CHAPTER SIXTEENExcerpted from Dot Org: The Fall Of Trent Byron
by Tanya Montray
With perfect hindsight, the statement sworn against Trent Byron by an employee of SparkVISION does seem suspect. Bo Sparks undoubtedly acted perceptively and with political skill: when Union Arms stated its intent to sue SparkVISION over the re-branding debacle, SparkVISION retaliated, bringing the business of their former client to a screaming halt.
As ruthless and savvy as the move may seem, Anna Whittaker has stated many times that she felt making the statement about Byron's activities was also the right thing to do. Had she been aware of it sooner, she has often implied, she would have revealed it sooner. Telephone records show that she did contact Sarah Adler on the afternoon of the 25th, which both women agree was a phone call requesting legal advice on how the matter should be handled.
Much more disingenuous, and perhaps even more brutal, was Non Prophet's open attack on Byron's character and business practices. His disgusted moral condemnation of Byron's behavior was posted literally while the District Attorney for Cook County was being presented with evidence of it. He posted it from the waiting room at the DA's office.
I encountered Ian Butler in the waiting room that day. I was only peripherally aware of him as the SparkVISION receptionist, and at the time my research seemed to indicate that either Bo Sparks or Anna Whittaker was Non Prophet. We exchanged words briefly, during which he demonstrated an unusual grasp of literature and politics. Afterwards, he warned me not to publish my then-speculation about the identity of the mystery blogger.
Accounts of the following events vary slightly, but it is generally agreed that the SparkVISION staff returned to their office, where they informed the rest of the staff of their actions and Butler confessed to being Non Prophet. At that point Sparks made the decision to shut down SparkVISION for the day, and most of the staff gathered at a local watering hole to discuss events. Butler, on the other hand, states that he "went home, opened a beer, and tried to set things right."
Acting under the assumption that he must be fired for his actions if for no other reason than the public relations nightmare which would follow, Butler wrote an email to many of Non Prophet's professional contacts and all of the clients of SparkVISION. This would, eventually, be entered into evidence by Trent Byron's defense team in a (failed and irrational) attempt to imply that Non Prophet acted with intent to harm Byron personally.
I was copied on this email, which was sent from Non Prophet's public email account. I accepted it for what it was: full confession, and permission to make Non Prophet's identity public.
My dear colleagues and friends,
No doubt you have heard or will soon hear of the arrest of Trent Byron, in which I played a role as facilitator. In the interests of this legal proceeding, my identity has come under scrutiny, and I believe tomorrow morning may be announced publicly. I'd like to provide you with prior notice of this, out of respect for your positions and out of an interest in protecting my employer, Bo Sparks.
My name is Ian Butler. I work for SparkVISION, which some of you employ as a consulting company. In writing for nonprophetblog.nfp, I acted without the knowledge, consent, or approval of Mr. Sparks or of any other employee at the company. I wasn't trying to publicize SparkVISION, though I have mentioned them from time to time in the course of my commentary on our industry. I just wanted to talk about what we were doing. I thought it was fun.
This afternoon I asked for people to remember that Union Arms is more than one man, and shouldn't be judged by him. Now I find myself pleading for the same lenience to be shown to SparkVISION. I couldn't wish for a better employer than Bo Sparks, or for a more honest and upstanding company to have worked for.
Trent Byron's anger with us, originally, arose from our ethical refusal to help him enter into a counterintuitive re-branding campaign. I stand behind SparkVISION's decision, as does Mr. Sparks, even in the face of threats by Union Arms. I suspect I may not be working for SparkVISION much longer, but I still love the company and hope it survives this. I also hope you will all be able to differentiate between a company that deserves your respect and a single person within that company who has, perhaps, not always acted as ethically as his employer.
I remain, very sincerely,
The waves this email caused in the community resulted in a reaction that neither SparkVISION nor Butler himself anticipated.
Ian knew he was likely to be fired when he arrived at work the next morning, and his nerves kept him on edge. Losing the job was hard enough, but he didn't want to be scolded or shouted at. He wished he'd just crawled away and sent in a resignation, but he needed some of the stuff in his desk, and whoever took over his job would need a list of where everything was.
