The atmosphere in Shadreck Mtonga’s office was icy cold. Gilbert was sweating a storm under his dark blue Armani suit. He wanted to choke the life out of his partner for putting him in such an awkward position. He wished nothing but for the ground to open up and swallow them both.
Shadreck grabbed his friends hand, immediately bringing his tapping nervous feet to a stop.
“Sit down Gilbert,” Shadreck said between clenched teeth. “You’re making the lady uncomfortable.”
The lady being referred to was Terry Reynolds, Sasha Brand’s manager. Shadreck had summoned the forty-five year old to the agency to “discuss some new terms of partnership.”
“Oh no, don’t worry about me,” Ms Reynolds said, smiling at the two gentlemen. “I am perfectly alright here.”
And indeed she appeared to be perfectly alright. Her back was comfortably resting against the back of the chair, her legs crossed and her hands resting on the sides. She looked like a woman that knew exactly why she was there.
Terry had been expecting this meeting, even though it was requested earlier than she had anticipated. It usually took agencies three months after signing for them to start making demands or begging for Sasha to abandon her secret existence in order for her to Carter to her fans effectively.
“You know why you’re here don’t you?” Shadreck said.
The woman laughed. “I knew I would grow to like you,” she said. “You’re very smart. And no, it ain’t gonna happen. Never.”
“Aren’t you even going to hear us out at the very least?” Shadreck implored her.
“No need,” Terry answered.
Terry Reynolds was a no-nonsense woman. She opened her mouth only to speak words that she deemed necessary. She rarely gave full long sentence responses to anyone. Because of that, many called her dismissive, brash and rude.
Her job as Sasha’s manager meant everything to her. Even more so now that she was divorced. Over the years, Sasha had become more than just a client to her. She was more than her boss. She was like family. She understood exactly why Sasha needed to separate her professional life from her personal life.
“You have to understand that the Zambian creative industry is different from Hollywood,” Shadreck pressed his case.
“I think what my partner means is that Sasha’s fans in Zambia might not be as understanding as her fans in the US because-“
“I think I know what he means,” Terry said. “I understand your concerns and I really appreciate them. However, it is a fact that people will not stop buying into Sasha’s creative projects just because they can’t see her face.
“For years now she’s managed to perfectly deal with her brand, to get personal with her fans without the need to meet them face to face.”
Both Shadreck and Gilbert knew very well the manager was right. However, that fact was still not enough to satisfy Shadreck. The only reason why he gave up on pushing his agenda was just so he could do it all over again in the near future after the two sides had solidified their business relationship.
“You’re a crazy bastard you know that?” Gilbert said the moment Ms Reynolds was out the door.
Shadreck laughed. “We wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t take risks,” he said, pushing a manuscript towards his friend.
“What’s this?” Gilbert asked.
“Sasha Brands first project with us,” Shadreck said. “Her first Zambian screenplay for the small screen.”
Gilbert flipped through the pages, his jaw almost drawing to the ground with every flip of a page. “When did she do this? This chick is insane!”
Shadreck got up from behind his desk to stand next to his friend and partner. “Before you joined us earlier, Ms Reynolds briefed a bit about what Sasha has been upto the past months,” Shadreck said.
“She started working on this two years ago,” he said. “This being her first project here, she wanted to get everything right. It’s the first story of this kind so it required a lot of research. Turns out, she arrived in this country earlier than the date her manager initially told us.
“She’s been to all the locations she’s used in the screenplay and even met with cultural experts to give her script authenticity. If all our writers worked this hard, we would be multi-billionaires by now. The woman is out of this world.
“We need to get a team on this project right away, do the background research work to ensure everything is in order before we can get producers on board.”
“Did she just leave one copy?” Gilbert asked.
“Five,” Shadreck pointed to the pile on the shelf behind them.
“It’s true what they say about Americans,” Gilbert laughed. “I’ll keep this one then. Give me two more for Barry and Lindiwe.”
Shadreck walked to where the pile was and handed Gilbert two more manuscripts.
“I think I know exactly who would jump at this opportunity,” Shadreck said.
