“Hello, this is Laura Fox with WDLC News, reporting live, outside of the towering Kennedy Palmer building.” The beautiful woman began, by looking directly into the camera, and speaking clearly into her microphone. “As you can see, behind me, a large crowd of protestors continues to picket at the main entrance of this building. They are chanting slogans like ‘Go home, Arabs!’ and carrying signs that read ‘We don’t want you here!’ and ‘Stop the sale!’ Their expressions are disturbing, perhaps even hostile, and the tone of their voices is surely venomous. But, for the most part, the angry protestors are carrying out their demonstration with a degree of restraint.
“Nevertheless, in these uncertain times, very little is being left to chance here. Brandishing nightsticks and riot gear, officers from the Dreyton Police Department and the state police have formed something of a human wall between the demonstrators along the sidewalk and the empty plaza at the foot of the gleaming skyscraper. Clearly, law enforcement officials hope to send their own message: that peace will be maintained.
“As many of you will recall, the protests began several days ago, weeks after Frank Kennedy, the CEO and principal shareholder of Kennedy Palmer, announced his intentions to retire and sell off his interest in the company. Shortly thereafter, rumors began to surface that the company was to be sold en masse to The Hajamiri Group, an investment arm of the government of the small, but oil-rich, Emirate of Baktiar. Once those rumors were confirmed, the public response was one of shock. Opposition to the sale of Kennedy Palmer came quickly. Opponents of the sale, both in Dreyton and across the country, voiced immediate concern, pointing out that recent terror attacks against Americans in Johannesburg and Manila were carried out by Islamic fundamentalists from Baktiar. Opponents also began to ask the question: is America selling too much to foreigners and forfeiting control of its destiny to people beyond our borders? For them, the answer was decidedly ‘yes’—and so, the protests soon followed.
“These protests, however, have not been the only consequence of this sale. In fact, senseless acts of violence have occurred, and both Dreyton’s Asian and Middle Eastern communities have become the targets of that violence. From all over the city, sporadic incidents of hate crimes have made headlines—the most horrendous, the beating of a sixteen-year-old boy, two days ago. There is no doubt that such malice cannot help but to conjure up painful memories from a by-gone time, a time when…”
The young Bryan Kennedy continued to watch the reporter with a scornful eye, but he had stopped listening to her words long ago. He studied her demeanor, instead, noting how every bit of her essence performed flawlessly for the camera. There was every reason to believe that she was an expert at this, but as Bryan rightfully gathered, beneath the stern professionalism and seemingly objective façade, there was something else, something acutely maniacal. Deep down, she loved controversy, and she was particularly motivated by this one. Such controversies provided people like her with the one thing critical to a successful career: a lot of exposure. And Bryan could tell that she was calculating the dividends.
This reporter was not alone in her quest for a good story. In fact, beyond Laura Fox, dozens of competing news teams and their big, remote video vans lined Jackson Boulevard for nearly two blocks. To Bryan, it was a despicable sight—watching these so-called objective journalists, the pulse-takers of the nation, transform this unfortunate situation into a sensational, made-for-television event. His first instinct led him to look away, but even that turned out to be a bad move, because his eyes landed on the crowd of protestors just across the street.
“You’re all crooks! You’re all crooks!” Those were the words being shouted by the protestors. With each chant, the young Kennedy became more angry and defensive.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” his friend Antonio Shaffer broke their moment of silent observation.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” Bryan replied, his eyes never leaving the crowd.
“Welcome to the twenty-first century and our very own, real-life clash of civilizations. These days, dude, it ain’t just black or white anymore. Fear and hatred have gone global.” Antonio proclaimed. Then the young black man turned to an elderly white couple to his right, and they politely exchanged smiles and nods.
Bryan watched the demonstrators with sheer amazement and churning frustration. He stood helplessly and quietly, as he listened to the angry words. “Frank Kennedy is no patriot!” they began to shout. And with that, finally, Bryan’s eyes narrowed, and his patience totally vanished.
“This is so fucking sickening!” he uttered, bitterly, and then he lowered his head for a moment. He was embarrassed by his words and, more importantly, by the fact that he let emotion get the better of him. After a sigh, Bryan looked to Antonio. “Dude, let’s just go.”
The two proceeded to Bryan’s blue Lexus coupe parked along the curb. Before climbing in, Bryan took a final look at the protestors. He did not say anything to his friend. Instead, the frustrated, young man in his early twenties started the engine of the automobile, cranked up the hip-hop music, and sped away.
For a minute or so, Bryan tried to temper his anger by intellectualizing what he saw and heard. Unfortunately, that did not get him very far. “Antonio, I just don’t get it. Why would it matter so much if my father sells to The Hajamiri Group?” Bryan asked, sincerely. “Is this about the company, or is it about blind xenophobia?”
“Bryan, it’s a lot bigger than that, and I think you know it.” Antonio Shaffer was very informed college sophomore, and he appreciated any opportunity to show off that fact. “We cannot talk about Hajamiri without talking about the Emirate of Baktiar, and we cannot talk about the Emirate of Baktiar without talking about Muslim extremism. It is sad to say it, but all of them—the company, the country, and the crazies—are intertwined.”
“Antonio, that is not fair. Baktiar is a moderate country, and…”
“Hey, I am not saying that it isn’t!”
“Well, you cannot paint the whole country with a wide brush.”
“No, you cannot.”
“Then why say it? Why say it that way?”
“Because you asked the question, Bryan, and because I am just playing devil’s advocate. I am only articulating how other people are thinking.”
Bryan took a moment to think, as his car came to rest at a traffic light. Then, he simply said, “Okay, go on.”
Antonio was happy to oblige. “People here feel that they have a right to be upset.” He fumbled through the applications on his smartphone. “They might not be able to find the Emirate of Baktiar on a map, but they know three things about it: we buy a lot of their oil; they are predominantly Muslim; and some of their people dislike us enough to strap explosives onto their chests.” Using the smartphone, he showed Bryan the photograph of a burning building. “Put aside the typical talk that comes when companies get bought or sold. This time there’s a bigger, geopolitical dynamic that makes people uncomfortable.”
“I think that the fear is unfounded,” Bryan replied.
“That maybe so, but how do you prove it?”
“You have to teach folks that The Hajamiri Group is no different from any other business.”
“But it is different, Bryan. We are not talking about some private, foreign business; we are talking about a sovereign wealth fund or something like it. It’s just an arm of that nation’s government designed to look like a business and move around its vast reserves of oil money.”
Bryan scoffed, and then he asked, “Is this you talking or the devil’s advocate?”
Antonio grinned. “I am convincing, huh? Even at my weakest, I am going to be a damn good lawyer.”
“So, the idea would be to show the public that the Emirate of Baktiar is a partner to the U.S., and that this sale to Hajamiri is a pretty routine business affair that’s good for us all.”
“I think so. Perhaps they need to roll out the public-relations machine to articulate that, and while they are at it, they need to talk frankly to the average American.”
“Frankly? For what?”
“You’re not the average American, Bryan, and so, you probably would not understand this: a lot of regular people believe that guys like your father and the people that run The Hajamiri Group don’t give a damn about a few hundred, blue-collar Americans, especially when it comes to the bottom line of business. “ Antonio put away his phone, and sat back in his seat. “It’s these regular people who see their jobs disappearing all the time, and they probably assume that it is going to be the same case here.”
“Well, those are not ‘regular people’, at all. Society is just going to have to deal with them,” Antonio answered, firmly.
© 2010. All Rights Reserved; G. Harrell Literary Properties, Inc. Reproduction and unauthorized use are strictly prohibited.