"Oh." His nose
"Our cooler's out," Hack said. He turned away quickly.
"Hey, wait up," the suit said. "You ever do any marketing work?"
"Uh," he said, not sure if this was a joke. "No."
The suits looked at each other. The calamity guy shrugged. Then they stuck
out their hands. "I'm John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Operative, New Products."
"And I'm John Nike, Guerrilla Marketing Vice-President, New Products,"
the other suit said.
"Hack Nike," Hack said, shaking.
"Hack, I'm empowered to make midrange labor-contracting decisions," Vice-President
John said. "You interested in some work?"
"Some . . ." He felt his throat thicken. "Marketing work?"
"On a case-by-case basis, of course," the other John said.
Hack started to cry.
"There," a John said, handing him a handkerchief. "You feel better?"
Hack nodded, shamed. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, don't worry about it," Vice-President John said. "Career change
can be very stressful. I read that somewhere."
"Here's the paperwork." The other John handed him a pen and a sheaf of
papers. The first page said CONTRACT TO PERFORM SERVICE, and the others
were in type too small to read.
Hack hesitated. "You want me to sign this now?"
"It's nothing to worry about. Just the usual noncompetes and nondisclosure
"Yeah, but . . ." Companies were getting a lot tougher on labor contracts
these days; Hack had heard stories. At Adidas, if you quit your job and
your replacement wasn't as competent, they sued you for lost profits.
"Hack, we need someone who can make snap decisions. A fast mover."
"Someone who can get things done. With a minimum of fucking around."
"If that's not your style, well . . . let's forget we spoke. No harm done.
You stick to Merchandising." Vice-President John reached for the contract.
"I can sign it now," Hack said, tightening his grip.
"It's totally up to you," the other John said. He took the chair beside
Hack, crossed his legs, and rested his hands at the juncture, smiling.
Both Johns had good smiles, Hack noticed. He guessed everyone in marketing
did. They had pretty similar faces, too. "Just at the bottom there."
"Also there," the John said. "And on the next page . . . and one there.
"Glad to have you on board, Hack." Vice-President John took the contract,
opened a drawer, and dropped it inside. "Now. What do you know about Nike
Hack blinked. "They're our latest product. I haven't actually seen a pair,
but . . . I heard they're great."
The Johns smiled. "We started selling Mercurys six months ago. You know
how many pairs we've shifted since then?"
Hack shook his head. They cost thousands of dollars each, but that wouldn't
stop people from buying them. They were the hottest sneakers in the world.
"Two hundred million?"
"No. Two hundred pairs."
"John here," the other John said, "pioneered the concept of marketing
by refusing to sell any products. It drives the market insane."
"And now it's time to cash in. On Friday we're gonna dump four hundred
thousand pairs on the market at two and a half grand each."
"Which, since they cost us--what was it?"
"Since they cost us eighty-five cents to manufacture, gives us a gross
margin of around one billion dollars." He looked at Vice-President John.
"It's a brilliant campaign."
"It's really just common sense," John said. "But here's the thing, Hack:
if people realize every mall in the country's got Mercurys, we'll lose
all that prestige we've worked so hard to build. Am I right?"
"Yeah." Hack hoped he sounded confident. He didn't really understand marketing.
"So you know what we're going to do?"
He shook his head.
"We're going to shoot them," Vice-President John said. "We're going to
kill anyone who buys a pair."
Silence. "What?" Hack said.
The other John said, "Well, not everyone, obviously. We figure we only
have to plug . . . what did we decide? Five?"
"Ten," Vice-President John said. "To be safe."
"Right. We take out ten customers, make it look like ghetto kids, and
we've got street cred coming out our asses. I bet we shift our inventory
within twenty-four hours."
"I remember when you could always rely on those little street kids to
pop a few people for the latest Nikes," Vice-President John said. "Now
people get mugged for Reeboks, for Adidas--for generics, for Christ's
"The ghettos have no fashion sense anymore," the other John said. "I swear,
they'll wear anything."
"It's a disgrace. Anyway, Hack, I think you get the point. This is a groundbreaking
"Talk about edgy," the other John said. "This defines edgy."
"Um . . ." Hack said. He swallowed. "Isn't this kind of . . . illegal?"
"He wants to know if it's illegal," the John said, amused. "You're a funny
guy, Hack. Yes, it's illegal, killing people without their consent, that's
Vice-President John said, "But the question is: what does it cost? Even
if we get found out, we burn a few million on legal fees, we get fined
a few million more . . . bottom-line, we're still way out in front."
Hack had a question he very much didn't want to ask. "So . . . this contract
. . . what does it say I'll do?"
The John beside him folded his hands. "Well, Hack, we've explained our
business plan. What we want you to do is . . ."
"Execute it," Vice-President John said.
Until she stood in front of them, Hayley didn't realize how many of her
classmates were blond. It was like a beach out there. She'd missed the
trend. Hayley would have to hotfoot it to a hairdresser after school.
"When you're ready," the teacher said.
She looked at her note cards and took a breath. "Why I Love America, by
Hayley McDonald's. America is the greatest group of countries in the world
because we have freedom. In countries like France, where the Government
isn't privatized, they still have to pay tax and do whatever the Government
says, which would really suck. In USA countries, we respect individual
rights and let people do whatever they want."
The teacher jotted something in his folder. McDonald's-sponsored schools
were cheap like that: at Pepsi schools, everyone had notebook computers.
Also their uniforms were much better. It was so hard to be cool with the
Golden Arches on your back.
"Before USA countries abolished tax, if you didn't have a job, the Government
took money from working people and gave it to you. So, like, the more
useless you were, the more money you got." No response from her classmates.
Even the teacher didn't smile. Hayley was surprised: she'd thought that
one was a crack-up.
