Thanks to my usual cast and crew of Editors and Advance Readers, most of whom prefer to pretend that they don't know me and wisely wish to take no responsibility for any of my addled writings...
except for Dragonsweb, but he's a bit odd anyway.
"Chet, I swear this is the single worst idea you've ever come up with!" Laurence Ashcroft stammered with disbelief into his satellite cell phone.
"Besides, I don't have the slightest intention of wanting to get married at the moment. I've got far too many things that still need to get done before I turn forty!"
Laurence did have a point. It was not for nothing that he had been voted by the Times of London three years in a row "The Most Fascinating Man in the World". The New York Times once called him the modern day 'Leonardo da Vinci' and "a Doc Savage for the twenty-first century."
He had been a prodigy right from his birth and had graduated from Harvard at the age of twelve. No less than seven different doctorates had followed, all completed by the age of twenty. Not yet forty, Laurence was already the eighth richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine, and he owned land, cattle, oil, corporations and patents enough to make a hundred different men each a multi-millionaire for life.
He could hardly care less about his eleven digit fortune. If Laurence had ever cared a fig about money he undoubtedly could have become number one on the list in less than a year. He was a genius at everything his hands touched, but his loves were for raw field science and the Arts.
Instead of treasure, it was the sheer love of adventure and the physical sciences that drove Laurence, like the biblical Ishmael, to be a wanderer across the earth. He had written over a hundred scientific papers on obscure topics of anthropology, archeology, biology, geography, geology and oceanography, and could make himself instantly welcome at any scientific expedition anywhere on earth, and he frequently did. His personal foundation paid for more field scientific research last year than all of the National Science Foundation grants combined.
He was not just the boss who wrote the paychecks for a hundred different field expeditions each year, but a welcome colleague who loved to roll up his sleeves, get his hands dirty, and pitch in with the work.
He was no slouch at the liberal arts either, having extensive knowledge of all of the classics of world literature, in all of their original languages. He spoke and read twenty-six ancient and modern languages fluently, and could muddle along in another fifty odd languages and dialects well enough to get by. His paintings, in the classic Impressionistic style, were considered superb enough to hang in any major gallery and his classical style sculpture work was considered 'unspeakably promising' by all of the living masters of the art. He could debate philosophy with the best masters in any college, university or bohemian coffee shop or wine bar. He tried writing a symphony once, but admitted that it needed quite a bit of polishing before it would be ready to be performed someday.
He was a true Renaissance man in every aspect of the word, but the most common angle of publicity the media took was that he was by far the single most eligible bachelor in the world. Voted number one at People Magazine for at least five years in a row. The tabloid press was in a constant frenzy for any clue to a possible future Mrs. Laurence Ashcroft. The National Enquirer, the Daily Mail and the Sun were in a constant duel for photos of any sort of girlfriend, even photoshopping forged pictures as necessary.
It was no wonder that he spent the majority of his time far away from civilization.
Chet was a necessary evil. He was the CEO and chief programming director for a large media conglomerate that Laurence had semi-accidentally acquired a few years ago. While Lawrence cared nothing about the huge worldwide satellite TV parts of the operation, especially the SHB international mega-cable channel, they were rather profitable, and hadn't been sold off yet. Chet managed this part of the empire and by everyone's estimation had done a superb job.
SHB in particular currently hosted the single top rated reality TV on this or any other network, the monster hit "Trophy Wife" that ran almost live weekly in over eighty different countries, including the US, the UK and nearly all of Europe and Asia.
Following in the wake of semi-successful predecessors like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" this show left every other reality show far in its wake for three compelling reasons. Top notch talent, with 'real' millionaires, semi-famous 'B' movie actresses and former beauty queens fighting it out on screen; superb editing designed for maximum snark value skewering the pompous and vapid attention whores mercilessly; and (perhaps most importantly) the program loved to show bare tits, asses and sometimes dangly bits and loved to feature the unladylike bad behaviors of the would-be Mrs. Millionaires.
It was like Playboy TV, except that it was actually entertaining.
Chet was the producing genius behind this show and he was actually worth every cent of his insane salary and preposterous executive bonuses. Now he was trying to do the ultimate ... he wanted the world's ultimate billionaire to be the bait to bring out the very top cream of the world's beauties. He promised that it would be legendary TV ... i.e. that it would be absolutely appalling, comparable to the nastiest imaginable plane or train wreck ... but no one would be able to turn their TV dials way or stop watching.
The ratings would be 'gi-normous', he said, far outstripping anything that had been broadcast before. Take the drama of a dozen Royal Weddings and throw in suspense (and more snark) for good measure.
Advertisers were already standing by, begging to pay obscene ad rates that made the Super Bowl look like Friday nights on Public Television. All that was needed was Laurence's ok.
This week, Laurence was in the Amazon rain forest, checking in on a biological research mission that was investigating claims of a species of a giant, man eating catfish living in the upper reaches of the river. He was hot, wet and very bug bitten ... and not feeling at all in the mood to be matrimonial.
"Not a chance. It's not like I need the publicity. It takes four personal assistants now to answer all of my fan mail as it is. I'm standing here in the upper reaches of the Amazon, over five hundred miles from the nearest town ... further to get the next decent place with a hamburger joint and working air conditioning. Next week I'm off to Antarctica to help with a penguin study for a few days and then off for a week deep into the Trans-Antarctic Mountains to work with a fossil dig and hopefully find the Plateau of Ling noted by the ill-fated Miskatonic University expedition of the early 1930's. After that, a week in Borneo to look over a new proposed Orangutan jungle preservation site we're establishing, followed by another week in China for a fossil dig at a possible Peking Man site. There's isn't a woman in a million who is going to be willing to live a life like this."
