Chapter 9: Block It Out (9)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
“Sakae, help me.”
He was woken by such a phone call.
“From the sound of your voice, you seem to be awake. Anyway, I’d like you to come now and help me.”
Sakae ran his fingers through his hair to smooth down his bed head while he turned on the TV and saw that the time was 10:30 am. He had stayed up until dawn at the office checking videos and arranging the upload schedule, and he had planned to go into work in the afternoon. So no, he had not overslept.
“I’ll be waiting for you at the news floor.”
The morning talk show was airing a special feature about the tastiest U-pick spots this fall. With his cell phone in one hand, he stared at the forced expression of surprise on the reporter’s face at the juiciness of the freshly picked pear and asked himself, Is this a dream? However, he looked at his call history and saw an unfamiliar number listed there.
Why does he know my cell phone number? No, more importantly, what did he mean by “Help me”? Since he mentioned the news floor, does it have something to do with work?
Sakae didn’t understand why he would seek his help when they were in different departments. He wouldn’t show his shamelessly stupid face and say something like Help me, I can’t get the lid off this jar, would he? The possibility—wasn’t zero. The tone of his voice hadn’t sounded serious at all, but it made Shitara even more unreadable when Sakae couldn’t see his face during the exchange. All this thinking made him wide awake now, and Sakae clicked his tongue at himself and started to get ready for work. If Shitara really called him out for something stupid, he was going to block him from his phone immediately.
He was under no obligation to rush over to the network, so he took his time showering and drinking his coffee. It was past noon by the time he arrived at the office. Last week Sakae had gone back to work after his discharge from the hospital, and he had met with Shitara once for a business matter, but their conversation hadn’t been anything special. Shitara had mentioned nothing about the near kiss incident just before Sakae was discharged, nor had he alluded to it in any way—and Sakae had been relieved. Only a few days had passed since then, but what had he wanted to do to a sick person?
It was around lunchtime for the general administration departments, but the entrance hall on the first floor was empty, and the elevator took no time to arrive. It wasn’t a holiday today, just a normal Friday, but maybe he was lucky with his timing, or maybe it was one of the free lunch days in the cafeteria that happened once in a while and people didn’t feel like going out. Sakae had his doubts about it as he took the empty elevator to the news floor, and when he arrived, it was also deserted.
He definitely thought that this was strange. It was inconceivable that members from the News Department would go out to eat all at once. The daytime news broadcast had just finished, and it should be brimming with more activity at this time. It was his first time seeing the news floor this silent when it wasn’t even late at night, and it was a creepy sight. Furthermore, the few personnel that were there were strangely watching TV at their leisure and playing around on the computer. They didn’t feel like they were working at all.
“Oh, hey, Sakae.”
Shitara had appeared while Sakae wondered if he was in a very realistic dream, and though he hadn’t expected it, he felt relieved.
“You really came. Thanks a lot.”
Sakae dodged the hand that was meant to land on his shoulder and asked, “What is all of this?”
“Oh, so you came here without looking at the LINE messages from the network?”
Sakae promptly pulled out his cell phone. He had been distracted by the suspicious phone call that had woken him, and he hadn’t checked any of his other messages.
There was a group LINE from the head of the Contents Division that said, There will be a company-wide strike today. This was a dream, right?
“It hasn’t happened in 20 years. Amazing, right? It’s historic.”
Shitara picked up a flyer off a nearby desk and waved it at him. Conflict Directives was written on it in large font. Cuts to program production expenses, personnel cuts, and reductions to the winter pay bonus—the labor union had stayed up all night (they had that much free time?) negotiating with the management team a number of unresolved issues; however, they were not able to reach an agreement and so they had launched a strike against the network. The Asahi TV labor union traditionally had a very influential voice. Sakae had often seen strike notices from them, but they would always reach a compromise at the very last minute before it went into effect, and Sakae had come to think of it as a group that liked to cry wolf.
“It’s the first strike of the 21st century. Labor unions are still kicking.”
