Happy 4th! And welcome to Wednesday’s Fiction Reboot. Today we will be continuing the Troubelle series!
And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for the interview with Alex Grecian!
Here Comes Troubelle, installment two
Arthur Mayhew Finton—Art to his friends, and A. real M. F. to most everyone else. He had risen to greatness in the flush of the mid-eighties, when kitsch was king. A drop-out of the New York Film Academy, Art climbed the ranks through B-movies and (if rumor is to be believed) low-grade porn. Teen-angst films were the all the rage, and Art managed to do some work on Teen Wolf and Goonies (though no one was quite sure what). The past of a film-maker was only interesting if illegal, however, and everything in Hollywood was changeable anyway. By 1989, Arthur M. Finton was known primarily as the successful executive producer of the AMT network, overseeing both the broadcast news and AMT’s successful sit-com Out in the Wash.
“It was terrible,” Stanely explained. He was waiting for the break-room coffee pot to fill with two of ControlTECH’s three Alans. “Supposed to be a laundromat drama.”
“What kind of drama happens in a laundromat?”Asked Alan One.
Stanley pulled the pot and replaced it with his mug in a single quick motion.
“It doesn’t. About as interesting as watching your clothes on spin-cycle.” He topped off his mug from the pot in his hand, and then repeated the switch.
“That ruins the whole pot, you know,” said Alan Two. “And besides, your cup will be way too strong.”
“No such thing,” Stanley winked and emptied a crystalized coffee packet into the black swill: Officer Espresso, his father always called it.
“You’re esophagus is going to rot away.”
“And your stomach along with it.”
Stanley shrugged and wandered into the labyrinth of upholstered cubicles, careful to step over the snakes of extension cord running between them. ControlTech had three levels. The first, on the ground floor, was all open atriums and sunlight, huge presentation spaces and a number of labs—most of them empty unless customers were being shown around. By contrast, the third floor was a ghost-town of executive offices where the tumbleweeds of last-year’s expense reports blew about in a wind of teamwork slogans and pro-tech propaganda. (The actual executives spent their golden-parachuted careers traversing the globe and meeting with—well, no one really knew who.) The only working areas of the whole company were located on floor two, and Stanley’s department was wedged between tech support and the sales force.
Actually, Stanley himself was wedged between tech support and sales. Commercial engineer, they called it. Please-God-Somebody-Fix-This was more appropriate. Technical expertise and a weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of control systems made Stan essential; creative psychology in the face of angry customers made him indispensable. He joked that the only difference between his career and that of his brother Luke was that he didn’t carry a gun—and the customers didn’t end up in jail. Or not usually.
Of course, these qualities also meant Stan got the difficult cases: the customer with delusions of grandeur, the service engineer with half a brain… and the network producer with a loud mouth and twenty-seven bad ideas a minute. He was very sorry about Art Finton’s accidental death, of course. But he couldn’t pretend to be sorry about leaving the project behind. Custom control camera system to be installed in the police station of all places… Reality television could do much better. Stan had spent enough time at the station to know little of it was worth recording.
“Why Stan, darling!” bellowed Stanley’s supervisor as he turned the corner. Angela Denham had a voice like Coca-Cola’s secret syrup—Saccharin sweet but acidic enough to dissolve teeth.
“Morning, Angie,” Stan squeezed by on his way to the cubicle at the end of the row. Of course, she followed.
“I can’t think what you’ve been up to, Stanley,” Angela said, tapping the wall with enamel fingernails. “I hope you have something to show the producer this afternoon!”
Stan winced. Apparently no one had told her.
“Angie, Art was in an accident. I don’t think we’ll be seeing more of him.”
“Oh Stanley, really,” Angie shook her head despairingly. “He’s dead. Of course we won’t see more of him.”
“Obviously the network had to tell me,” she adjusted the glasses on her long nose. “But that doesn’t change facts for you—they still want specs, you know. Two o’clock sharp.”
“The new executive producer, who did you think? He’s the director, too. Randall Dixon.” Angie delivered this as though it was quite common knowledge. Then she patted the back of Stan’s head reassuringly. “Be a dear. I need you back by four to do the demo-room tour for the Chemicals chairmen. Chop, chop!”
Producer number two. Stanley suppressed a sigh: this would probably not be an improvement. Stan could think of ten reasons why they shouldn’t bother with the project—from overwork to underfunding. But when Angie liked an idea, logic had nothing whatever to do with it. So, Stanley spent the morning hunting up specs on camera controls, and found himself once more at the police station, just after lunch.
“Stan! Hey—how’s the dog?” Porkchop asked, his wide rear-end parked on a paper-strewn desk.
“Fine. Where’s Luke?”
“They got a perp in the hole,” Porkchop said, grinning as though it were Christmas. The “hole” was technically the interrogation room. And it wasn’t a hole, though it could use a new coat of paint.
“Let him know I’m here, would you? I’m supposed to meet the chief and a new producer—”
“I know, man, Randall somebody. He’s already here. Been down in the stacks bugging the crap out of Howard.”
“What for?” Stan asked, unpacking his laptop. Howard was in charge of the paper-part of the filing system. It was commonly thought that police departments entered the technological age before Y2K. It was commonly wrong. Only about half the forms were computerized and all the old cases still had paper files.
“Who cares what for?” Porkchop asked. “They’re makin’ a movie about us!”
“No they aren’t,” argued the brisk baritone of a square-faced man of fifty. “They are making a nuisance of themselves.”
“Hello, Charley,” Stanley said, grinning at his uncle—who also happened to be the chief of police.
“Glad you’re here,” Charley sighed. “That man has been a flippin’ pain in the neck for hours.”
