The Off-Site facility was used by teams looking to get away from it all. It was, according to the Black Operative Departments intranet, a place for reflection “without the stress of observation”: a blatant lie, there were observation cameras everywhere, but it was always nice to get up into the mountains and enjoy the scenery around Lake Starnberg.

Is that a lemon? What is he doing with the lemon?” asked William.

Things had changed in the last four weeks: dramatically and not for the better. The Emergency All-Hands had changed everything. The appearance of their number one client, Tyler Xavier, with his external consultant, had thrown the agency head-first into a kind of existential crisis that it had not experienced since the failed activation campaign that the rest of the world knows as “The Bay Of Pigs”. The consultant was an odd-looking man, with his hunter’s vest, purple hat, wellington boots and tweed and tartan suit. His name was Joseph.

Yup, that’s a lemon.

Tyler, their client, had introduced the man as Europe’s premium Business Magician. “I’ve brought him in to get you and your thinking back on track!” Tyler had promised new thinking, new connections and a more contemporary, agile way of creating cutting-edge ideas, the like of which the covert communications industry had never seen before. “All you have to do is open up your hearts and your minds and believe. Just believe in me”.

Penelope had received her invitation to the off-site per handwritten letter, as had William Schulz. Nathan, as Global Head of New Business, had received his in person, from Joseph the Business Magician himself.

Can you believe the sheer, fucking cheek of the man! He turned up in my office and wanted to give me a card reading! The card was blank, for fuck’s sake! Blank!” seethed Nathan as he and the rest of the audience watched Joseph perform a ritual with a lemon, a wooden knife and a glass bottle that appeared to be full of murky water.

The appearance of Joseph B had deeply unnerved the agency. The Black Operatives Department considered itself to be a well-oiled communications machine. It was proud of its work. Everybody knew their place, and their clients were happy with their work — everybody except for Coalition Innovations and its Director of Human Resources, Tyler Xavier. He had made it very clear that the entire agency was to cooperate with Joseph, or it would lose the Coalition as a client.

“Have you taken part in the Creativity Cleansing, yet?” asked a horrified Nathan, as the strange man packed away the lemon, knife and water into a felt box that was the size of a shoebox.

Oh, God. I did mine yesterday. And do you know how I feel now? I feel Creativity Clean!” chuckled Penelope. Joseph had made her and her creative team run for forty-five minutes along lake Starnberg before forcing them to dive, fully clothed into the lake.

Wash yourself clean!” Joseph had barked at them through his megaphone, “Wash yourself clean! Wash yourself of the baggage of the old ways, the rubbish of old ideas! Want to know what you must do to get your ideas seen? Wash yourself clean!

I’ve got mine after this. Whatever this actually is!” replied William.

The room was large. The lights had been dimmed, and the stage lit with a single spotlight that shone directly down upon Joseph below. He stood behind what can only be described as an altar: a fine cloth made of many different coloured pieces of felt had been draped over it. The centrepiece of this altar-cloth was a white circle with a large letter ‘B’ embroidered onto it. Sitting on top of this ceremonial table were four small boxes, each, Joseph had informed them, contained a business ritual. Box number one had contained the lemon. A larger box also sported an embroidered letter ‘B’ as did a pulpit.

Only four more boxes to go,” sighed Nathan.

There were three large screens behind Joseph. One, to the left of Joseph, was red with the words “BE CREATIVITY CLEAN” projected on it. The screen to Joseph’s right was red with the words “YOUR NEW FINANCIAL YEAR” on it. The screen directly behind Joseph was a Livestream from the stage and would occasionally give the audience close up footage from the altar.

Please stand and join me in singing our first song! A hymn for our financial focus and to the glorious Procurement Moon!

All three hundred agency operatives reluctantly stood up and flicked through the pamphlet that had been waiting for them on their seats. Somewhere, folky music played an introduction, and then Joseph began bellowing out a song that the programme described as “Song 1: The New Financial Year”.

“How happy’s the moon, that we shall procure

When the cash flow permits it, when the cash flow permits it And our spending is sure!

With reports and our peers forecasting all-day Calculating our yield and our worries away

We can laugh, dance and sing and procure without fear And hail happily the new financial year.

Let us leverage the now, oh Procurement Moon And import with pleasure and export with pleasure Without financial gloom!”

You have got to be fucking kidding me?” laughed Penelope.

The second box, “The Earth & Coins”, had something to do with the creative process and “discovering new ways for unearthing new thinking around ideation!”

Another song was sung.

