Artemis did not take Willy’s resignation well. His sources assured him that a competitor had not nicked his top lieutenant. This made Waites’ departure even more mysterious. Remorse swirled in his stomach; he should have seen the signs.
“Willy, Bassadai’s your home,” Artemis told him on the phone, wondering whether the young man developed a drug problem. “Take as much time off as you need.”
Success and excess went hand-in-hand. It was common knowledge that the quirky but visionary head of Bassadai’s largest division was known for doing lines of cocaine on his boardroom desk. Artemis himself smoked pot in the remote think tank. Since BTT was one hundred percent private, anything was possible. Rumour had it all who entered were given automatic carte blanche to keep them sweet and their creative juices flowing.
Artemis ran his fingers through his dark hair and sighed. The gossip wasn’t too far off the mark.
“It’s not home anymore,” Willy replied.
Artemis took a calculated risk. “Willy, remember what I said about Prentice’s offer? Well, forget that figure. He’s offering you three times your salary. Plus stock options.”
“Screw Prentice,” Willy retorted, his voice laced with pain. “I’m never coming back!”
# # # #
Willy’s sallow face bore an insipid beard for the first time in his life. His weight dropped by ten pounds in a month, and his wrinkled, unclean clothes hung loosely. A sour smell clung to his body like a poltergeist. His socks got caught on his long, unfilled toenails creating unsightly snags. But Willy remained unaware of the gradual personal decay.
Bent beer cans and bottles lined every surface of his house minus the pea green toilet and bathtub, and half-eaten pizzas curled up like old soles in scrunched boxes crammed into an open bin liners leaning precariously in a kitchen corner.
He ran his tongue over his furry teeth and popped another piece of chewing gum in his mouth. The last Jiffy Pop container crackled over the stove and the smell of buttered popcorn scented the stale air. Willy rattled its contents with one hand, located the bottle opener with another. “Crap,” he muttered. He was down to his last bottle.
In the adjacent room, the television blared. The Super Bowl was about to begin. He turned off the stove, cracked open the puffed aluminum pan and tore the sides open carelessly burning one on his fingers. He didn’t yelp. It was one of the few physical sensations he had felt in days. Bowl and bottle in hand, he managed the obstacle course of shoes, dirty laundry and books back to the living room, closed off to the real world with tightly drawn curtains and reclined on the lumpy couch.
Willy customarily spent Super Bowl Sunday in company of friends or family. This year he kept the world out.
The line up of curvy, big-haired cheerleaders didn’t register with the same degree. Willy barley blinked when they kicked up their boots and shook their pompoms. Willy watched with a detachment akin to an old woman enduring a video on taxidermy.
At halftime, Will almost did the unthinkable. He stared at the ceiling in a trance-like state about ready to turn off the commotion when his hand limply dropped onto his lap sending the popcorn bowl tumbling to the floor.
Willy’s attention sprung back to life, and he looked back to the television screen to watch a strange commercial with prisoners dressed in grey shuffling behind one another in single file. Only their rhythmic marching and a disembodied voice orating Utopian ideology played in the background. Every one of them was bald and devoid of expression. Suddenly, a young woman dashed through the bleak tunnel as the prisoners joined the others sitting in a large auditorium, their eyes fixed to the orator’s face, projected in black and white. Her white tank top, red shorts and cropped blonde hair gave life to the otherwise dull scene.
The men did not see her, but guards, complete with riot gear, chased her up the aisle like hounds to the fox. In her hand was a large hammer she clung to like a samurai’s sword. Reaching the front of the room, she stopped dead in her tracks. Her pursuers neared dangerously. She began to spin and spin, her arm muscles taunt and strained, intent written all over her face. After gathering enough momentum, she unleashed the heavy hammer in the direction of a massive Orwell style Big Brother screen, blowing it into smithereens and leaving the prisoners agape.
The Apple 1984 Macintosh commercial was only shown once. Its effect on the consumer was exceedingly effective, but the cord it struck deep within Willy went much deeper.
The last three words heard in the commercial became his mantra: “We will prevail.” Willy Waites experienced his epiphany on January 24, 1984.