Gregory cups his chin in the V of his right hand and reflects. He was the lone southern ad man who sided with Ian back then, the only creative guy who believed Ian could do what he said he could—
–bring national advertising accounts into Atlanta. This city had grown up on local and regional businesses and on the good-ol’-boy network (Bubbas), instead of on the brilliance of its creative product. There was precious little of that back then. Gregory’s ambition, while presented to the world in a more sophisticated package, was no less intense than Ian’s. When you played against Gregory Lunsford Campbell III, mild manners and all, you knew you were in a dogfight. Ian and Gregory had been an ass-kicking team for 25 years.
Ian pauses and takes the measure of every person in the circle, to ensure we are focused on him alone.
“Now comes the moment of a lifetime, of many lifetimes: a chance for this ad agency to fulfill its destiny as a serious player on the national stage.”
He purses his lips and nods at me.
“And this young man, all 30 years of him, is why we are going to win that 100 million dollar son of a bitch. Right, Will?”
Not much room for me to wiggle in here. I nod my head and plaster my face with confidence. Ian bears down on me: I hope you are as good as your billings, kid. That foul taste floods my throat. I feel lightheaded. My complexion has to appear some aberrant shade of chartreuse. I begin to grind my teeth. That sound! That sound! I have no fucking idea where it comes from, but it makes me want to hurl. My ears are paralyzed by the sound of a massive snake slithering menacingly through tall, dry grass. All I want to do is run and run and run and run . . . and run . . . I can’t bear this . . . running . . . to . . . save . . . me. . . .
“Have you met your new creative partner?” Gregory’s words jolt me back to the present. I begin to breathe deeply, breathe deeply, breathe deeply . . .
“I didn’t mean to startle, you,” he says.
“Oh, no, it’s OK, I was just thinking about what Ian said,” I lie.
“You are going to do great, Will. Ms. Deborah Bernstein will be one reason you succeed. She’s standing right over there. Why don’t you go introduce yourself?”
Gregory points to a striking woman standing near the food pavilion. Her attire is decidedly Bohemian. Silver earrings sparkle from under her black curly hair, held back by an Hermes scarf. A bangle of turquoise falls to the center of a white peasant blouse. A long navy skirt and black ostrich boots complete the look. As I get closer to my “new creative partner” I see that she is average height, and model-thin. Any other woman would look gaunt, but not this one. She holds herself straight backed and carries her head high off her shoulders. She clearly keeps in shape. Deborah is standing in the middle of a gaggle of other M&C creative people. As I march over to Deborah and extend my hand, I sense they all are twittering expectantly about me.