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Episode 1: Part 5

It’s late afternoon. Nicole lies on a king-size hotel bed, still in yesterday’s clothes; they reek of alcohol and a hodgepodge of various spices. The room she’s in is decent — a minimalistic mix of white and black with dark green accents.

Half-asleep, Nicole opens her eyes. Well, tries to. She groans and puts an arm over her face, eyelids assaulted by the bright light coming through the curtains. Half an hour passes before she gives up on going back to sleep.

As every bone in her body screams “I’m too old for this”, Nicole reaches for a glass of water. She downs it and lies back down, feeling an imminent headache.

What doesn’t help is her phone ringing.

“Fuckin’ hell,” Nicole mutters, feeling the bedside table until she finds her phone. She checks the caller ID and sighs.

“Uh, hey!” Johnny’s voice comes out of the speaker, hoarse but cheerful. “So… I may or may not be in jail right now.”

***

On their flight to Las Vegas, Nicole drinks sparkling wine as Johnny massages her feet, much to Don and Jacob’s horror. Though, they managed to distract themselves with good ol’ bickering and drinking.

“Odds are,” Don starts, looking at Jacob, who, for some reason, ended up sitting next to him despite all the empty seats. “You send Holden a picture of your dick.”

“No, I’m not doing that.”

“Out of a hundred?”

“No! I’m not gonna sexually harass people!”

“Oh get off your high horse. Holden is a dick, it’d be like looking in the mirror.”

“Nicole,” Jacob whines, burying his face in his hands. Nicole just sighs. Dealing with those two is like constantly breaking up cockfights, no pun intended.

“I’m not here,” Nicole says. After a long pause, she adds, “But don’t send Holden dickpics.”

“Thank you!” Jacob exclaims, throwing up his hands.

“Because he’s gonna like it,” Nicole continues, chuckling. Don lets out a single laugh that’s way too loud.

“Is Holden… You know?” Johnny asks, but doesn’t stop what he’s doing. The man is full of surprises, because Nicole actually enjoys the massage (once she gets past the Johnny of it all).

“What, gay? I don’t think so, but who knows. His wife was hot.”

“‘Was’? Divorced?”

“Deceased.”

Johnny stops.

“What?” Nicole asks. “He didn’t kill her or anything. She OD’d at a party or some shit.”

“Or that’s what he wants us to think,” Don says, covering his mouth in mock surprise.

“Come on, that’s textbook supermodel shit,” Nicole says.

“That’s a bit…” Johnny trails off.

“What, you’re gonna call me misogynistic? Get in line,” Nicole scoffs. “Plus, you’re one to talk.”

“Me?!” Johnny exclaims, offended. “I love women! I bought my wife — well, ex-wife — a Corvette like two months ago.”

“Oh fuck that, that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Hold on,” Don says. He looks something up on his phone; Jacob watches over his shoulder. When Don finds what he was looking for, his face lights up. “Ah-hah! ‘Tweet of Wesreal CEO’s wife goes viral, showing a photo of an offensive bumper sticker on a gifted sports car!’”

“Offensive?” Johnny asks. “It was an inside joke!”

“Exhibit A: the sticker says — and this is verbatim — ‘Careful! Woman driver!’”

“Inside joke!” Johnny desperately repeats, mostly for Nicole, who just lets out an ‘uh-huh’.

“Exhibit B: the tweet caption is ‘bruh my ex is a piece of shit’, followed by three facepalming woman emojis.”

“No sense of humor,” Johnny mutters. “But not because she’s a woman!”

“God, just shut up and get on with it,” Nicole groans and nudges his shoulder with her foot. Being a woman in this line of work has never been a treat thanks to people like Johnny, but at the very least he’s on the better end of that, willing to degrade himself to look like an ally.

“I will, because guess what? I love and respect women!”

“Uh-huh.”

***

Back in the hotel room, Nicole sits up in bed, defeated, and asks, “What is this, The Hangover? What the fuck did you do, Johnny?”

Someone shouting can be heard in the background on Johnny’s end. It’s unintelligible, but the person sounds out of it.

“So… Doug killed a hooker. Sex worker, sorry.”

“I don’t give a shit about— Which fucking Doug?! Your CFO Doug?!”