He tensed that much more when he found their elevator bank staffed by security officers, who were checking the badges of everyone who entered.
"Mario, what's going on?" he asked, presenting his badge and hoping he wouldn't be turned away (or arrested).
"Just a little security check," Mario told him. He grinned. "You're good, go on through. I know you work here."
"Are you sure?" Ian asked.
"What, did you get fired? No? Then go," Mario said. "You're just trying to slack off."
Ian tried to laugh a little at the joke, clapped Mario on the shoulder as he passed, and got into the elevator.
"There's security in the lobby," he said, as he walked in the front door of SparkVISION. Cee was just putting the morning papers in order.
"Yeah, apparently some reporters tried to get into the office," she replied. "How are you?"
"Wigged out," Ian said. "My mom called me last night, they heard about it in another state
. I've never been happier I never talked about my family in my blog."
"Get yelled at?" Cee asked.
"Not really. I mean, she's proud of what I said, but she's totally terrified for me. She wanted to hire me a bodyguard. I should have let her, there was a news van in front of my apartment this morning. I had to sneak out through the basement. Zeke's going to flip his shit when he wakes up."
"Sarah says that Sparks says you emailed half the charitable-giving executives in the world last night," Cee told him.
"Yeah, but I'm used to that kind of thing," Ian said, setting his bag down. "No, that sounds bad, I mean...I've spoken with most of them before. Well, Non did. That's so weird. It's like I'm two people."
"Some of us think so, too," Cee said, but there was a gentle note to her voice.
"Sorry," he murmured. He took the morning paper she handed him and looked down at it. Trent Byron's face was above the fold, with the headline; Ian's own photo, a dorky one he'd posted on his Facebook last month, staring up from an inset, bordered by Non Prophet's blog header. Another Facebook photo of him and Anna had been on the cover of a special edition of Weekly City
, captioned THE PROPHET AND THE MOLE. People had stared at him on the train. Weekly City
finally got the head of Non Prophet on a platter, and they weren't pulling any punches.
"It's just going to take some adjustment," Cee said.
"I don't think I'll be here long enough for you guys to need to adjust," he sighed. "Sparks here yet?"
"I am now," Sparks replied brightly, taking off his scarf as he walked through the door. Ian frowned. Sparks could be inappropriately cheerful at times, but he did think the boss was kinder than to seem so excessively happy about firing him. "Office, Ian."
"Yessir," Ian said, leaving his bag on his desk and following Sparks. He wished he could put his hands in his pockets; at least then he'd be doing something with them instead of letting them hang aimlessly at his sides, the cast making his left elbow stick out.
Sparks sat in one of the chairs by the window. Ian stayed standing, facing him (on the carpet, somewhat appropriately). Sparks just watched him, not speaking. Ian considered bolting, but disappointing Sparks twice would be even worse, and he was here now anyway.
"I'd like to explain, if I can," Ian said, keeping his voice steady.
"All right." Sparks steepled his hands.
"I just -- it started out just as a place to talk about stuff I saw. I didn't know anything about this business when I started here, and I needed somewhere to think about it all. I never thought it would turn into anything. I got linked a few places, and people just kept coming..." Ian gestured haplessly. He could feel the blood rushing to his face. "Before I knew it, I was this...authority. By then it was too late."
"Too late to tell me?"
"You, or anyone else. I learned so much here, I wanted to share it," Ian said. "I loved working here. But I don't expect you to keep me on. That would be ridiculous, I know that."
"I'm glad you understand our situation," Sparks said. "You're fired."
Ian nodded miserably. "I'll pack up my desk. Do you want me to call security to escort me out?"
Sparks held out an envelope. "You'll need to pack up, but I think you should read this first."
Ian hesitated, frowned, and made himself step forward. He took the envelope out of Sparks's hand and opened it, unfolding the paper inside.
"It's a website printout," he said, looking up. "Our staff page?"
