Waking a little late Saturday morning, Austin is greeted with several phone messages, including several from Liat. He calls her first and finds out there is a press conference at the studio, to counter the charges levied by Irving. When he gets outside his apartment building, he’s greeted by reporters and cameras.
“What was that?”
“That’s all Irving’s doing?”
Dwight and Stu laughed.
“Do I have lines or am I winging this?”
“Lines.” Dwight handed him his phone.
Austin flipped through the e-mail his friend had been sent. He read it through twice, making sure he had all in his mind.
“Don’t ad lib,” Dwight cautioned. “Stick to the script.”
They arrived at the network building and drove into an underground garage. The building was surrounded by rival networks converging upon them. They all headed to the front door and were guided to an auditorium. Austin and his entourage went to the back elevator reserved for executives and others too important to brave the public places.
Dwight did a last minute primping, making sure Austin’s tie was straight, his hair contained and his handkerchief suitably fluffed. Liat waited in the wings stage right. Her mother was already on stage, talking to the press.
“Without further adieu, I present Austin Templeton.” She gestured to the wings, clapping.
Austin entered, shoulders back, chin up. He worked the crowd like a politician on the election trail. Smiling and waving, he stood with Elaine, posing for pictures. He kissed her hand before she stepped aside. Cameras clicked, people jostled. He winked at her when his back was turned to the audience, before stepping on his mark, exactly center stage. He didn’t have a microphone, that anyone could see, but he spoke with confidence.
“Good morning, everyone. I trust you slept well.” He paused a moment, smiling. “Seems that there are ugly rumors flying about and I’d like to put those to rest, if I may. I’d like to begin by saying that I am, quite frankly, deeply concerned about Irving. I strove to keep our relationship professional, but perhaps he misinterpreted that as being aloof.” He shrugged. “Who can say? In any case, if he wishes to believe that I was rude to him or insulted him, that’s his choice. I wish him the best of luck in his professional career and appreciate the direction he gave me.” He bowed, turning to exit.
“Austin!” one woman up front called. “Show us your bum!”
He leaned forward, hand to his ear. “Excuse me?”
“Your bum,” she repeated eagerly.
Austin walked to the front of the stage, crouching in front of her. “Have there been any robberies this morning? Muggings, murders? Stock fraud, car crashes? Are there people sleeping in boxes in ally ways because they can’t afford a home? Do people starve to death and wander the streets because they lost their jobs to outsourcing?”
The woman stared at him, dumbfounded. Some of the reporters caught on, but most of them stared too.
“Because I find it hard to believe that this petty argument between me and Irving Childers is worth this amount of air time. How much money did you spend getting over here for this? What is this press conference costing the network? Tomorrow, over coffee and bagels, will the American public be talking about the war, the homeless, the starving or the terminally ill? Or will they, in fact, be talking about this tripe as they sip their seven dollar lattes and chow down on expensive pastries?” He glared at them, standing suddenly.
“This is a farce and I no longer want to be party to it. When you have important things to ask, I’d be happy to chat. Until then, go home.” He spun angrily and strode off the stage.
Shocked faces greeted him in the wings. Dwight followed, with Liat trotting behind.
Elaine watched him, smiling. “Good lad!” Putting on a solemn face, she went back to the stage. “I apologize, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Templeton has left the building and will be unavailable for contact. Any questions may be directed to my staff. Please pick up the press kit on your way out.” She, too, exited.
Chaos ensued. No one had ever been dismissed from a press conference so precipitously. They weren’t sure whether to be insulted or respect the hell out of the kid. The more perceptive chose to look closely at his statement. Others chose to feel insulted. Either way, Austin was the talk of the town.
By the elevator, Austin waited for Dwight and Liat to catch up. Dwight smiled, holding out his hand. Austin smirked, grabbing it. They exchanged a brief hug. He turned to Liat, tugging her into his arms, kissing her surprised mouth.
“How was I?” he asked Elaine, as she approached.
“Bloody perfect! You were wonderfully condescending. It doesn’t hurt that you feel strongly on the subject. I happen to agree with you. It’s a wretched nuisance and a waste of everyone’s time. Thank you.”
“Did you plant her? Because that was almost too perfect.”
“Oh, no. She’s really a reporter. But before the conference, I had people chatting the reporters up and one of them made a remark to her, and others, on the subject of your magnificent derriere. Couldn’t have done better if we’d said it ourselves.”
© 2015 Dellani Oakes