Nicole hears a sigh, followed by a quiet “yeah”.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” she shouts, phone shaking in her hand. The sound recoils in her head, amplifying the migraine.

“Okay, okay, I know it sounds bad, but I didn’t do anything. My lawyer says that they’re just gonna fine me for misprision.”

“Misprision?! You were there?!”

“Okay, listen, listen, when he asked me if I wanted to smoke some hookahs I assumed he meant that metrosexual crack pipe. Not, you know, killing sex workers. You know he just has this accent—”

“Oh my God, Johnny, shut the fuck up! Is your lawyer around?”

“No, he’s getting my bail money.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Nicole sighs and rubs her forehead.

“Hey, so, uh. Can you make sure Mark’s not the CEO?”

“What? Your board is gonna vote on that, not me.”

“Well, you know, just… pull some strings, send some emails.”

“I’m not going to do any of that. You know, Mark has something that you don’t have.”

“What’s—”

“He’s not in jail!” Nicole yells.

“Well, true, but…”

“Get your shit together, Johnny.”

“I will,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

Nicole hums affirmatively before hanging up. She sighs and lies back down. Working with Johnny has always fucking sucked, but this is beyond the pale. At least she’s not the one bailing him out.

Before she can even close her eyes, there’s a knock on the door. She groans and gets up, unsteady.

“Housekeeping!”

“Jacob, I know what your voice sounds like,” Nicole says, opening the door. The gang’s all here: Don is fully dressed, while Jacob is still in his pajamas.

“Aw, nice jammies,” she coos sarcastically.

“Yeah, okay,” Jacob says. “Before you say anything — yes, my mom bought these for me. She has good taste, she actually used to work as a costume designer for Broadway—”

“TMI, Jacob. I take it you both heard the phone convo?”

“What convo?” Don asks. “I only heard screaming and assumed Johnny is still, you know, staying over at your room.”

“Ugh,” Nicole says, cringing. “I’d rather fuck a cheese grater. And also, none of your business.”

“Sure,” Don says. The suspicious smirk on his face betrays that he doesn’t believe a single word. “So what was the phone call?”

“Oh, you know. Johnny’s in jail.”

The two look at her, dumbfounded.

“For real?” Don asks. “Did they finally pass the bill to outlaw soul patches?”

“Nope,” Nicole answers. “Apparently Doug killed someone.”

“Jesus. His CFO Doug?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck,” Don says and whistles. “Who’d he kill?”

“I don’t know. A hooker, apparently.”

“Oh, what exec hasn’t killed a hooker before.”

Nicole gives Don an exasperated look. He raises his hands.

“Okay, okay, it’s fucked up. What do we do?”

“Can’t do much about Johnny,” Nicole says. “But we’re still getting paid to consult, so we’re gonna consult. Wesreal just lost its entire C-Suite, so the temporary management is gonna need some pointers.

“Get on the first flight back, I’m gonna touch base with Mark, and we’ll put out some fires. Chop-chop.”

“Can we get breakfast first?” Jacob whines. “I’m hungry.”

“Eat some peanuts on the plane,” Nicole says, closing the door.

***

Disregarding everyone being exhausted, Johnny brought the gang to a casino he frequently visits. Excited, he shows them around; the fake golden pillars looming over fake palms, blue skies painted on the walls, rows and rows of slot machines filling the room with lights and discordant chimes.

Him and Nicole immediately head to play poker, leaving the guys on their own. They end up at a roulette table, with Don playing and Jacob watching.

“Odds are, you ban yourself from the casino,” Don says, giving Jacob a feverish glance after having lost a few grand.

“Ban myself?” Jacob repeats. “Is that a thing?”

“Yeah it’s a thing! It’s like for gambling addicts and shit.”

Jacob adjusts his glasses and thinks for a moment, then asks, “All casinos?”

“Just this one.”

“I mean, fine. I don’t even gamble. Out of ten?”

“Sure,” Don says, looking him in the eye. “One, two, three—”

“Seven,” Jacob blurts out, at the same time Don says it as well. As he catches up, Don starts laughing in disbelief, to which Jacob just exclaims, “Oh come on!”

“Let’s go,” Don says, dragging him by the elbow towards one of the staff members, a blond guy in a vest. Jacob swallows nervously.