"I edited it myself. Roxy didn't even have to help me," Sparks said proudly.
"Well, that explains the unorthodox commas," Ian replied. Sparks chuckled.
"Read down," he ordered.
Ian scanned down the page until he reached his own photograph. It was out of place; it was supposed to be at the bottom, just below Cee's. Instead it was two thirds of the way down, under Erin's. He didn't feel like he even had time to read the words; he just wanted to leave, and he looked up before he managed to get very far.
"I don't get it," he said.
"You're ruining my grand gesture," Sparks told him, which didn't make sense. When Ian didn't reply, Sparks rolled his eyes. "Last night, after you sent out that email, I started getting phone calls."
"I'm sorry, I just wanted -- "
"Let me finish," Sparks interrupted. Ian fell silent. "Some of them were from our clients. We lost two."
Ian winced. "I -- "
"Ian, shut up," Sparks ordered.
"The rest were mostly from the people you emailed," Sparks continued. "A few got the news through the grapevine. Now, on the one hand..." he held up what looked like a sushi menu from Beermaki, covered in handwriting, "...you have a couple of job offers."
"What?" Ian asked.
"On the other hand..." Sparks ignored him and held up an inkstained Beermaki napkin, creating one of the most surreal visions Ian had ever seen, "...we have the names of eleven organizations interested in becoming SparkVISION clients."
?" Ian asked. In a good year SparkVISION signed two or three new charities. They didn't even have the manpower for eleven.
Sparks offered him a second packet of papers, this time without an envelope.
"Page one is your letter of termination, effective immediately," Sparks said. "It's all legal, standard stuff. Page two is an offer letter. Sign it and you'll become SparkVISION's newest Client Joy associate, in charge of research and New Client Services."
Ian felt his jaw fall open. It fell a little more when he noticed the yearly salary at the top.
"I mean it in the most serious way," Sparks said, "when I say that you are blessed by some kind of god, kid. Anyone else in your situation would be out of the business for good. Instead, everyone I talked to said that if our receptionist can write that, they want to see what the rest of us can do."
"But..." Ian looked back at the staff page, which did, indeed, list him as a Client Joy associate. "But I'm a really good receptionist."
"And I expect you to be a really good associate," Sparks told him. "Especially since we need you to learn fast, because we're taking at least six of those new clients and that means we're understaffed. You'll report to Erin, of course, but at least she's gentler than Sarah." He tossed the sushi menu covered in writing down in front of Ian. "Or, well, you've got options. But I think you'll find I'm cooler than they are."
Ian looked down at the paper. "Your handwriting sucks, boss."
"So clearly you need me around," Ian heard himself say. "When do I start?"
"In about five minutes," Sparks told him. "Come on."
He opened the door and Ian followed, numbly, not even flinching when Sparks took down the gong and smacked it resoundingly.
"IAN!" someone yelled from the Creative pod. "DON'T GO YET!"
Sarah appeared in the lobby, looking stormy and unhappy, but Ian was more focused on Zoe, who was running down the hall with a giant plastic bag in her hands.
"Okay, so, I made you some lasagne," she said, "because I don't want you going hungry, and who knows how long you'll be out of work? There's a new coat that doesn't fit Charles and some snacks for you and I had it all in a really nice tote bag, but it was glittery so Bolo dumped it all out and hid the bag. So I just put it in a regular bag. Do you need cab fare? You can't carry everything. Or John said he'd give you a ride."
"Uh," Ian said, as his arms were filled with lasagne and coat. He shifted most of it to his right arm, to relieve the pressure on his cast.
"Hang on, I want to say goodbye!" Naomi yelled. "Ian, Melinda says if you send her your resume she'll...what's in the bag?" she asked, bewildered.
"Lasagne, I guess," Ian replied.
"Oh my God," Anna moaned, wandering out from the bathroom. "Don't hit the gong again. It hurts in my head."
Sparks banged the gong again. Anna whimpered.