Sakae had never experienced a strike before, and he couldn’t imagine the situation where people were prohibited from working. He mostly envisioned the strikes in Europe that would stop transportation services for a city, but a strike in the TV industry? They could deal with reruns and prerecorded shows, but what about the shows that were broadcast live? Were they going to run color bars and fillers during those time slots?
“Why did you call me up this morning?”
“Like I said, I need your help on the broadcast. Union members aren’t allowed to work, so I have to make do with managers and non-union people. The daytime news that aired just now was pretty thrilling too.”
“It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“Sakae, you’re non-union, right?”
“Don’t put me into a box.”
“Oh? So you joined the union?”
“Of course not.”
If he were to inadvertently lay his eyes on words like solidarity and united front, he felt like his white blood cell count would go down.
“See, I knew it. Great, I’m saved.”
Shitara gave a show of looking relieved and bowed his head. “I’m counting on you for your help. In general, I don’t have enough people to help me, but I really have no one who can do the job of a broadcast director.”
“Is there something wrong with your head? Though I know that there is.”
The command of a broadcast was not a role that could be given to someone with no involvement in the work and no preparation beforehand. Furthermore, Shitara wasn’t talking about some regular news show that ran short news stories one after another in a regular format—this was The News, one of the top prime time news programs in the country.
“But I seriously don’t have anyone else who can do it.”
“I’m pretty sure that not everyone’s a stickler for union rules.”
If Sakae had been in the union, he would have ignored the directive and worked anyway. It wasn’t like the union would do anything about the shifting of burdens that would come back to the workers because they had missed work for the day. However, Shitara said, “Strikebreakers, huh?” and shook his head. “I should mention that their leadership has their eyes on us in particular. We even have someone monitoring the place. Over there.”
Shitara signaled with his eyes in the direction of a man with his arms crossed, lording from a perch that gave him a view of the entire news floor.
“My hands are tied~ People are saying that this flagship program of ours should take the initiative to show the workers’ willingness to fight. It would be a bad example to have our show invite strikebreakers to work on it. Ahhh, it’s tough being a famous show~”
“That’s enough from you.”
“Well, you said it too.”
“Is he the only one? Then lock him up in a storage room or something.”
“I don’t have the time. Let’s talk realistically here.”
Uh, I’m pretty sure that it’ll go pretty quick?
“We have other irregularities we need to contend with today. First of all, there’s a live soccer broadcast at 10 pm tonight, and our show will start an hour earlier at 9 pm. And we have a new guest economist today, and we will need to walk him through the process carefully.”
Essentially he was saying that there was less time to prepare for the show and that the guest wouldn’t know what to expect.
“Does he have experience on TV?”
“None. We made him an offer because he published a great book over the summer about poverty and inequality. Today would be his first TV appearance.”
The more that he heard, he could only expect an incident to occur.
“I refuse,” Sakae said flatly. “Just because I’m non-union, I have no reason to help another department. I’m leaving the office at 6 tonight.”
“Please help me out here.”
“Why should I?”
“Didn’t I win our bet from the other day?”
“I mean, Nawada didn’t quit, like I thought.”
“…Uh, but you’ve already collected on it.”
“Eh~ With just that one little kiss~? We aren’t children, you know.”
Although there weren’t many people around, Sakae had purposely lowered his voice, but Shitara still uttered it without any care. Sakae frantically grabbed Shitara by the necktie and towed him in close.
“Asshole, what are you thinking?”
“Are you scared?”
Shitara’s gaze looked bottomless, like he was testing him. Was he scared? Obviously Sakae didn’t want people to find out about the kiss between them, but Shitara was referring to something else.
“You’ve never been a director on a live broadcast since then, have you?”
Sakae abruptly released the tie. Before he knew it, Shitara’s joke of a smile had disappeared.
“Are you still scared? That something might happen where your eyes can’t reach?”
Sakae thought that it had nothing to do with it.
Go Go Dash was basically all prerecorded. When they had live specials, there were other people who could handle it. It was merely the division of work—he hadn’t been avoiding it.
“…Of course I’m not scared.” Sakae glared at the man in front of him.