“Hey, uh,” he starts, fixing his glasses. “You probably get this a lot, but… can I ban myself from this specific location?”

“You mean self-exclusion?” the staff member asks. “Sure, how long?”

“How long is—”

“Forever,” Don chips in. The staff member looks at him and then back at Jacob.

“Yeah, uh, forever,” Jacob says.

“No problem,” the staff member says. “Can I get your ID?”

Jacob complies. The staff member takes a picture of it and hands it back.

“You can get the ban removed, just so you know. There’s a number on the site you can call, and then there’s a twenty-four hour cooldown period. But yeah, it’s done.”

“Thank you,” Jacob mutters as Don gives him two thumbs up, proud.

“No problem. You’re gonna have to leave now, though.”

“Yep. Thanks.”

For the second time in the past twelve hours, Jacob is banished from a building. This time Don takes pity on him and goes along for the ride.

“Don’t sulk,” he says, putting an arm around Jacob’s shoulder. “Nicole just sent me a pin for a club Johnny half-owns.”

“God damn it, really? What are the odds we just— I just go to bed.”

Don clicks his tongue and says, “Nice try,” leading Jacob outside.

***

Nicole is on a café patio, sitting under a parasol and scrolling through her contacts. Eventually she gets to M and waits for the call to connect.

“Bad news travels fast nowadays,” says Mark Buchanan, Wesreal’s board member and investor. He and Johnny aren’t generally on the best of terms, but Mark stays involved anyway. It’s unclear whether it’s a sunk cost thing, or he genuinely sees something in this smorgasbord of companies.

“It does, when the source of bad news calls you himself from prison.”

“Okay. Are you calling so I keep you on payroll?”

“You will keep me on payroll,” Nicole says, adding sugar to her coffee — three packets exactly. “Because you have no idea how to manage a holding company.”

“I don’t need an MBA degree to keep semen flavored energy drinks flowing.”

“You know, it’s not just Mindscrew, Mark. Can you micromanage five companies like Johnny did? It’s gonna be real fuckin’ stressful going from VC to this, I’m gonna tell you that much.”

Mark tries to say something back, but Nicole pushes on.

“Everyone is gonna be up your ass, Mark. Can’t just throw them a bone. There will be constant calls all the time, no rest. Chaos, twenty-four seven.”

There’s dead silence for a while. Then a sigh.

“Okay, great, you won. Woo, scaring me into submission, good job. You can come by.”

He hangs up, being nothing if not efficient. Nicole puts the phone away and smiles to herself, absent-mindedly mixing her coffee.

***

Don and Jacob arrive late at one of the overpriced nightclubs on the Strip. Obviously, it’s very “Johnny”. If anyone’s idea of fun was a tacky strip club, it would be his. At least the strippers in cages look like they’re having fun, regardless of how true that is.

No doubt feeling ignored, the DJ half-heartedly instructs people to “put their fucking hands up” as his basic rap playlist thumps from the speakers.

“What is that, fucking Lil Wayne?” Don yells into Jacob’s ear, louder than needed. “What year is this?”

Unflinching, Jacob doesn’t respond, instead choosing to stare into the distance with his mouth hanging open. Don follows his gaze and discovers Nicole flawlessly rapping along while Johnny watches on in amazement. The guys exchange looks, making sure that it’s not a hallucination.

“Are you…” Jacob trails off. In a fleeting moment of compassion, Don puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Yes, I see it. Looking right at it.”

Nicole notices the two staring and motions for them to come closer. Frankly, she looks unhinged. It’s not the rapping part, either, it’s the whole ensemble: her hair is down and she’s holding what no doubt is her second Long Island iced tea. With some hesitation, the guys end up walking over to her.

“Know a little about a lot!” Nicole then shouts and gets back to it.

“Wait, what does she replace the—” Don starts.

“’Baby,’” Jacob answers, stopping him.

Don cracks a tiny smile. He mumbles “of course she does” and walks off to the bar alone. Nothing wrong with getting drunk on the job if it’s part of pleasing a client. And you need to be one sip away from blacking out to consider pleasing Johnny fucking Ferrari.

As Don is squinting at the menu, a pink-haired bartender greets him.