"I have an announcement to make, before anyone gives Ian any more pasta," he said sternly. "Yes, I have fired him, with extreme prejudice and my best Angry Face on. Get past it. And now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce you all to our up-and-coming Client Joy Associate, who will be assisting Erin with our new client intake."
"What?" Naomi asked.
"Where?" Sarah demanded.
"He's the one holding the sack of lasagne," Sparks said. Everyone turned to stare at Ian. "Non Prophet dragged a ton of new clients in. We needed the help."
"Apparently I'm awesome," Ian told them. "I wasn't aware."
"Vicky, how'd you like to be our new receptionist?" Sparks asked, turning to her. Vicky's eyes got really big.
"Like, for real?" she asked. "With a salary and stuff?"
"Benefits, too," Sparks said. "And access to the company yacht we don't have."
"I could go back to school," Vicky said. "I mean! Yes! I will be receptionist and go to night classes."
"That's my Vic," Sparks said approvingly.
"Great! Here," Ian said, dumping the bag into her arms. "Take care of that for me, would you?"
Vicky snapped to attention so fast it almost hurt to watch, and ran away down the hall towards the kitchen, presumably to put the lasagne in the fridge.
"I'M BRINGING COFFEE!" she hollered over her shoulder. The other interns looked envious.
"Morning!" Erin called, pulling off her gloves as she walked in. She stopped when she saw the crowd in the lobby and looked around, suspiciously. "Okay, What did I miss?"
"Hi, boss," Ian said faintly.
CLOSED FOR BUSINESS
Date: Friday, 01/01/10
Subject: Blowing the Whistle Ends the Game
Good morning, readers. (And voyeurs!) Happy New Year.
So. It's been three days since my photograph was all over the Chicago papers and the news. I've been deluged with e-mail, both here and at my professional work account. The comments are a firestorm, which is why I locked them on Tuesday. My colleague, who has been accused of every kind of perfidy with regards to her informing the police
of a criminal act
, is unused to such attention, so before I say anything else I'm going to say this:
KNOCK THAT BULLSHIT OFF RIGHT NOW.
Okay, I feel better. Not that I think it's going to do any good, but she'll see it and appreciate it.
From what I can see, visitors here lately have been about equal parts regular readers and curious newcomers. Some of you have expressed support, for which I'm grateful, and some of you have stayed out of it; the rest of you can go to hell. Anna and I did the right thing, and I have no regrets.
Yes, I am Ian Butler. Until a few days ago I was a receptionist at SparkVISION Consulting. I was hoping to spend the holiday season opening gifts, celebrating the new year, and basking in the good fortune of my friends. I have
done all that, but I've also had to grapple with this very public spectacle and defend my friends and family from the less enlightened elements among you. I understand that this is the lot that falls to the famous, or at least the infamous, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Despite all that, if it were up to me, I'd keep writing NonProphetBlog. Even known as I am, even knowing that if I had stalkers before their task has been made much easier by this. I like it here.
But it's not up to me. As has been pointed out to me, I represent not only myself but my employer. Bo Sparks is a good man who has agreed to keep me on staff in a slightly different capacity than before, and I owe it to him to follow his guidance, which in the past two years has not led me wrong.
Thus, I have to admit that it is, again, the right thing to do to close down Non Prophet. The entries will remain public for now, but there will be no new posts and comments will remain closed.
However, as we all know, when one thing ends another begins. I will continue to write, under the auspices of SparkVISION, at a new location on their domain: the VISION blog. This blog will continue to comment on trends and topics relevant to the interests of our community, but with the endorsement and approval of my new direct superiors.
Some might see this as a form of censorship, but those are people who don't know Sparks. I see it as a way to move forward, this time with mentors to guide me. I'm not allowed to sit and watch anymore. I've been forced into a place where people talk about me, so I need to do something worth talking about, outside of Non Prophet's safe little world. I'd keep the mask if I could, but maybe I've outgrown it.
I invite you all to come visit The VISION Blog, and not to laugh at the name. Seriously, don't laugh.
(Okay, laugh. I did.)
This is Non Prophet, signing off. Comments ClosedEpilogue