“But those things have nothing to do with each other. I’m not going to fall for it.”
“Sakae, I’m begging you. What do I have to do so that you help me?”
It was easy enough to reject him flatly; however, there was a yellow warning light that was lit up inside of Sakae’s head.
He might utter something dangerous again.
Sakae didn’t care if rumors circulated about him, but just the thought of those gossip mongers in the company smirking with the corners of their lips horrified him. And Shitara understood thoroughly what Sakae hated.
After some careful thought he said, “I’ll consider it if you let me be the producer too.”
“I will manage everything today. From choosing the stories, performing the checks, and deciding the order of the segments. And I’ll also be the broadcast director. I’ll make the show to my own liking. And you’re demoted to AD for the day.”
“What? Seriously, that’s all you want? Yay~”
Sakae had thought that he would be reluctant to accept the condition, but Shitara’s voice was bright and enthusiastic.
“All right, there’s no going back on my word, so I’ll leave everything to you~ Oh, but I wonder if I can operate the newest copy machines?”
Shitara grinned and took Sakae’s hand in both of his own hands, but for a moment he made a very serious face that seemed to say, Take care of me?
Before Sakae could shake him off, Shitara pulled away and started walking. “Okay, let’s head to the staff room before you change your mind,” he said.
Maybe Sakae had been too hasty. But he felt like in the end he would be forced to help him regardless of how much he refused. From the old days, Shitara would always push his own preferences when it came to selecting personnel for his shows, even if it meant using some slightly forcible methods. It was a very clear characteristic of his. Basically, he didn’t feel any hesitation in assigning a value to people through his own eyes. He was never misled by fake affectations or menial humility; Shitara’s mirror reflected its subjects with a cruel faithfulness. In short, he was very much a producer.
The staff room was fairly populated, and Shitara hollered, “Hey guys!” He spoke up so cheerfully that Sakae almost doubted that he understood the dire situation that they were in.
“Sorry about this. You can keep working, but can I at least get everyone to listen? Ahhh, you don’t need to stand, just continue your work if you’re in the middle of something. I’m sure that everyone has seen the announcement that the network is currently under a labor strike. Therefore, employees who are members of the union are unable to participate in our operations today. Managers such as myself and non-union members are working as usual, but we will have less manpower to work with. I know that it will be a rough day today, but I really hope to count on you all.”
No one in the room called out a Yes, sir. It only made sense; the outsourced staff had probably never seen this before. They exchanged glances that said It’s not like we have any control here… and What do we do? And they became more and more worried, clearly shooting looks over at Sakae.
“Well, since we need to make do with what we have, I’m doing my best to identify the gaps and bring on some extra help… First we have here Souma Sakae-kun. He came from the Contents Division just to help us out. He will be the showrunner and broadcast director for today, so just think of him as me and direct all your questions to him.”
It seemed to be too much for the staff. The quiet bursts of anxiety and unrest in the room became a full-force thrum of chatter and surprise.
“As for me, I will be an AD for the day, so I will experience for myself the demands and difficulties that you all face on a daily basis here. I’ll be counting on everyone for your help and support~”
The thrum turned into a clamor. Someone nervously raised a hand.
“Are you serious?”
“Of course. We’re short on ADs today.”
The staff seemed to have enough awareness that Shitara was at his most dangerous when he said something crazy with a smile on his face, and despair washed through the room like a wave. There was only one person in the room who could not hide his happiness at the news, and that was Shin.
You’re standing out, and not in a good way.
“Hmm, all right, let’s have a few words from SoumaP to the team.”
“Every single thing that goes on the air from the scripts, captions, lead-ins, and video clips, no matter how small or insignificant, has to go through me for the final approval. No one’s allowed to grandstand, no one’s allowed to make their own judgements, and no one’s allowed to talk back to me. Directors and desk-level positions have no decision-making power today. Don’t go off on your own, and watch your words when you speak. That is all.”