"That's the point exactly! You're the ultimate challenge! Women can't resist an impossible challenge! With over six billion people in the world, that's over three billion women. With one in a million odds, that's still over three thousand possible decent wives for you. The real fun however, is going to be dealing with and weeding out the other 99.999% of vapid attention whores who would all like to spend your money and live in a lavish style that would put Marie Antoinette to shame."
"Hmm..." Laurence replied, but not quite convinced.
"Besides, when was the last time you actually got laid? Bending over some chieftain's daughter in the scrub brush of the Kalahari doesn't count. You're going to get to see some world class bristol's, the very best fake tits that that money and poor taste can buy ... and if we're lucky maybe a couple dozen pairs of real ones! You're going to have the finalists throwing themselves at you — famous porn queens and 'A' list actresses with thousands of hours of quality time on their knees waiting to service you! Fuck the lot of them ... and do them twice on Sundays! We'll shade out the x-rated parts on TV, we promise."
"Look, I don't live entirely live like a monk! I get laid on occasion ... really! I've even got an appointment with a very orally talented gal in Amsterdam in about two months. It's right here in my day planner for September 3rd, from 8:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Really!"
"Laurence, the fact that you even have to formally schedule nookie into your day planner is frightening enough to scare me to my wits end. What if you start to actually have fun and don't stop banging her until 9:45 p.m.? How screwed up is that going to make your schedule? You might ruin your agenda for days! Besides, are you in fact entirely certain that only forty-five minutes every six months is entirely adequate for your physical needs? No ... don't even answer that question! I really don't want to know."
"Trust me!" Chet continued. "You don't stand the slightest chance of actually having to court, let alone marry, any of these women. We're going to be in up to our necks with gold diggers, fortune hunters, actresses, beauty queens, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, fashion models and vapid attention whores. We'll bring them all in by the bus loads, by the thousands and let them all fight it out and hang themselves. We'll give them all the rope they can use! Hell, we might even issue them sharp objects and let them go at each other on-stage or in dark shadowy hallways near the dressing rooms. In the end, they'll be laughed off the show, every single one ... and we'll do it all over again next season — even bigger and better!
"What could possibly go wrong?"
In the end Laurence gave his ok and signed the paperwork that was Fed-Ex'd to Borneo, but in the early hours of the morning, his thoughts often strayed over that last parting comment. In fact there was a great deal that could, and did, go wrong.
Chet was dead on right about the appeal of this special season of "Billionaire Trophy Wife". Auditions for the one thousand entry spots in this circus were hotly contested and dozens of preliminary events were hosted worldwide to winnow out a good starting pool of contestants. Many of these were televised and the ratings only seemed to climb higher with the anticipation.
SHB had an obvious license to print money and they were going to run with it as far as it would go!
Right from the start it was blatantly obvious that any 'Z' list or higher actress, model, cheerleader, musician, beauty queen, socialite, or exotic dancer considered Laurence to the ultimate 'brass ring'. Horde of existing millionaire 'trophy wives' decided that this was the time to attempt the pentultimate 'upgrade' and entered by the score.
Even the raw preliminaries got vicious right from the start, and Chet couldn't post enough hidden cameras to catch even half of the mayhem. Being merely a threat to be a possible contender for the first real round of the contest was enough to send over a dozen women to the emergency room. This was just the warm-up.
Once the starting pool of young nubile applicants was established the real fun began. Starting with a group of about fifty young contestants per week, their every movement and word uttered was recorded and the internal cat fighting truly began in earnest, paling in comparison to the subtle but growing pressure from the contest judges.
They backstabbed, poisoned, slandered and conducted Machiavellian plots designed to take out any possible front-runners. Haydukery abounded. Tripwires, fiddled car brakes, subtle poisons, hidden hypodermic needles and midnight beatdowns abounded. Illegal drugs were planted by the score to weed out some contenders, and 'fake' aspirins and Tylenols abounded, loaded with nefarious diabolical mixtures such as LSD and other hallucinogens. Even the 'good girls' learned the backstage rules of the game, fast.
Makeup was replaced with burning chili powder, laxatives added to backstage foods, and rumors of past illicit behaviors ran like wildfire. "Break a leg" was soon not just a Broadway backstage joke. Every staircase seemed to always contain at least one trip wire and it was a miracle none of the contestants was actually murdered by one of their fellow contestants, and not due to a lack of trying.
Onstage, before a live audience, the contest rules seemed to morph further into the surreal each week. The actress tartlets and former beauty queens were all expecting nice softball questions from the panel of judges and were horrified to find that instead they were being interrogated on their knowledge (or massive lack) of classic literature, Etymology, Ichthyology, Paleontology, plate tectonics, and the social and mating customs of various obscure African and Oceanic tribes.
It was hilariously funny and made for 'must see' TV. It was 'Bizarro World meets Jeopardy' and the worldwide TV audience couldn't get enough. Soon it was showing live (or nearly so) three nights a week. The Network raised the advertising buy rates twice ... and advertisers still lined up for any available slot.
Any residual fondness the studio audience might have had for the host of famous big titted actresses, musicians and people famous for being famous, all wearing the shortest skirts and low cut dresses possible disappeared like a leaf in a flood. The awesome and ponderous flood of raw stupidity now on display swept away decades of smart public relations work in a flash. The weaker ones left the stage in tears, and the rest just ... left. Occasionally kicking and screaming. The ratings just seemed to grow every week.
The odds of one in a million were starting to look pretty accurate. Looks and brains were apparently in extremely short supply until lightning somehow struck and the gods of fate began to laugh themselves silly.
Amanda Price was another former child prodigy suffering from far too much education in her formative years, and was currently the chief reference librarian at the New York Public Library. They set up a special 1-800 phone number just for her department so that she could answer any question placed to her. She invariably did, or found someplace else where that question could be answered.