I admit it. Back in 2014, when things started going off the rails with TSTO, and there was some downtime that made people nuts, this series I wrote was initially just for the hardcore followers who knew I was capable of going off the rails myself. But, reading it now…I have to laugh at just how far the train wandered into the deep speculation of EA corporate life.
But, another warning…this episode takes a very weird (even weirder?) twist, that even I didn’t see coming, until it was there on the page. I try to remember if I had a flip phone that showed up on my own desk…but, realize that I didn’t need someone telling me what to write, when I had my own, addled, imagination running freely during downtime.
Kinda like some of our current readers when they start speculating about the future of the game.
Again…this chapter is for Mature Audiences only (as in those mature enough to understand it is pure fiction…and not a statement on current society).
Sandy Hoofmeister couldn’t believe her luck. After weeks of watching the man of her dreams from afar, (or at least a corporate arm’s length away for propriety), she was finally sitting here, in the huge leather couch in Ted Baumgartner’s office, stroking Ted’s hair affectionately. She couldn’t be happier…even if Ted was passed out, and snoring; a direct result of the half bottle of single malt scotch he had consumed hours earlier.
The sun had begun to creep into the windows of Ted’s office, and Sandy knew that at some point very soon, perhaps in the next hour, Ted would wake, and they would have to address how they were going to keep “their little secret” from the rest of the staff at EA.
Fraternization between superiors and underlings was expressly forbidden, and yet it was common knowledge that any number of the wives and girlfriends to the executive staff had started out as their personal assistants. And she had wanted this more than she had wanted anything else in her life.
Ted wasn’t gorgeous, or even overly masculine by most “hunk-meter” standards. In fact, his diminutive frame and stature, at just a tad under 145 lbs. and barely 5’5” in height, was roughly half her own weight, and more than 3 inches shorter, even when she wore flats, which she did almost every day since getting the job as Ted’s PA four months prior.
She was as surprised as anyone when he had started acting more forward and complimentary to her, even going so far as to tell her that she had a “lovely and giving soul,” when she had taken the time to bring in baked goods or homemade German sausages to office for him. He had stopped calling her “his girl” and had begun to refer to her as his “Invaluable Personal Assistant” to others, especially when he was asking her to work over a weekend, in order to finish work that he was unable to complete during the week.
She didn’t mind. Even though she knew he was off on another golf weekend, she knew that every single sheet of paper she was handling during the 26 hours of time she was giving up for her weekend, had been touched by Ted. She had even gone so far as to smell the papers, hoping for just a hint of his Old Spice aftershave.
Ted was a traditionalist. No “foo-foo” scents for him. He wore starched white shirts, sensible shoes, one of three blue blazers with the same khaki pants, and he always smelled of Old Spice. The smell took her back to sitting on her grandpa’s knee, while he called her “his little pumpkin,” and fed her spoonful after spoonful of ice cream, while telling her, “sweets for the sweet, and you are sweet!” until grandma would take away the treats and hand them both carrot sticks. She missed her grandfather, who died too early, from complications of diabetes. But, she also knew that secretly, her love of sweets came from a longing to be loved for who she was inside.
Over the years, she had taken solace in the happiness she found in snacking, while trying to eliminate the emptiness she would feel as others in her life found relationships, love, and the kind of contentment promised by Hollywood, and the endless stream of tawdry love stories she consumed from her Kindle in the lonely hours after work.
But, last night had been different. Ted had been agitated after a meeting with accounting over the concepts and pricing of a new kind of game that EA was launching soon. It was a game designed to be played almost exclusively on cell phones and iPads. There had been a great deal of contemptuous haggling over ways to pull as much revenue as possible from the players, in a game that was to be announced as being “Free to play,” in the marketing.
Ted had lamented that they were “rushing this thing to market WAY before it was ready,” but he felt handcuffed by the accounting department, and they were clearly ignoring his wishes. He was of the mindset that launching something with a theme backed by a well-known television show that had been on the air for close to 25 years, really deserved the kind of rock-solid design features, fun, and support that called for extensive testing and beta releases before anyone in the general public saw it.
Accounting had been clear, that they considered this new game concept to be a veritable cash cow. And third quarter infusions of cash, were exactly what they needed to let the world know that Freemium gaming, with loads of Premiumadd-ons, was the way of the future.
They had even gone so far as to create a new position in the company, the Executive Premium Product Pricer, and had given Ted the title, along with a flashy nameplate for his desk. But, his first few meetings with the rest of the team had been rough.
And now, after being shouted down, and ridiculed by the EVP of mobile gaming for being a “wimp,” and “short-sighted,” Ted came back from the meeting, needing a drink. In fact, Ted needed several drinks. And by the time Sandy had knocked timidly on the door to Ted’s office, to let him know that everyone but the two of them had left for the weekend, Ted was already on the verge of tears of utter frustration, as he sat, looking at the projections once again.
She was there for him. Sandy was always there for him. So she sat and listened, shaking her head in agreement when he made statements like, “People aren’t going to like being tricked into playing a game that changes its spots into a bottomless money pit!” (She had no idea what he was talking about, but loved to see him so passionate). She even chimed in with her own, “Those bastards!” and then turned a deep shade of crimson when Ted looked up and caught her gaze upon him.
“You understand…you are the only one who understands!” Ted said as he stood, and pulled her to her feet (a slight grunt coming from both of them). As he lifted her from the couch, he reached out with a dazed but determined look, and wrapped his arms around her, firmly…as if her very being was supporting him in his confusion. Which of course it was, as he had stood too quickly, and the room was now spinning around him.