“Hey, what can I get you?” she asks with a playful smile.

“Fuck, I don’t know,” Don says. “Something frozen and fruity.”

“How about a strawberry daiquiri?”

“Perfect. Go crazy.”

“Not much crazy about a daiquiri,” the bartender laughs as she reaches for the bottle of white rum. “Get up to anything fun tonight?”

“Yeah, robbed a bank and took a couple hostages, no big deal,” Don deadpans. “Nah, just work.”

“Let me guess. Lawyer?” she asks, putting ice cubes and strawberries into a blender. “No, a lawyer wouldn’t say what you just said. Broker?”

“Close enough. Management consultant.”

Pouting in mock surprise, the bartender pours the rum, syrup, and lime juice over the strawberries. There’s a click, followed by loud whirring.

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before!” she yells over the noise. “You like it?!”

“Well, I am getting paid to sip frozen daiquiris!” Don yells back. The bartender laughs and turns the blender off.

“Oh, do you work with that cute Asian guy?” she asks.

“Cute?” he scoffs. “Kittens are cute, Jacob is… Jacob.”

The bartender chuckles and pours the bright red drink into a glass. Still deep in thought, Don watches her garnish it with a slice of strawberry.

“Aw, did I hit a nerve?” she asks in a baby voice and slides the cocktail to him. “You’re pretty insecure for someone that likes fruity drinks.”

“It’s not for me,” Don grumbles, getting out his wallet.

When they’re done with charging the company credit card, Don gets up with the drink.

“Tell Jacob I said hi!”

“I won’t.”

Suddenly, Don feels a light tap on the back.

“Who’s that?” Jacob asks, tilting his head to look behind Don.

“Nobody. Got you a drink.”

Don hands him the daiquiri so roughly he spills some of it. Bewildered, Jacob’s mouth opens and closes a few times.

“Is it poisoned?” he asks and sniffs the glass.

“As if you’d know by smelling it. But no, not unless you’re allergic to strawberries.”

“Okay,” Jacob says, still skeptical. “So if it’s not poisoned… is it a test? Like, if I drink it will I get fired?”

“Just shut the fuck up and drink it, fuckface,” Don groans and walks away, leaving Jacob standing alone in utter confusion.

***

Not long after the sun goes down, Nicole and her crew roam the tacky hallways of Wesreal. The walls are graffitied floor-to-ceiling, which makes it especially hard to take Johnny’s luxury brand plans seriously.

“Early 2000s techbros would give up their cock and balls for this,” Jacob mutters as he looks around.

“Just one?” Nicole asks.

“One collective cock and balls,” Don says, nodding. The corner of his lips quirks upwards when Jacob sighs.

They notice Mark Buchanan leaning against a door, seemingly waiting for them. He straightens out and fixes the collar of his plaid shirt.

“How long have you been…” Nicole trails off.

“Don’t ask,” Mark says, inviting them in the office room. He takes the executive chair while Don and Jacob set up the presentation. Nicole stands, leaning on the back of a chair.

“Are you familiar with the eighty-twenty rule?” she asks when the first slide appears.

“Counter question, can we drop the consulting-ese?” asks Mark. “I know how this goes — ’blah blah blah, reduce costs, blah blah blah, three key points.’”

Jacob skips a few slides, panicking. The one chosen ends up titled “Three Key Steps for a Smooth Transition: Communication, Defining Roles, Assessment”.

“Sure,” Nicole says. She doesn’t show it, but her blood is boiling. “We worked out two plus one important objectives to smooth your transition to interim CEO.”

Giving up, Mark gestures for her to continue. Jacob clicks on the next slide. It says “Communication” above a stock photo of two businessmen holding hands. Don pinches the bridge of his nose with a pained expression.

“So, you’re getting installed by the board on Monday,” Nicole continues, walking beside the table. “Chairmen are generally well-received. But if we’re talking bottom and middle management, turbulence creates anxiety.”

“Okay, the skies are blue,” Mark says. Nicole doesn’t bite. She’s proficient in concealing rage, but there is something extra infuriating about not being taken seriously by a middle-aged man that looks like Will Ferrell with a question mark posture.

