If you read the previous blog, please continue reading. If you’re joining this blog at this point, I’d recommend going back and reading the previous installment.
Here’s the deal: I’m writing my next project as both a script and novel. I opened both with the Prologue from the earlier blog (a bunch of VCs aboard a yacht), but while the producer I’m working with on the script loved it as a grabber opening, my writing coach felt I was introducing characters that we wouldn’t see again until the end of Act 1. She wanted something more in line with antagonist/protagonist line of development.
After pouting for a few minutes, I saw that she was right. So I moved the VCs to Chapter 22 in my outline and went with a new Prologue (below).
Hopefully you’ll like both of them, but the purpose of these two blogs is to introduce you to the different approaches to Prologues.
THE FOREVER GAME
He has no idea what’s about to hit him.
The woman waiting for him likes watching football. Her image for this meeting is of a receiver coming across the middle, eyes fixed on the oncoming pass, fingertips twitching and reaching, unaware that the oncoming safety—her—is about to separate him from both the ball and his senses.
She sees him arrive through the half-open blinds. As he comes to a stop before the closed door and raises his hand to knock, she waves him in. She wears an Apple watch, eschewing the Hermes band for basic black. The watch isn’t an accessory—it keeps her schedule, her reminders and her list of action items, both for herself and her team.
It’s an elegant hand, fine-boned and tapered, manicured and tended at home by her two daughters. Normally the nail colors tend towards the playful. Not today, though.
She knows that she’s an object of both speculation and conversation at Salvana. Not just because she’s new and her predecessor was recently let go, both publicly and bloodily. It’s also the image the projects—or doesn’t project, which is even more confusing. Her work attire, for example. Again, most nights she lets her girls lay out the next day’s outfit. And, to be honest, they often do a better job than she would, joining colors in a way she wouldn’t have thought of but that work. Which only adds to the confusion because at work there’s nothing playful about her except her outfits. And her nails.
Today, though, she dressed herself. Because today calls for the shark suit. A belted blazer over a silk blouse and a pencil skirt, it takes its name from its different hues of grey and because Mom always gets really serious when she puts it on. Those are the days the girls stay quiet on the ride to school.
She doesn’t smile as he prepares to enter, though she might later. It depends. She watches him go through his last-minute mental checklist out in the hall. A quick run of his hand through his short, slightly spiked hair—no gel, thank God—while he assembles just the right kind of smile. He reaches for the door handle but there’s an extra beat before it turns. She envisions him checking his fly with his other hand before making his entrance.
She keeps her eyes neutral as he enters the small conference room, keeping in mind the many times she’s been told that during introductions her eyes tend to auger in, throwing their audience off their game. She won’t need the eyes this morning, not unless the meeting goes bad.
The room is a study in bland, a contrast to its counterparts throughout the building, with their artwork and uplifting posters. Each wall seems to be a different hue of uninspiring beige from its partners. This lack of attention is further evidence that no department, including her own, owns the office. An orphan, it’s there for the online taking. She uses it for all of her initial meetings.
His entry breaks up the room’s stale air, bringing with it a hint of cologne. Nothing overpowering, but she’s not a fan of men who wear cologne. She stands and shakes hands with him—it’s a grip she’s worked on over the years, since almost everyone else she meets in Biz Dev is a man. Firm but not overpowering, nothing like those wimpy three-finger offerings she sees some women offer.
“Jake Montgomery,” he says, as she motions for him to sit down. There’s no need for her to offer her name. Everyone knows who she is and how much is riding on her. She watches to see if he crosses his legs, displaying an ease he hasn’t earned yet. But he keeps both feet firmly planted on the floor. He’s got a good poker face—tanned, high-boned, the cheeks slightly hollow, bordering on anorexic. She would have guessed he was a triathlete even if the HR file hadn’t mentioned it.
She taps her finger on the file. “You’ve got an impressive background, Jake. Tough to tell if I’m talking to a scientist or a business associate.”
“I’m a scientist first and foremost, Ms. Aynesworth, but…”
“I’m a scientist first, Cheryl, but I want to learn the business side of my field as well.”
“Because I don’t want to spend my life creating products that never go beyond the lab. I want them to fill a need, to do something productive. And to do that I need to understand the market and the economy. Which is why I was so excited about this meeting.”
She nods briskly, as if she’d expected the answer or something like it. “Don’t get too excited, Jake,” she says, giving him a slight but disarming smile. “Biz Dev is like being a restaurant critic or an archaeologist. It’s exciting to outsiders, but insiders know better. And it’s serious as hell, because it’s high-stakes gambling only with someone else’s money. In this case, Salvana’s.”
She pauses and waits for a response but he simply sits there giving her his full attention. He seems as comfortable with silence as she is. A point in his favor.
“Playing with a publicly-traded company’s money is like taking money from the Mob. You better repay, and with interest. Otherwise, like my predecessor, you’re gone. And the stink of failure stays with you, sometimes for years.” She pauses. “Biz Dev still looking attractive to you?”
“Yes. But thanks for the dose of reality.”
“Then I’ll get to the point. My job is to use every available resource to predict the future and tell Salvana where to place its bets. A billion-dollar bet, in this case. Which is why we’re meeting. I believe you might be one of those resources.”
He leans back slightly, the tension in his face slacking. He crosses his legs; she looks down at the file to hide her smile.
“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Salvana is going to have to terminate your employment. Effective immediately.”
She watches him progress through the employment version of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief: Shock; Confusion; Outrage. She jumps in before he gets to Anger.
“And now that you’re unemployed, I’d like to offer you a job. At twice your current salary and with a two-year commit. And a possible future in Biz Dev.”
She sees him cycle back from Outrage, but he stalls at Confusion.
