of Penelope Cavendish’s creation: Mr Steven Winterstone and the bullet in his head. Rage was washing over Europe, Asia and the Americas. The media was on fire. The Amazon was on fire. New Britannia was on fire. Wall Street was on fire. Everything was on fire. Everything had gone to plan, right up to the bullet in the head. However, the reaction to the live-stream and the death of the whistleblower had come as a surprise. She had thought that the final phase of their TRUTH strategy wouldn’t kick in for at least another three months, but here it was, hate bubbling over into violent action only hours after the livestream on YouFace. She couldn’t prove, but she was pretty sure, that that bastard William had had something to do with this. He had probably deployed ESKAL8 against her campaign. Fuck you, William. 


It had taken less than an hour to for it all to really kick off. Now it was kicking off on a global scale. Worldwide kicking off. Hyper-kicking-off. National guards were protecting government buildings, airports, hospitals, shopping centres, and branches of Starbucks. Sixty-two minutes earlier, the world had a comforting fragrance, glow and optimism of granular washing powder and yet it had taken less than an hour for Cavendish’s campaign to turn the entire planet into something that Penelope could only describe as a McDonalds-Apocalpyse-Themepark gleefully designed by Hieronymus Bosch. New Britannia had been bad but this, this was a proper shit-show.

Penelope spat blood on the carpet. 

Winterstone sat, dead on the toilet with a bullet in his skull. A man who had been the totem of a covert communications campaign: an ambassador for freedom, a patriot and an accidental activist. He had been her invention. She had created him. Who would have thought the fourth horseman, the bringer of chaos and the shepherd of final transition would turn out to be an IT subcontractor: so mundane and badly dressed?  

It had been her first project with the Black Operatives Department all those years ago. It was part of her onboarding process, and Nathan had mentored her through it. He took credit for it, of course. She had pitched it to the client too, as she sat in the shadows behind the observation mirror. 


“Thank you all so very much for inviting us to think about your particular communications problem. Working on this pitch has been an honour for all of us at the Black Operatives Department, and I’m delighted to have you all here today. We’re incredibly excited by what we’ve come up with, and we’re confident that we can hit the targets of your brief”.


Nathan was alone in the room with the client. He stood before a giant LED screen, the kind of which you might see at a rock concert. “I’m not going to lie to you, it has been a real challenge, but a challenge we have relished”. He had an audience of four. Penelope couldn’t see their faces but she could see that they were there. The head of marketing and his direct reports. Four Americans: senior people from a little-known government security agency with a serious sales problem.  

Nathan was wearing the standard-issue Black Operatives Department boiler suit with a white shirt and tie. His glasses gleamed like mirrors in the spotlight. A transparent plastic coil came out of his right ear: his earpiece, his link to Penelope.  “Before I get to our strategy and proposed campaign, I’d just like to quickly take you through who we are and our methodology.”

This was the part that sat well with him. The Black Operative Departments credentials. She was there for when the strategy came up. She had written it, and had also developed the concept. William, the strategic planner, had wanted to be part of her work. This time, however, she had finally taken the sausage machine by the balls and exerted control. She was in the mirror room guiding Nathan. She had written the magic. She would put the words into Nathan’s ear when he stumbled. Her words. His mouth. His sausage. His ego.

“The Black Operatives Department was founded in 1943 as the communications arm of the British military police. We are now a global network, with twenty-seven covert communication studios around the world. Our mission has always been to control the hearts and minds of billions of people by putting dystopian thinking at the heart of communications. We want to reach out and have a measurable impact with dark, dystopian storyscapes. We don’t tell stories. We do stories. We are storydoers.” 

Cavendish watched as Nathan took his audience through their core values of Dishonesty, (“there’s nothing more creative than a lie”),  Inception Deception (“a lie within a lie”) and Scale (“the size of the lie matters”). “The bigger the lie, the more people will see it. The bigger the lie, the more people will embrace it”. 

Nathan suddenly stopped speaking. Penelope could just about make out the silhouette of somebody on the audience leaning forward. They were speaking into the microphone that was on the table. Penelope couldn’t hear what was being said but assumed that it must have been something along the lines of “we know who you are and what you do. That’s why we sent you a briefing in the first place”... because Nathan was frantically clicking through the entire “About our agency” section.  “Yes, ha! Quite. Yes. Now, let’s have a quick look at the challenges you set us and then take a look at how we plan to solve them. You’ve asked us to leverage digital communications and channels to raise awareness for your organisation’s brand within the espionage community and key global markets. You want to raise awareness for, and increase sales of, your espionage products by ten billion Dollars, and you want us to destabilise the growing online conspiracy theory community.”

 Sean Connery Impression

Telling the client what they already knew was a pet peeve of Penelope. It had been something that she had stamped out at her own agency - in the days before The Black Operatives Department. She leaned forward and spoke into a microphone. “You're telling them stuff they already know. They wrote the damn brief for fuck’s sake.

“Nathan, let’s get to the research. Make sure you hammer home the point about the impact that fictional media properties have had on the awareness for brands like the CIA, FBI and the MI6. But, please don’t do your Sean Connery impression”. He did the Sean Connery Impression. He’d been driving the whole pitch team crazy with it. He just couldn’t help himself.  “We’ve identified these products as high potentials for phase one of our campaign. By the way, who comes up with your product names? Cottonmouth, Candygram, Ragemaster! Incredible. I’d love to have a chat with the person who came up with them.”