He grabbed one more copy and put it down put it down on the table in front of him before sitting down.
Gilbert who had been walking towards the door stopped and turned around to hear what his pal was going on about. It is typical of Shadreck to get this excited whenever a promising project came on the table. For the next few months, he was going to be acting like an obsessed maniac just to make sure that the final production was down to perfection.
Right now his world revolved around Sasha and her brand of writting excellence. Next it would be some upcoming singer or actor filling his head with craziness. Such was the life of a man without a social life.
When he was not scouting for real estate ventures to invest in, Andy Mwila was knocking on people’s offices and talking them into selling their failing companies to him. Sometimes, he literally had to break down doors to get his business handled with stubborn business owners that refused to liquidate voluntarily.
It was therefore not surprising to him to find a crowd of protesters outside the premises of Pluto every now and then when he drove in for work in the morning.
“How long have they been here?” Andy asked his PA the moment he walked into the office.
The thirty-two year old woman stood up from behind her desk like a soldier ready to report for duty.
“Since 5 in the morning,” she answered. “Good morning sir.”
“Morning Stacie,” he answered as he opened the door to his office.
Stacie was right behind him, notebook and pen in hand on the ready.
“Mr Jeffrey Mbulo called a few minutes ago and said he would be coming to see you in-” she checked her wristwatch, “in ten minutes now. He called about 45 minutes ago.”
Andy took off his jacket and Stacie rushed to take it from him. He took out Sasha’s manuscript from his bag, laid ot on the desk before him and sat down.
“Why couldn’t he just book an appointment like a normal human being?” Andy said sarcastically. “But then again he wouldn’t be Jeff if he did anything normal.”
“He said it’s very urgent and he will see you whether you like it or not,” the PA reported.
Andy laughed. “That bastard,” he said.
“I always knew you called me names behind my back you son son of a bitch.”
Both Andy and Stacie turned towards the door.
“I have called you worse names to your face you ugly son of a bitch,” Andy said, moving towards his friend to give him a hug.
“Aaaah…sir?” A confused looking Stacie could only stare at the two, wondering what the right thing to do was so as not to incur the wrath of her boss once his uninvited guest was gone.
“It’s fine Stacie,” Andy said as he motioned his friend to take a sit. “You can go back to work. Just push back my meetings for an hour or so to be safe.”
“So sorry for making your job hard Ms Stacie,” Jeffrey said to the PA. “But I promise you your boss will give you a raise of this meeting goes according to plan. Fingers crossed ah?”
The thirty year old smiled at the giant looking man in front of her. She didn’t care about a salary increment. She was already getting more than enough. She was just happy that the man was kind enough to apologize for the awkward position he had put her in, especially knowing who the man was.
“Anything to drink sir?” Stacie asked. “We have-“
“Water…just bring me a glass of ice cold water please,” Jeffrey said.
“And the usual for you sir?” She asked Andy.
Stacie excused herself.
“Sit Jeff,” Andy said. “How much money have you brought me this lovely day of ours?”
Jeffrey laughed. “Before we talk about money, who have you screwed that’s out protesting? I thought they were going to stone my vehicle by the gate. And your security team is just there watching them. Why not call the cops and get them off? They’re bad for business aren’t they?”
“Not really,” Andy answered. “In this line of business, seeing people camped out like that means we are still in business,” he chuckled.
“Clever bastard,” Jeffrey said.
“What brings you here unannounced Jeff?” Andy asked.
Andy was not troubled by the mans sudden appearance in his office because he knew he had a dame good reason for showing up. Jeffrey Mbulo was a money guru. A sight of him in anyone’s office was a sign that money was about to be made.
Jeffrey was into construction. Where most Zambians had failed, Jeffrey had succeeded with impunity. From government tenders to foreign ones, he was king of them all.
An architecture by profession, Jeffrey had worked with Andy on many of his real estate projects before.
“Let’s get into television mate,” Jeffrey announced.
“Yes. An opportunity just came up. I got a call from a mutual friend of ours looking for people to invest in his latest small screen project. I thought you might be interested considering who made the offer.”
Andy appeared very interested, if not intrigued by his friends terms of inference.