The temperature in the room plummeted in an instant. It was an awful mood to lead their time together here, but there was nothing that Sakae could do about it. He couldn’t do the things that Shitara did, and instead of attempting a piss-poor imitation of him, Sakae would rather do things his own way and make it crystal clear to everyone from the start. He had no intention of setting himself up for failure, but he did think that it was fine to antagonize the staff a little, make them think Why do we have to work for this guy?
“All right, let’s not waste any time then. This is for you…”
“What the hell?”
Shitara very respectfully presented Sakae the cardigan that he had worn some time ago.
“If you’re the producer, you have to dress like one~”
Why the hell do you still have that?
Sakae silently flung it to the floor.
“You waste a second more of my time, and I’m leaving.”
“Yes, sir, I apologize.”
“…First off, what’s been done about the presenters besides the guests?”
They could manage somehow or another behind the scenes, but if the studio was empty, it would all be meaningless.
“The host is part of the management, right?”
As long as they had the main host Asou Keiichi on board, Sakae could see them pulling this off. The little hiccups didn’t even bother him. However, Shitara said breezily, “He’s on his summer vacation starting today,” and crushed all of his hopes.
“Sorry, sorry, I forgot to say the biggest irregularity that we have today.”
“You forgot? We’re in the middle of an emergency right now, call him back. You two were hired the same year, you should be able to swing it.”
“It’s impossible. When I say summer vacation, I mean that he has travel plans. He’s probably on a plane heading to the Mediterranean right now. Kuneida was scheduled to take over for him, but that’s not possible either now.”
“…Then what were you planning to do?”
The meteorologist and the weather forecast presenter were represented by outside agencies, so they were fine, but he would need replacements for the main host, the news anchor Kunieda Kei, and the sports news anchor Minagawa Tatsuki. It was probably impossible for a substitute who wasn’t used to it to take over the hosting duties along with the news reading. He would need to have three people.
“The rest of the management at the Announcer Department are all dried up old fossils.”
Essentially they were announcers who were past their primes. The older they became, the less exposure that they received. The less exposure that they received, the duller their presence became.
“Well, there’s no helping it. Emergency measures, emergency measures~ We can’t rely on text-to-speech software after all.”
Sakae could see the studio looking very lackluster today, like a lunch box full of drab, brown food. He already lost his motivation to do this. Maybe he should fill the set wall-to-wall with flowers like a jazzy pachinko parlor.
“Go talk to the Announcer Department for me.”
“They’re having a meeting on this subject right now— Oh, hey, Tatsuki.”
“Hey! How’s it going? I can’t believe they’re really having a strike~! Aww, man, maybe I should have joined the union? I could have gotten the day off then~ It’s treated as a paid vacation, right?”
Shut up. However, there was a remark in there that couldn’t be overlooked.
“Tatsuki, is it true that you’re non-union?” Shitara asked.
“That’s amazing. Isn’t everyone in the Announcer Department essentially forced to join it?”
“When I got my first paycheck, 10,000 yen1 for union dues was automatically deducted from it, so I complained and left the union. It’s a waste of my money.”
There were a rare few people who didn’t feel the effects of peer pressure (Sakae was one of them), but Sakae was pretty impressed with this brazenness of his. And when he heard that Souma Sakae was the producer for the day, he openly exclaimed, “No way!” and prattled on, “Shitara-san, you made a deal with the devil.”
“Are you unhappy with the decision?”
Apparently Shitara liked this outspokenness of his and was happy to see it.
“Well, yeah, of course!” Minagawa showed no hesitation and answered with a smile.
Sakae had no close association with the guy, but that easy confidence of his from being born with good looks and instinctual savvy rubbed him the wrong way. He could easily clear hurdles to some certain extent, and that was why he lived satisfied without ever pushing himself for more. It had aggravated Sakae, and Sakae had minced no words to humiliate him to his face. It was only natural that he didn’t like the decision. This frank reaction out in the open was better than being badmouthed behind his back. So he was another one who had a pretty decent personality.
“By the way, where’s Kunieda? I got a LINE from him that said that he would be coming in today.”
“Oh, he was voicing his objections to the department manager. He’s a union member, you know? But I’m guessing that the manager will just ignore him? The manager wasn’t all too annoyed; he was just like, ‘But I want to appear on The News too~’”
That was when Kunieda himself came in.