Nathan was the kind of old-school communications expert that she’d spent most of her life avoiding. Arrogant, brash and incredibly confident, Nathan Banfield was the product of an American upbringing with an Oxbridge education. He was great at talking the talk, but someone else was always writing the words for him. He’d recruited and turned her. He had taken her out of the light and into the shadows of The Black Operatives Department. He had said that he had saved her, when the truth was she was saving him on a daily basis with her work. 

Penelope looked on as Nathan continued to pitch the Winterstone campaign. The brief had seemed ridiculous to her at first, but the pitch team had assured her that it was exactly the kind of briefs that they were asked to work on. 

“These things aren’t even pitches really, ” explained William. “Government agencies don’t really have a compliance policy for this line of work and we’re the only covert communications agency in the market… at least that we know of. I mean, if there was another covert agency we probably wouldn’t know of it would we?”. 

It had been obvious to her that the NSA had a serious image problem. Penelope had taken a while to get around to looking at secret service products which could peer into the lives of billions of people, and shatter the very notion of what privacy is - as if they were, in some way, B2B products. But, that was essentially what they were: tools for surveillance, each with a unit price, service levels agreements, and warranties. But the NSA had no visibility. The CIA, FBI and the MI6 all profited from appearances in television, film and literature. The NSA very rarely made an appearance on screen.  “We need to get you, your brand and your products to front-of-mind. Nobody knows who you are, what you do, what you’re capable of and what you have to offer”. Nathan clicked through to the next slide and explained the awareness research figures that the team had collated for him. “He really has no idea what he’s talking about”, thought Penelope. "You do know that we created the brand strategies and campaign implementations for the CIA, FBI and MI6 don’t you Penelope?” She’d been struggling to come to terms with the scope of what they had been asked to do. Her thinking had been too small, too timid, they had told her. William was the only one on the team who appeared to genuinely try and help. “Every book, every film and every scandal was created by us. It’s rumoured that Nathan’s dad wrote the entire 1963 campaign playbook. It’s in the archive. You should go and have a look at it.” And she’d done just that. 

She couldn’t believe what she was reading.  It was all in there: the timelines, the open-top limo, the seating arrangements, the colour of the dress (“the dress is to be pink which will provide a pleasant contrast to any splattering that may occur”), and a cast of what appeared to be hundreds, all of which had tiny but crucial roles to play. The brief and campaign targets had surprised her. “It was Nathan’s dad on the grassy knoll. He couldn’t resist watching it all come together”, William had told her.


It had been the work around the patsy that interested her the most. What caught her eye was how the backstory had been planned, scripted and implemented: a life in Russia, a wife, a job and the journey back to the United States. It was a complicated, interwoven and ridiculously expensive operative legend. Money had not been an option, obviously. The playbook she held in her hands had cost billions to implement and was the basis for pretty much every modern-day conspiracy theory. That’s when her campaign idea for “The Everyday Bond”, and Steven Winterstone, had been born. 

“Steven Winterstone has stumbled upon a wide-scale surveillance programme devised by the NSA. He has decided to take on his own Government and the NSA in a bid to fight for freedom and the American way of life. Hunted by secret agents, Steven flees the United States, and reaches out to journalists, filmmakers and the Internet community for help. Will he win the battle?” 


Nathan was now taking them through the guts of the idea. A protagonist who was shy, quiet and nice. A man with a brief stint in military service, intelligent, thoughtful and highly intelligent. An unremarkable-looking man who they would position as a visionary patriot. “We would release product and service information, results and even unit pricing through Steven to carefully selected media outlets and journalists. We will create a rich tapestry of stories for them to develop so that we can hit your awareness KPIs and start selling your amazing products to other government organisations. So let’s look at the roll-out plan…” That had all been eight years ago. Eight years, four campaign playbooks, millions of written words, and a blockbuster movie later, the final phase of Steven Winterstone campaign was well and truly underway.  “Oliver Stone really can’t get enough of our work,” William had joked. 

Penelope went back into the living room of the suite and poured herself a Whisky and looked once more at a Berlin on fire. The helicopter would pick her up within the hour and take her back to Munich, to their agency headquarters that overlooked Lake Spitzing. “We can make anything disappear with communications,” Nathan had told them at the pitch all those years ago, “planes, governments, money and people. When Winterstone has served his cause: when we have hit your final business target, then we will make him disappear too. Marketing, advertising, digital platforms. It’s like a magic trick.”

They’d made her disappear too. She was given a job in an agency that nobody knew of. Taken away from London and given her a new name and a new home. The Black Operatives Department owned everything about her now: her identity, her life and her work. Penelope Cavendish had created a campaign that had rocked the world. It had hit every single business objective that the client had set them. It had been effective but wouldn’t win an Effie. It had been creative across every single channel but wouldn’t win a Black Pencil or a Cannes Lion. It was the best work she had ever done but nobody would ever know it. 

And for this, she was grateful.

To be continued. Fortsetzung folgt

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