"But now America has all the best companies and all the money because
everyone works and the Government can't spend money on stupid things like
advertising and elections and making new laws. They just stop people stealing
or hurting each other and everything else is taken care of by the private
sector, which everyone knows is more efficient." She looked at her notes:
yep, that was it. "Finally I would like to say that America is the greatest
group of countries in the world and I am proud to live in the Australian
Territories of the USA!"
A smattering of applause. It was the eighth talk this period: she guessed
it was getting harder to work up enthusiasm for capitalizm. Hayley headed
for her seat.
"Hold it," the teacher said. "I have questions."
"Oh," Hayley said.
"Are there any positive aspects to tax?"
She relaxed: a gimme question. "Some people say tax is good because it
gives money to people who don't have any. But those people must be lazy
or stupid, so why should they get other people's money? Obviously the
answer is no."
The teacher blinked. He made a note. That must have been an impressive
answer, Hayley thought. "What about social justice?"
"Is it fair that some people should be rich while others have nothing?"
She shifted from one foot to the other. She was just remembering: this
teacher had a thing about poor people. He was always bringing them up.
"Um, yeah, it's fair. Because if I study really hard for a test and get
an A and Emily doesn't and fails"--renewed interest from the class; Emily
raised blond eyebrows--"then it's not fair to take some of my marks and
give them to her, is it?"
The teacher frowned. Hayley felt a flash of panic. "Another thing, in
non-USA countries they want everyone to be the same, so if your sister
is born blind, then they blind you, too, to make it even. But how unfair
is that? I would much rather be an American than a European Union . .
. person." She gave the class a big smile. They clapped, much more enthusiastically
than before. She added hopefully, "Is that all?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Relief! She started walking. A cute boy in the third row winked at her.
The teacher said, "Although, Hayley, they don't really blind people in
Hayley stopped. "Well, that's kind of hypocritical, isn't it?"
The class cheered. The teacher opened his mouth, then shut it. Hayley
took her seat. Kick ass, she thought. She had aced this test.
3 The Police
Hack sat in traffic, biting his nails. This had not been a good day. He
was beginning to think that visiting the marketing floor for a cup of
water was the worst mistake he'd ever made.
He turned into a side street and parked his Toyota. It rattled angrily
and let loose a puff of black smoke. Hack really needed a new car. Maybe
if this job paid off, he could move out of St. Kilda. He could get an
apartment with some space, maybe some natural light--
He shook his head angrily. What was he thinking? He wasn't going to shoot
anyone. Not even for a better apartment.
He climbed the stairs to the second floor and let himself in. Violet was
sitting cross-legged on the living-room floor with her notebook computer
in her lap. Violet was his girlfriend. She was the only unemployed person
he'd had ever met, not counting homeless people who asked him for money.
She was an entrepreneur. Violet was probably going to be rich one day:
she was smart and determined. Sometimes Hack wasn't sure why they were
He dropped his briefcase and shrugged off his jacket. The table was littered
with bills. Hack hadn't bargained very well in his last performance evaluation
and it was really biting him now. "Violet?"
"Can we talk?"
She didn't look up. "Is it important?"
She frowned. Hack waited. Violet didn't like being disturbed during her
work. She didn't like being disturbed at all. She was short and thin with
long brown hair, which made her look much more fragile than she really
was. "What's up?"
He sat on the sofa. "I did something stupid."
"Oh, Hack, not again."
Hack had missed a couple of turnoffs on the way home lately: last Tuesday
he'd gotten himself onto a premium road and eaten through eleven dollars
in tolls before he found an exit. "No, something really stupid."
"Well, I got offered some work . . . some marketing work--"
"That's great! We could really use the extra money."
"--and I signed a contract without reading it."
Pause. "Oh," Violet said. "Well, it might be okay--"
"It says I have to kill people. It's some kind of promotional campaign.
I have to, um, kill ten people."
For a moment she said nothing. He hoped she wasn't going to shout at him.
"I'd better look at that contract."
He dropped his head.
"You don't have a copy?"
Violet chewed her lip. "Well, you can't go through with it. The Government's
not as pussy as people think. They'd get you for sure. But then, you don't
know what the penalties in that contract are . . . I think you should
go to the Police."
"There's a station on Chapel Street. When are you meant to . . . do it?"
"You should go. Right now."
"Okay. You're right." He picked up his jacket. "Thanks, Violet."
"Why does this kind of thing always happen to you, Hack?"
"I don't know," he said. He felt emotional. He shut the door carefully
The station was only a few blocks away, and as it came into view he began
to feel hopeful. The building was lit up in blue neon, with THE POLICE
in enormous letters and a swirling light above that. If anyone could help
him out of this situation, Hack felt it would be someone who worked in
a place like this.
The doors slid open and he walked up to the reception desk. A woman in
uniform--either a real cop or a receptionist dressed in theme, Hack didn't
know which--smiled. Playing over the PA system was the song from their
TV ads, "Every Breath You Take."
"Good evening, how can I help you?"
"I have a matter I'd like to discuss with an officer, please."
"May I ask the nature of your problem?"
"Um," he said. "I've been contracted to kill someone. Some people, actually."
The receptionist's eyebrows rose a fraction, then settled. Hack felt relieved.
He didn't want to be chastised by the receptionist. "Take a seat, sir.
An officer will be right with you."
Hack dropped into a soft, blue chair and waited. A few minutes later,
a cop came out and stopped in front of him. Hack rose.
"I'm Senior Sergeant Pearson Police," the man said. He shook Hack's hand
firmly. He had a small, trim mustache but otherwise looked pretty capable.
"Please accompany me."
Excerpted from Jennifer Government by Max Barry Copyrightę
2003 by Max Barry. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.