The business spirit
“Come in and have a seat”, the secretary had said. “He’ll talk to you in a minute”, she’d said.
Julie had been watching the broad-shouldered man talk on the phone for fifteen minutes now. He was sitting in a big leather armchair, with his back turned to her. She could only see his hands waving in the air as he argued with some client, and the circular area on the top of his head where his hair wouldn’t grow anymore. The floor to-the-ceiling windows allowed the natural morning light to illuminate the room, and Julie’s gaze wandered one more time around the minimalistically chic office. The chromed corner lamps. The crystal coffee table and the two seat leather sofa. The full body mirror on one wall, across the Bansky’s artwork on the opposite wall. With her elegant black pantsuit and her blonde hair caught in a bun, she could picture herself working in that penthouse office. But at that very moment, she felt like a misplaced piece of furniture in a home decor magazine article. Again, she ran her fingers over the letters in relief of the desk plate.
Jack Bennett, CEO
1989 – 2036 – 2038
He ended the call clicking on the phone in his ear as he spun the chair to face her, producing a big smile and opening both arms, as if to hug her.
“These suckers won’t get a no for answer, right? Jack Bennett, sweetheart. Nice to meet you.”
They shook hands, and Julie was surprised to feel a strong, warm, and yet ethereal grip. She had never met a ghost in person before.
“I appreciate this opportunity, Mr. Bennett. As you have seen in the resume the agency sent you, I’m more than qualified to-”
“Whoa, sweetie! Slow down.” His crooked smile followed the movements of his brows, which punctuated theatrically every sentence of his.
“Sorry, I’m kinda nervous, as you can see”. She smiled shyly. Ironically, his eyes could almost see through her.
“Ah, that’s ok. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, tea, water? I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you.”
“No, thanks, I’m fine.”
He took a brief look at a sheet of paper, which she presumed was her curriculum.
“So… Born and raised here in New York, huh? NYU girl, very impressive… Nice parties!” He winked, and his image blinked almost indistinguishably.
“You bet!” They both laughed, and she started to feel more relaxed. She saw a very strong-minded man, but also an easy going one. Two characteristics she liked to find in a boss.
“Now Julie, in order to be my personal assistant, a person needs to understand the whole scope of activities and products that we offer her, at Elemental Inc.”
“How old were you when – pardon the expression – hell broke loose in 2020, when scientists proved the existence of life after death, more specifically the existence of so-called ghosts? You were two?”
“I was 18.” Replied Julie, amused by his professional charisma. He has the tone of voice and the persuasion that could gently take you anywhere he wanted. “It was a mess. The endless media debate, religious discussions and protests, and even the rise of new cults, not to mention the political fuss”.
“And now we celebrate the date with a Ghost Week”. He said, shaking his head helplessly.
“That is a good sign, I guess. It took years of researches and all sorts of efforts to raise public awareness that scientists were not conjuring ancient evil spirits or playing with voodoo.
He stood up and circled the table, sitting on it besides her. “And this is the ultimate symbol of that revolution”. He lifted the lappet of his suit and patted a small, rectangular device hooked on his belt. “Are you familiar with the Holomatic?”
“Absolutely. Spiritual manifestations are basically energy forms with no ability or lesser-developed skills to control themselves. The Holomatic concentrates and gives shape to this energy, allowing it to manifest itself in a sufficiently physical way. But the final result depends on the energy level. Some spirits may be able only to communicate, without a proper body, while other stronger spirits”, Julie gestured to Jack, who was watching her with and evident satisfaction. “May even interact with the livings and the physical world, having an almost normal and inconspicuous life. The ability to manifest itself in a human form, with all the senses and communication skills it involves, is very rare to be found naturally in spirits, but with the Holomatic, every ghost has the right to express itself.” She then concluded with the explanation his amused grin demanded. “I did my homework”.
Jack stood up still smiling, producing a deep sigh. A good one, Julie noticed, discretely drying her sweaty hands on the side of her thighs. He walked to the mirror.