“Good afternoon. Shitara-san, can’t I be released from the strike?”
“It looks like you’re ready to work hard today. You came all the way to the office, but sorry, you won’t get any screen time. Well, more like we’re not allowed to put you on. That’s the agreement that we need to follow.”
Kunieda slightly wrinkled his brow in dissatisfaction. He probably wasn’t happy to wave a white flag so easily.
“But the negotiations within the corporation have nothing to do with the viewers, correct?”
“True, but the rules are the rules. As long as the union is striking, I can’t flout the strike and let you work. Don’t get me wrong, the union isn’t doing anything that’s illegal here. It’s exercising its authority that the workers have given it on behalf of those workers. The broadcast will have to be different from normal, but the only thing I can say is that we’ll do the best we can with the members that we have. I know very well that this isn’t what you want to hear, but please bear with it for now.”
Kunieda immediately turned and left. From Sakae’s position as producer for the day, he would have liked to have him stay, but with their actions being monitored, it would be bad to force his appearance on the show. Between the trouble he would face from not putting him on and the trouble he would face after putting him on, Sakae would take the former. He would let Shitara handle the issue with the performers. For now, he had to at least decide the menu for the show today, and he pulled up the story schedule on the computer. A new product launch event and a government-related press conference—he could probably consider them cancelled. Foreign news stories—the foreign branch offices weren’t involved in the strike, so he could rely on their stories to some extent. The rest were probably in the staffs’ hands with consideration for an order of priority given their understaffed levels.
“What stories are fixed for today?”
“A review of the damage from the recent typhoon and a special feature on the pension system issues. The materials are all there for the typhoon piece; right now we just need to decide how to reorganize it. Want to look at the draft script and decide? The piece will probably be 10 minutes or so?”
“Oi, keep your suggestions to yourself, AD,” Sakae warned. “I’m deciding all the stories, and I’m deciding how long they are too. Just answer the questions you’re asked and do what you’re told.”
“Yes, sir~ Oh, should I order lunch for us? Who hasn’t eaten yet~?”
This was what irritated Sakae to no end. He had thought Shitara would snap back at him. He had clearly tried to provoke him, but Shitara wouldn’t take the bait. Sakae worked on the news items feeling completely pissed off. He was like the chef of a restaurant putting together the menu of a full-course dinner—he needed to examine the ingredients he had for the day and decide on the preparation methods. The time slot was fixed and there was no way to change the amount of time that they had, but he had a lot of questions to consider—Should he show off with a variety of appetizers? Hit them with a bang of a main course? Aim for a dish that might not look appetizing but delivered an unusual tasting experience that grew deeper and more fascinating the more that it was chewed? He had a lot to think about including the balance, calories, and appearance. Naturally, in the event of a major scandal or accident, he would have to throw something out (or even all of it) and make something new, but he couldn’t depend on something so uncertain and skip out on the preparations. He had a number of candidates for their lineup of main news stories which came with explanations and commentary, and then there was flash news and sports. He was thinking about the time allocations for each story when for some reason Kunieda returned to the staff room.
“Huh? Kunieda, did you forget something?”
Kunieda walked over to Shitara and produced a sheet of paper.
“I have just now left the labor union.”
“I stopped by the union meeting in the large rehearsal room and gave this directly to the head of the executive committee. With this I can appear on the broadcast without any issues. As usual, I look forward to working with everyone.”
Shitara perused the paper that Kunieda gave him and burst into laughter.
“Did you thrust this at him? During a meeting filled with members from the executives down? You should have called me over~ I wish I could have seen it in person.”
Shitara went all the way to where Sakae was working to show it to him too.
It was a copy of a withdrawal notice that started with the address: To the Head of the Asahi TV Labor Union, Central Executive Committee. There was also Kuneida Kei’s signature and seal at the bottom.