You know, I’ve done some strange shit in my time, but this really is the craziest shit I’ve ever been involved in,” said Nathan.

Joseph rang a chime. The second song had been called “I can cut them” and had unsettled the audience. The chime brought them to attention. Silently Joseph opened the pockets of his hunter’s vest and took out the content of each pocket.

These are the old cards, used and old. We thank you, oh, Procurement Moon for their service. But their time has passed and new clients must come. New cards must be shuffled and dealt. A new Financial Year is upon us.

The audience watched as Joseph played the cards into an old metal bowl and set fire to the cards. He then moved to the third box, opened it and took out a fresh pack of cards and held them up high.

These are the new cards, oh Procurement Moon. We shall cut them, shuffle them and lay them down. Then we shall pick the three for the new Financial Year.”

The screen behind Joseph cut to the overhead camera. Joseph shuffled the pack and, as he had done during the Emergency All-Hands, dealt them and formed so that they formed a triangle. A frightened-looking Art Director was led to the stage and was instructed to pick three cards. “Pick wisely, child. Your cards will define the coming year”. Joseph took the three cards and, looking directly into the camera, showed the audience each of the three cards. Large, and in close, the cards appeared on the screen behind Joseph. Each of the three cards was blank. “Oh, here we go again,” said Nathan, who had still not recovered from the Emergency All-Hands. “Let us sing our final song. The Pack of Cards!” cried Joseph, and the art director was led from the stage, and the music started again.

Every year clean and unmarred Grandmaster cuts his pack of cards.

What a Wicked old Pack of Cards they are With the secrets and mysteries

What treasures lay hidden deep inside If only we could see!

The deck will stay blank, of this we can thank To our lack of belief to believe

To open our eyes to the future inside And hearts to the things we could be.

The audience sat back down, and Joseph moved to the larger box, the one with the B on it. He took the cards and placed them inside, and his hands and the cards appeared on the screen behind him. “He must have a Livestream running from a GoPro inside of the box”, said William. “I am not here because I want to be here,” said Joseph. “I am here because I must be here.” “Yes, Tyler asked me to help you all: asked me to help you find ideas and be better thinkers, but that is not why I am here. The cards guided me here; they demanded that I be here. And just look at them! These are your three, the three cards for your agency: your guiding principles for creativity, leadership and sales. They will become the KPIs for your new Financial Year. Rejoice!

Silence. All three hundred agency employees looked at the blank cards on the screen and back to Joseph.

Ah, I see you don’t believe in the cards. Hands up if the cards are blank to you, yes... all of you... not surprising. You can put your hands down now.” “This here,” said Joseph, tapping the box that contained the cards, “is the Box of Business Belief. You can’t see the cards because you don’t believe in them. But this box will help you believe. Watch.

Joseph put his hands into the Box of Business Belief and his hands appeared on the screen again. He covered the first card with his left hand and tapped it seven times with his right hand. Slowly he moved his hand and revealed a beautifully designed card.

Ah!” proclaimed Joseph, “The Whistleblower! A potent and robust card: not without risk but a thinkers card! Excellent, excellent!

Penelope, William and Nathan exchanged concerned looks. There’s no way he could know about Winterstone. Joseph covered the second of the three, tapped seven times once more and revealed another beautifully designed card. “Now this is interesting,” murmured Joseph, “Eight Suits! I’ve not turned this card for, oh I don’t know how long! Hmmm. Eight Suits is a dark card, full of shadows and danger. It’s powerful too. This is a business-focused card.”

Have you talked to anybody about ESKAL8, William?

Don’t look at me. There's no way this nutter could have heard about it.” said William. “And now for the final card!” cried Joseph, as he repeated the ritual of the cards for the final time. “What will it be? What card will slip into our agency model canvas and take our work to the next level?”

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

I can sense the card is now coming!” Tap.


Joseph moved his hand away to reveal the final card.

Most unusual.” He said. He'd gone quite white. “I mean, it comes down to the combination of the three cards, of course. And they are open to interpretation, so there really isn’t anything to be worried about. But still. Most unusual.

Joseph signalled that the workshop was over and left the stage. The audience was ushered out of the auditorium. Penelope, William and Nathan lingered for a while and stared at the screen and the image of the final card. It was a beautifully crafted thing; wood cut probably - a bitterly twisted tree stood atop a hill. A sharp moon and a thousand stars shone beyond it.

There was something sad about it. Engraved at the bottom of the card was its name. It was called ‘The Trinity and The Hanging Tree’.

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