“Aw, he’s only been here fifteen minutes!”
“Shut up, Porkchop. Listen, Stan, we can’t have flaccid-faced, limp-wristed boobies wandering around the place—get him what he wants and get him out of here!”
“Aren’t you meeting with him too?”
“Are you mad? I’d have him out on his ear!” Charley ruffled himself up like an offended rooster. “I’d like to do that, anyhow.”
“Then why don’t you?” Stanley took the laptop out of hibernation and attached the portable control drive.“I figured you’d drop the project after the accident—Luke said—”
“Luke shouldn’t tell tales out of school,” Charley barked, but then he leaned in closer to Stan’s ear. “It’s the city council and mayor. They’ve been threatening budget cuts and this documentary thing is the first ray of hope in a bleak season.” He straightened up and pointed at the clunky cameras hanging over the door. “Besides, we need a new system in here, and the AMT network’s cutting a check.”
“So,” Stanley leaned on the desk. “You want to do the documentary but you don’t want to talk to him. How am I supposed to know what you want?”
“You don’t need to—that’s what Luke’s for, isn’t it?” He nodded as Luke re-entered. “He’ll be yer better half. By the way—tell Kate to bring dessert Wednesday.”
“What’s happening on Wednesday?”
“Dinner. Didn’t I say? Rosa’s confirmation.”
Stanley nodded. Rosa was the youngest in a long line of children—but of course, Charley’s eldest had children now, too. Stan and Kate were invited to every single baby-shower, baptism, and confirmation in the family in hopes that the urge to reproduce would rub off. So far, it hadn’t.
“What’s up, Luke? I thought we were done with all this?” Stan asked when Charley retired to the smoke-stained office.
“Well,” Luke shrugged. This was Luke’s typical answer when things hadn’t gone the way he planned.
“It can’t be that bad, I guess,” Stanley ventured. But of course it could. And of course, it was. Randall Dixon was not at all the way Charley had described him—flaccid faced and limp-wristed were well off the mark. He was instead pin-striped, fussy, florid and fast-talking. And completely and totally clueless about either the police force or the workings of technological equipment.
“Gentlemen!” he repeated again, waving his hands like a magician. “Imagine—a moving camera, zipping between rooms!”
To demonstrate, he did exactly that, hurrying into the hall and flicking his fingers at the wall as though calling the camera into being.
“Here—and through here—” he pushed past the beleaguered Howard, who was still trying to clean up the mess Randall had made earlier.
“Wait, wait!” Luke interrupted. “We can’t have cameras in there. And you can’t put them in the interrogation room!”
“Of course we can, you ridiculous man,” Randall snapped, resenting the interruption of his inspired tour. He turned his attention to Stanley. “Mr. Trouble—”
“Troubelle. True. Bell.”
“Yes, of course. We want a wire here—no, a rail. A train of camera work!”
Stan blinked. It was his systems-on indicator, a sign that he was scanning the mental catalog.
“Motorized linear rail,” he said quickly, but Luke elbowed him.
“Don’t help,” he whispered.
“It’s my job to help, Luke,” Stan whispered back, but it didn’t matter to Randall. He was already describing the zooming camera angle and boom, the new lighting, the robot arm—
“Robot arm? What for?” Luke interrupted again, putting his hands in his hair.
“How else will we control them?” the producer fussed.
“It’s wireless. That’s the point of a controller,” Stan corrected. Randall gave him a sobering look, and finished his grad tour with Machiavellian earnestness.
“Of course it is. I know that. And don’t think I won’t make sure we get everything we pay for!” he snapped his fingers. “I want rails with cameras—zoom—mics—lights—and I want them to turn on and off when I tell them to.”
“You mean when we tell them to,” Luke interrupted. “We can’t have everything live all the time, it’s a security risk!”
“Fine. Mr. Trouble, make it secure. Make it a strong box.”
“Make it idiot proof,” Luke muttered, looking at the director/producer’s red little face. He didn’t appreciate the jab.
“Just make it work,” he snapped back—though he pointed the venom at Stanley, who was by far the less imposing of the two brothers. “I want it by Wednesday.”
Stan almost dropped his power cable.
“What? We have to put holes in the walls, run new wiring, order equipment—we can’t do it that fast!” Stan protested. Randall, however, was undaunted.
“We’ve already got camera crews on the ground with the officers,” he huffed. “We need the supplemental feed from the station. This is a network production, you realize. A major network production. And we are paying you.”
“No you ain’t. The city pays us,” Luke grumbled.
“I was talking to your engineer,” Randall sniffed.
“Actually—” Stan protested, but it was too late. The producer had been morally offended by their lack of artistic vision. He marched toward the door, thumping his chest like an irritated monkey.
“This will be the greatest of all Art Finton’s productions—greater than any he produced while alive!”
And with that, he left the station and its unappreciative officers behind.
“Wow, he’s somthin’!” Porkchop said, slapping his knees.
“He’s somthin’ all right,” Luke sighed. “Little snot must have buckets to prove.”
“Did you meet the other guy?” Stan asked.
“Only after he was on the slab, why?”
“Well, imagine Randall. But more of it. I saw his presentation to Angie for this gig.”
Luke crossed thick arms.
“Guy like that probably had enemies, right?”
Stan was busy calculating how many miracles of programming it would take to install mobile rail cameras with auto-up-links to the control system and didn’t respond immediately.
Stan stopped re-packing his bag and gave Luke a hard look.
“Oh what? Now you’re telling me the car accident wasn’t an accident? Come on!”
“I didn’t say that,” Luke muttered, shooing Porkchop off his desk.
But he was thinking it.