As of today I, Kunieda Kei, shall withdraw my membership from the labor union. To that point, the labor courts have issued the following opinions:
“A notice of withdrawal is sufficient for one’s withdrawal to take effect even if rules and guidelines state that such a notice requires a review from a central committee for its authorization.” (Tokyo District Court)
“A withdrawal shall be effective immediately according to the declaration of one’s intentions to withdraw.” (Fukuoka High Court)
Hereafter, I shall be a worker unrelated to your organization. With the means of punishment such as expulsion rendered ineffective, I shall mention that I shall immediately exercise my right to seek third-party counsel should any of these actions be published in the union’s communications. I rest my case.
“You really came out swinging.” Shitara was very clearly delighted by all of this.
“The union rules state that there must be a 90-day prior notice for a withdrawal to take effect. I did not want them to use that rule as a shield against me.”
That was why Kunieda had prepared his arguments beforehand, wrote his own withdrawal notice, and took it directly to the union leaders.
Was he always this type of guy?
Sakae knew nothing about Kunieda Kei. He probably knew less about him than the viewers who watched him on TV. However, he had heard people talk about Kunieda since he first joined the network, that he was an incredible announcer, and Sakae didn’t disagree with their high estimation of him. Not only did he have impeccable skills in reading and delivery, but he also had a kind personality; he seemed to pass himself off as a gentle prince, but was this something an elegant, sophisticated prince would do? Sakae had the impression that he would never do anything to provoke antipathy in others.
“Were you asked the reason for your withdrawal?”
“I answered that I wanted to appear on TV.”
Shitara laughed even harder at Kunieda’s cool and collected response.
“Whaa?” Minagawa returned from the cafeteria and approached them. “Senpai, you’ll be on the broadcast?”
“I’ll back you up~ Remember when I ruined my throat, and you kindly covered the sports news for me? I’ve been looking for an opportunity to pay you back.”
“Thank you, but no thank you.”
They were both smiling on the surface, but Sakae could see sparks flying between them. He thought that it was a good thing. What performer felt no need to protect their own turf? If they wanted to get along like friends, it was fine by him, but any fake pretension was frankly boring. Apparently Kunieda had a pride that wouldn’t allow him to concede to Minagawa who had wanted to take the day off, and Sakae had raised his opinion of him a little. However, he had clearly gone too far in leaving the labor union just to go on air for today.
Sakae pushed Shitara by the shoulder and drove him outside of the staff room.
“Is there something wrong?”
“You know exactly what’s wrong. What will you do about Kunieda? He just openly picked a fight with the labor union.”
“Okay, but I’m not sure what you want me to do? He’s already gone and picked the fight. It’s not like I’m the one who forced him to do it.”
“Don’t give me that face like everything’s fine. Just earlier in the year, upper management was kicking up a fuss about him possibly running for office.”
There was little possibility of interpreting his defiance of the labor union as a provocation towards the network and its management team, but the target on his back that marked him as a possible troublemaker would only get bigger. But if push came to shove, and he was recognized as a pawn who prioritized his own ambitions over the organization’s orders, it would not be an advantage for him as a network announcer.
“Kunieda is entirely blameless when it comes to those rumors about the elections. It was just a few idiots making a fuss, manipulated by the sports papers and weekly magazines.”
“You think that type of reasoning works with the management? Though I bet you’re over the moon to see your Shitaraian teachings at work. You were able to mold him just to your liking.”
“What are you even saying?” Shitara objected. “Kunieda has always been a fighter. And that includes when he deems it unnecessary for others to see that will of his to fight. It would be a terrifying conceit to presume that I had an effect on him in any way.”
“…If that’s the case, then it’s your job to warn him against that behavior. You know firsthand how corporate culture works. It strikes down any stake that dares to stick out.”
“I could say the same to you.” Shitara laughed. “Kunieda will one day rise out from the ground so high that they won’t be able to reach him. All I can do is harden the soil and provide some cover… Are we done talking here? Let’s get back to work. People are going to worry that SoumaP might be bullying me.”
Why the hell did he always have say something stupid right at the end? Just before returning to the staff room, Shitara suddenly stopped and spoke up.
“Thank you for worrying about Kunieda, Sakae.”
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.