“The key takeaway is communicating,” Nicole says. “People need to know that the ship is still sailing, it’s just little Johnny and Doug decided to get in a lifeboat and hit the iceberg. But Wesreal is fine.

“So let them know. Start sending emails, walk into cubicles, talk to people at the office urinals — micromanage to oblivion. So everyone sees you’re there. Soccer mom it.”

“What?” Mark asks, puzzled.

“You know, over-supportive.”

“I don’t know, I’ve never played sports. When I was six Mom told me I’m the reason Dad left.”

“Okay, we’ll circle back to that,” Nicole says, stopping him, and moves on to the next topic.

Ten-odd presentation slides and countless coffee cups later, they get through the deck. Nicole resists the urge to bow.

“That was next to pointless,” Mark concludes. When everyone looks at him, he backs down. “Sorry. I had too much coffee and now my tummy hurts.”

“I hear that,” Jacob says. Don gives him a weird look.

“Hey, good luck with the coronation tomorrow,” Nicole says to Mark, jokingly saluting.

“It’s today,” Mark notes. “Because it’s twelve right now.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do, I’m just being annoying,” Mark says, getting up. “Safe travels. Do you need parking validation?”

“See, now you’re soccer mom-ing it,” Nicole says with a smile. “Thank you, we don’t.”

“Actually—”

“Shut up, Jacob.”

***

Johnny and Nicole come back to the hotel together, leaving the guys behind to avoid having to explain the situation. But it all started because Nicole had offhandedly mentioned that she’s never been at a sleepover; so Johnny, in a drunken haze, offered his rendition of it. Which pretty much just involves gossipping on Nicole’s king sized bed.

“But honestly, if you wanted someone with healthy genes to—” Johnny starts.

“No thank you,” Nicole cuts him off with a sigh.

“You don’t even know what I was gonna say!”

“Something-something, ’Here, Nicole, it’s my semen.’”

“God no,” Johnny wheezes. “I just have this Scandinavian gym instructor. The most beautiful guy I’ve ever seen, no homo, with like full on golden hair, symmetrical face… Though if you wanted—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Nicole snorts and punches his arm. “And no fucking way you’re not shooting blanks at your age.”

“At my age?!” he gasps theatrically. “I just turned eighteen, you pervert!”

Disapproving, Nicole shakes her head.

“Also,” Johnny says and turns on his side, propped up on one elbow. He looks at Nicole with a twinkle in his eye. “We could test the theory. If you wanted to.”

Nicole looks back at him. It’s not like she hasn’t thought about it, whatever “it” is. But it’s just a proximity thing. It has to be, because even the lack of orange spray tan could never be enough to outweigh the fact that it’s Johnny. The post nut clarity on this is pre nut clarity, also known as common sense.

“Wow, getting child support on top of my bonuses?” she asks, sarcastic. “Sign me up.”

The rejection is taken easily; Johnny grins and a few wrinkles appear around his eyes. Surprisingly, it looks sort of charming.

“Ah, forget it,” Johnny mutters, reclining back and looking at the ceiling. “I do genuinely like you, though. You tell it like it is.”

“I’m sure you say that to all your consultants.”

“Who, Holden? I just hired him to piss you off.”

Nicole laughs and says, “Fuck, your shareholders would love hearing that.”

There’s a silence as Johnny thinks.

“Would— Would you respect me more… if I got the degree?” he eventually asks. It sounds oddly vulnerable.

“If that’s not a euphemism, then yes,” Nicole says, looking at him with pleasant surprise written all over her face. “But that’s assuming I respect you now.”

“Walked right into that,” Johnny scoffs and rubs his forehead. “I might, though. Couldn’t hurt.”

Nicole hums thoughtfully and lies down, joining him in staring up at the ceiling.

“Yeah. Couldn’t hurt.”


bitch boy (12:13 AM): They’re totally fucking, right?

Don Amiri (12:15 AM): put away the glass yang

Don Amiri (12:15 AM): but yeah for sure


2 responses

  1. THEY DID NOT FUCK. STRAIGHT PEOPLE JUMPSCARE IS NOT REAL. NICOLE IS NOT THAT DESPERATE.

  2. Jack

    I PROMISE I READ THIS I have a long comment that I’m working on for this long post <333

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