“I don’t understand,” he says. “But I guess that’s obvious.” His tone takes on an edge. “And perhaps intended.”
She’s glad to see a bit of spine. “You have a right to be pissed, Jake, as well as confused. This kind of meeting is new to me, as I’m sure it is for you.” She thinks about giving him some background, perhaps even apologizing, but she opts for just softening her tone. “You’re not fired and you’re free to leave this meeting now with no recriminations. It’s your choice.” She motions obliquely towards the door. He stays put, though she notices he’s uncrossed his legs.
“Here’s what I’m proposing: you be my eyes and ears into the industry that will be Salvana’s future. Startups, meetups, interviews with the most promising companies—anything or anyone who can help me place my bets.”
“Why can’t I do that as a Salvana employee?”
“That’s Legal’s call, and it’s non-negotiable. You’ll see why in a minute.”
She motions for him to close the blinds. He fumbles at first with the dangling plastic pendant, raising the slats; he grabs the other pendant and twists, bringing the slats flat. The room seems to shrink as it darkens. There’s a new intimacy there but also a sense of confinement.
“How would you describe Salvana’s core product line, Jake?”
He is long in answering. Not that she was expecting a quick or flip answer. He has to know his answer will have an impact, not on Salvana’s future but his own. Still, the extended silence makes her wonder if he’s pouting at his treatment or wondering how to make a graceful exit. She waits him out.
“I’d say our strength is in palliatives, with curatives a distant second.”
“I agree. I tell those new to Salvana that our main job is to make the last years of a person’s life as pain-free and productive as possible. And when they do die, to use that knowledge to improve the life—and death—of the next person.”
She stops. This is where the meeting turns and she wants to make sure he’s tracking. He gives an almost unconscious nod, as much to himself as to her.
“But here’s the problem, Jake. My problem for now and hopefully yours. Because I can’t do it alone.” She sees him straighten, his shoulders squaring. “The future of our industry isn’t in making the end of life better. It’s to extend that life as long as possible, and not in small increments. Bottom line: Salvana needs to become a major player in longevity.” She gives him room to respond, but he just repeats the dip of his chin.
This time it’s her turn to straighten up and lean forward. “Did you know that the person who will live to be two hundred years old has already been born?”
“I’ve heard that, though it sounds a little dramatic.” He’s watching her face but gets nothing back. “But even if the projection’s a little premature, it’s not by much. And I agree with you about longevity being the Holy Grail.” He seems to catch himself, showing uncertainty for the first time. “Though I don’t remember you asking if I agreed or not.”
This time her smile is real. “No, but I’m glad you do. And how do you think Salvana is positioned for this coming market?” she asks.
“Not very well.”
“You’re being kind. On a scale of one to ten, I’d put us at a two. Over seventy percent of our revenue comes from palliatives, from end-of-life treatments, medications and accessories. When longevity becomes a way of life—no pun intended—Salvana will be a second-rate player. If we’re a player at all.”
She slides her sleeves up slightly and rests her bare arms on the table. “Salvana hired me to get it off its ass and into the game. To evaluate all the longevity solutions out there and pick the one we should either acquire or partner with. And then work with Product Management to create a plan, complete with schedule and budget, to transition Salvana to the longevity business.” Realizing how intense she looks, she eases back into a casual pose. The next few minutes are critical and she doesn’t want to look too eager. Or needy.
“What you’re talking about…” It’s clear he’s weighing his words, the import of the moment not lost on him. “Sounds challenging, but doable. But I still am having trouble seeing why I—or whoever you choose for this project—can’t do it as a Salvana employee. What am I missing?”
“Everything we’re doing on this front has to be done off the books and out of sight. If it becomes clear that Salvana is trying to go in a new direction, a number of things would happen. The market would spook and investors would start asking a lot of awkward questions. Current employees would head for new homes. And morale would suffer. I know you’re too young to remember this—hell, I’m too young to remember this—but when Apple was developing the Macintosh, it had a separate building, one that flew a pirate’s flag, for god’s sake, and the employees there got all the perks. Meanwhile the people working on the Apple II, which paid all the bills, suddenly felt like the ugly girl at the dance. Salvana can’t afford any of these things, much less all of them.”
He settles back into his chair, his body losing a little of its alert posture. “Okay. I’m beginning to see where this is going.”
“To put it bluntly, I want you to be my spy. Here’s how it would work. We fire you for advocating for the patients and animals that we use in our tests. We’ll pretend to be trying to keep all this under lock and key, but the word will get out that we’re letting you go for—and we’ll use this term—‘putting people before profits’. It’ll make you a martyr and a hero to the communities we’re trying to reach. The rest will be up to you. Lay low for a week or two, then identify and start attending all the longevity-related meetups and online groups. Research during the day, hit the events after work. Learn from these people, get them to confide in you. Interview with the startups that interest you the most. Report back to me occasionally, telling me which ones to keep an eye on. And finally, which one we should acquire.” She sits back and relaxes. It’s all on him now.
“A question: what happens to me if you get fired, like your predecessor.”
“Then you’re screwed. Because none of this can be in writing. You’ll set yourself up as your own LLC, you’ll be paid from a slush account, cash. You’ll provide your own benefits.” Before he can respond, she raises a finger. “But the flip side is: Once we’ve acquired the company you recommend, we rehire you at a director’s level and put you in charge of managing the transition.”
He’s quiet for a good thirty seconds, which feels longer. Then, “You’re catching me off guard, Cheryl, so I’d like time to think about it. But my first impression is that I’m interested. Very much.” She keeps the smile in place. He used her name in his answer—he’s in. She stands and extends her hand. “Take the weekend to think it over. I’ll expect your answer on Monday.”