Stacie entered with their beverages.
“Who made you the offer?”Andy asked once they were alone again.
“Who else? Take a guess.”
“Does he know you brought this offer to me?”
“Of course not.”
“It’s tempting, but I can’t.” Andy said. “You know very well Shadreck hates my guts. He knows I have the money and yet he came to you first.”
“Business is business,” Jeff said. “He needs to stop being a wimp and get over his mama issues. Who cares if she didn’t hug him enough? He is who he is today because life screwed him as a child. He should be grateful and not resentful.”
“Try and tell him that,” Andy said.
“Already did,” Jeff said.
Andy couldn’t believe his ears.
Jeffrey was laughing. “I’m serious,” he said. “I was on the same flight with him two months ago. That was when I told him about my interest in his line of work. We somehow got talking about you after seeing your picture on not one, not two, but three magazines on the plane.
“I told him that I heard that the two of you don’t see eye to eye. He said something in the line of…’its nothing important I don’t wish to talk about that.’ I told him am a friend of yours and I think you need to get over your issues.”
“And what did he say?”
“He just laughed, said we are all entitled to our opinions. And that was all. But I really liked him. His got a good head on his shoulders and he doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks.”
Andy agreed with a node of his head. “Shadreck is a really dangerous man,” he said. “He makes even men fall for him. Him and I were truly destined to be rivals. Looking back, all the girls I ever dated had crushes on him. The only reason I had them first was because they liked my name and what came with it.”
There were times when Andy wondered why Shadreck hated him so much when he had all the best things in life that came with no price tag. He had a mother willing to lose him and his siblings just so she could give them shelter, food and an education. Ever since they were young, Shadreck had always been surrounded by friends that liked him for who he really was instead of what he could do for them. He dated the best girls in town and not just anyone that threw herself at him. He had a best friend and business partner that would lay down his life for him in a heartbeat.
And had none of those things. Everything he had and everyone he knew came with a price tag. Just because he could afford them didn’t mean he needed them. What most envied of him, he could easily give away if he would get to live like them.
“So are you in or not?” Jeff asked.
Andy jumped out of his reverie. “He won’t let me in, I promise you.”
“Not if you force your way in,” Shadreck said.
Andy furrowed his brow. “I’m not going to force him to allow me to help produce his production.” He said sternly.
“You will change your mind once you hear who the writer is,” Jeff said.
“Just tell me but I promise you nothing will change my mind. I made up my mind to not bother Shad anymore.”
Andy’s eyes widened and his jaw almost dropped to the floor.
“Are you telling me those rumours I have been hearing are true? Is she really here in Zambia?”
Jeffrey looked very pleased. He knew his friend would curve.
“Wait for the afternoon news,” Jeffrey said. “Apollo will be trending like never before today.”
“For some reason I never believed she was really Zambian. I thought that was just a rumour started by some crazy weirdos since no one really knows who she really is or what she looks like.” Andy said.
“Visit her website, the real one. And even all her official social media accounts promoting her work. They state ‘Sasha Brand is a multi-award winning African American writer. She was born in Zambia…’ and so on and so forth.”
“I never bothered to check,” Andy said.
“What would you say if I told you that I have an idea of who Sasha Brand really is, the actual human woman? Not the brand?”
“No way! I know you’re well connected but this Sasha lady, she’s eluded the whole world for years. How would you just happen to know who she is just when she’s apparently arrived in the country?” Andy said.
“I designed her house,” Jeffrey said and wrote down the address for his friend.
“This can’t be real?” Andy said.
“I am not 100% sure but my gut has never been wrong. I put two and two together and arrived at one.”
They both laughed.
“Just get on board with me on this one,” Jeffrey said. “I promise you you won’t regret it. This is a great opportunity for us all. I want to do this with you.”
“It’s all so very tempting but-“
“No buts,” his friend said. “We are doing this whether Shadreck likes it or not. This will be an opportunity for you guys to work out your issues. You both need this opportunity.”
Andy took a moment to think about the offer.
“Give me today, just today to think about it, ok?”
“Only today,” Jeffrey said.