“Dare to believe”. The executive said the company’s slogan shooting a TV-ad smile to the mirror as he straightened his tie. He then walked to the window. “I’m glad to see you are not a believer, but a thinker. You dare to think. That’s what I did when this little piece of gray crap came out, when I was still alive. It opened the doors to books, TV shows, movies, memorabilia and to an unthinkable number of products destined to satisfy the confused and scared masses – not only of livings, avid to understand the greatest mystery of life”. He was gesticulating again, this time to the horizon. “You see, the basic trick to sell anything is not to offer what people need, but to make they think they need what we offer. So I thought: advertisings make men think they need the newest car, the best shaving and the coolest beer. Women are bound to believe they need the newest clothes, cosmetics and all these things you know better than me”. With a pause, he turned to her. “But what do ghosts need? What do their friends and families might embrace, that I can offer?”
Mesmerized, Julie watched him sit on the leather chair again right across from her, and rest his arms on the shiny polished surface.
“I hope I didn’t sound as cynical and opportunistic as my competitors love to portrait me, because at the core of my business strategy lays my philanthropy. Death can be a very lonely and difficult experience, Julie, as much as life is. And I’m here to help you.
Damn, he could really take anyone to anywhere, thought Julie. But that last sentence sounded a little misplaced to her – and Jack Bennett definitely did not seemed to be the kind of man whose words came out without a proper reason or purpose. Where exactly he was intending to take her?
“Yes, sir, I do dare. And I can assure you that as your assistant, I-”
Jack stood up, interrupting her with a wave of his hand. This time, his sigh was heavy and long.
“As far as I can see you are a very intelligent girl, and I almost never misjudge people. I need you to be brave, and accept this the way it is. Trust me, it is not as bad as it seems.
Julie blinked carefully, trying to read his stare.
“I’m afraid I’m not following you, sir.”
“Honey, you got the job. But this is not why you’re here.”
After a reverential pause, he stood up, and cleared his throat. Despite the tension and the realization that something wasn’t quite right, she wondered if ghosts really needed to wet the lips or gasp, or even breathe. But some habits are not meant to be forgotten, she concluded.
“Mr. and Mrs. Kendall, come in!”
Clue given, the office’s double door opened, and a couple in their mid-fifties walked in, hesitantly. Behind them, a cameraman, a sound technician and some nervous producers with headphones guided them towards the spot in the center of the room, marked with an almost imperceptible white dot in the salmon carpet.
Confused, Julie stood up.
Her mother, equally blonde but shorter, just looked at her with tears in her eyes. Her father just put his arm around her wife’s shoulders.
She turned to face Jack, and found him with a complacent look in his face.
“Julie, you’re dead. Your parents came to us after they realized you wouldn’t believe or accept your death in that tragic car accident, a couple of months ago”. You were coming from a party with your girlfriends and apparently no one suffered serious injuries, but that is not the truth.” He now spoke to the camera. “But now, with our specialized psychologists and professional care, she’ll become a happy and fulfilled ghost, completely integrated. Dare to believe it, Julie!”
With that, the Kendall family gathered in a tearful group hug.
“And cut! That’s it, guys.” one of the producers announced, going immediately to talk to Jack.
“That was awesome! The network executives will go crazy with that! I believe it can get us a whole season. But are you really going to hire her?”
“Yeah. She’s a doll, and I need a personal assistant, anyway. Besides, if the audience is going to follow me around, it will be nice to have a newbie they can relate with.” Explained Jack, trying to straighten his tie at the mirror while the crew detached the hidden camera from it. “Now get them outta here, I’m busy as hell today.”
When the crew started to escort the Kendall family to the door, Jack shouted enthusiastically from his desk.
“Don’t forget, Julie, you start on Monday!”
The girl looked back and, even though she seemed to be in a state of complete shock, she managed to smile.
As soon as the last cable guy passed through the double door, his secretary buzzed at the intercom.
“Mr. Bennett, the journalist from Forbes Magazine is here.”
“Send him in.” He spun his chair to face the windows again. “I’ll talk to him in a minute”.