They had tumbled back onto the couch, her legs catching the edge of the cushions and giving way as she felt Ted’s full weight crush over her. She hit the couch with as gentle an action as she could muster, and Ted fell directly on her, his face finally resting upon her now-heaving bosom. Ted twitched slightly, as if trying to find his balance to sit up, and then promptly passed out.
That was nine hours ago, and neither of them had moved. Ted had slumbered, snored and drooled. Sandy had simply resolved to be as still as possible to let him sleep, moving only to gently stroke his hair.
As the sunlight crept across the floor, and up the side of the couch in an ordered fashion that Sandy could almost mark with the sound of the “ EA Employee of the Month Jan. 2012” clock that sat ticking from Ted’s desk, it finally shown brightly upon Ted’s sweaty and drool-stained shirt collar, and face.
She saw him begin to stir…ever so slightly, and finally, as the sunlight hit his eyes, they flew open, a look of confusion, fear, and slow but certain recognition crossed them in an instant.
“What the… OH BLOODY HELL… What the…what are we…what happened? Oh Dear God….no…I didn’t…I mean we didn’t…I mean…”Ted sputtered, moving back from Sandy with lurching jerks as each phrase escaped his twisted mouth.
“No…we didn’t…and you…asleep…too much to drink…passed out…it’s…really… I mean, nothing happened…it’s OK!” Sandy stammered back at him, as she did her best to sit up and lift herself from the leather couch, which was now sticking to any exposed skin after a night of immobile bonding.
“I can’t…we can’t…this would ruin me…we need to keep this quiet…please… please…can you get me some coffee, Miss Hoofmeister?” Ted replied, his voice lowering and becoming more “Ted-like” with every word.
And, that was it. The look in his eye had said it all. It was a look of horror, not love… it was a look of fear, not contentment. She knew that look, and she knew that she was once again, in her place.
The following weeks were met with predicable failure. The initial release of The Simpsons Tapped Out was met at first with a rush of enthusiasm from the players, followed almost immediately by frustration as the game broke down in fits of bugs, server errors, and irretrievable data. With each passing week, Ted became more and more sullen, and spent more and more time alone in his office.
When word came that EA was shutting down the game “temporarily,” nobody was surprised. But when Ted was terminated, with the reason that the game had failed, due to ambiguous pricing practices (when everyone knew that the real problem lay in the hackneyed programming and almost non-existent tech support), everyone was shocked.
Ted had taken to leaving her notes in the strangest places on her desk. Post-Its under a coffee cup, or wrapped around the candy bars she kept in her top drawer next to the paper clips.
They all said the same thing. “I’ll be gone soon. G.O.N.E.” She had no idea what this was about, except that she knew it had to be code for something…but certainly meant that he felt his time with EA was short.
She gave her notice the next day, when she found out that Ted had not approved her annual employee stock option package that came as part of being an EA employee each year. He had left her a note about that as well. “No stock is better than stock you can’t use if you know you are G.O.N.E” She feared Ted had lost whatever fragile grip on reality that he may have once had.
But the final push, the most stinging blow, had come from Ted’s replacement the day before she had given notice. Harold Tanderbeck had just looked at her and said, “I’m sorry. It’s nothing personal. But I have an image I need to convey to the rest of the staff. What kind of message would I be sending them if you were sitting in front of my door every day? I’m sure that there is a position for you in a less visible location.”
Sandy had not said a thing. But her future was sealed. She was going to get even for what this company had put her through, and what this company had done to her beloved Ted. She was going to make sure that when she was ready to be G.O.N.E, they would remember her forever.
And finally…this very moment, Jeanene knew her time had come. It had been almost too easy. In less than a year, she had lost more than 140 pounds. She had dieted, Zumba’d, Insanity Plussed, and rowing-machined her way into a body that was both fit and curvaceous, but equally unrecognizable. So unrecognizable, that when she first walked back into EA headquarters, not a single person recognized her as the former Sandy Hoofmeister.
They had marveled at her energy, determination, and her almost innate knowledge of EA insider news, but had chalked it up to her dedicated, laser-like focus on reaching new rungs up the corporate ladder. Yes, it was amazing to watch her go from a secretary, to the personal assistant to the Executive Premium Product Pricer in less time than most women at EA spent learning the names of all of the new Executive Vice Presidents and how they all took their coffee.
But, rumors had started flying when she had been picked to replace Arnold, who had replaced Bob, who had replaced Carl, who had replaced Ted, in the revolving door of the “office of the EPPP.” There was something familiar about “that woman.” It was something not quite sinister…but certainly not quite right. There was a shiver-inducing sense of dread that seemed to blast through you when she met your gaze. It was a look of such supreme confidence and abstract intention, as to defy anyone to speak to her or question her.
And, what was with the flip phone that she almost never seemed to be without? Who used a flip phone in this day and age? And who was on the other end that could cause this “woman of steel” to flush with excitement, and either slam the door for privacy, or skitter down the hall, looking for a quiet place to talk?
Had they known, or had they been able to see through the perfectly made-up face, ultra-whitened teeth, strong blue eyes, and high cheekbones, and into her mind, they would have been afraid. Very afraid. For unknown to them, Jeanene and her flip-phone-friend, held the future of the company in their hands.
To be continued…