Preview book 1
beginning, or drafting a town experiment
It all began with a letter …
Berlin, 2 March 2016
Dear Mr Tom Holbon,
Sometimes I wonder what I would do with a fortune like yours. And the answer is actually simple: I would set up a team of experts for an experiment which might or might not answer all the questions foremost on my mind.
Do you think your kind of fortune would be sufficient to build an experiment? Building, being one of the clues. Exploring, another.
Well, you seem to have the sort of influence to bring together all the experts required. And from what I hear, you are a programming businessman with an altruistic streak. All of which would come in handy.
So how about we set up an experiment which might turn the world upside down? In which case, we could give it a good shake.
If you are intrigued, I would be happy to present my ideas to you in person.
More than two weeks later
When Tom Holbon looked up from his paperwork, he was surprised to see his PR manager enter the study.
And actually for two reasons.
It was late in the afternoon, on a Friday, and usually Richard made prior appointments. At least here on Tom’s estate. Back at the offices in New York, Richard came and went.
As always, Richard looked perfect. Perfect suit, perfect haircut, perfect everything. Some called him Barbie Ken. He even stood perfectly. At ease and yet with poise. Right now, three paces into the room, waiting for Tom to speak first.
Tom always wondered about the three paces. Why not two, which would bring him level with the terrace door, or five, which would get him to the centre of the room? There was no logic in three paces.
But then, Richard was a smooth talker, not someone for pace logic. And he was ambitious. Over a decade ago, he talked himself into Tom’s inner circle. Tom still wasn’t sure how that had happened.
Well, Richard delivered. Usually. There had been a few complaints by female employees down the years, but nothing that couldn’t be handled.
Now in his forties, Richard was still unmarried. And that meant, he was available for overtime, and apparently on a Friday afternoon too.
‘Richard, what is it?’ Tom asked, clearing away the documents on his desk.
‘I called the woman from Germany.’
‘Remind me. What was that about?’
‘The woman who sent you a letter about building an experiment with your fortune.’
‘Oh, right. What’s the idea about?’
‘She wouldn’t say.’
‘Really?’ Tom raised his eyebrows. ‘She wasn’t serious, right?’
‘She will only talk to you in person. “I wrote in person, and I meant in person,” is what she said.’
‘Oh, well. She will change her mind. Give it a few days.’
‘I doubt that. “I won’t change my mind,” is what she said.’
‘Hm.’ Tom was a little puzzled. ‘Do you think there is an actual idea? Or is this just a prank?’
Richard hesitated. ‘She is stubborn, maybe arrogant but not crazy or a prankster, is what I’d say.’
‘Hm. Anything else?’
‘Nothing that can’t wait until Monday.’
That was Richard too. He never made a fuss. Especially not on a Friday. Which was a nice touch.
‘All right. Thanks, Richard.’
When the door closed behind Richard, Tom leant back in his chair, massaging his fingers. They didn’t hurt, not today.
The letter still seemed like a joke.
What would I do with a fortune like yours?
What a question?
And yet, he was curious. And he still smiled whenever he thought of the line: turn the world upside down to give it a good shake.
According to Richard, Alice Adler was a small-time
freelancer, web design and photography. She studied business in Berlin and Bristol, and some search results indicated work for a theatre company and on a movie. But Richard wasn’t sure that these entries related to the same Alice Adler.
Forty-three, born in Berlin, according to her passport details. The passport photo showed an intelligent looking person, someone with a mind of her own.
Tom didn’t trust photos.
No sign of a husband, children or any social media activity.
For a moment, Tom looked out of the French windows, down to the lake. The sun was already low.
He opened his desk drawer, searched it and found her letter under some documents.
He read the letter again. He smiled again.
Then he crumbled the letter and threw it into his wastepaper basket.
Ten days later
Monday, 28 March 2016
A party loft in New York
Jack Harris was still fuming when he ordered a gin and tonic at one of the long bars. He would have a few drinks on the house. That was the least Tom Holbon owed him.
Who the fuck did Tom Holbon think he was? A fucking billionaire who could buy just about anything he wanted? Oh, hang on. Yeah, he is the fucking richest man on this screwed up planet, and he just tried to buy me. ME! A bleeding white middle-aged man, a millionaire, a fucking famous actor with a BAFTA win under his still acceptable belt, from bloody old charming England. And I still get screwed over! What else does it take?
And then this Alice Adler … Jack couldn’t make up his mind about her. Nor could Tom Holbon, funny enough. Holbon sounded sort of puzzled when he pointed her out in the glamorous buzz of the party. Some two hundred guests. About two-thirds in suits, the other third: actors, musicians, models.
‘She doesn’t act like someone who has never been in circles like this,’ Holbon remarked. ‘But neither does she act like someone who is used to these circles. There is some sort of curious amusement about her, don’t you think?’
DON’T I THINK? Jack nearly shouted. But he didn’t want to make a scene. Everyone knew him. Though luckily, no one here would just talk to him as long as he avoided eye contact.
Finally his G & T arrived, and he gulped down half of it.
He hated parties like this: rich businessmen courting celebrities and in some cases vice versa. It was sad, at best.
For fuck’s sake, why did he keep walking into traps? Why couldn’t people just leave him alone? Why couldn’t they just let him be? Just be.
Jack emptied his glass and ordered another gin and tonic. ‘A triple this time,’ he snapped at the waiter.
Fuck, he was far too sober for this. ‘Oh, Jack, but you have to go,’ they chirped. ‘The Tom Holbon wants to meet you.’ And not just his agent. No, five other people kept bugging him. Three of which, he hadn’t even spoken to in years. And for what? This bullshit?
Jack frowned, suddenly distracted.
He was keeping an eye on Alice Adler. Inconspicuously, of course. More like a corner of an eye, really. And just now a barkeeper, further down the long bar, sneered at her. What did she order? Water?
Oh, orange juice.
Well. At least she seemed to take the sneer with humour.
Now she stepped away from the bar, orange juice in hand, and looked around. Again. She was watching people a lot. Sometimes other guests talked to her. And she smiled easily when they did.
She was dressed casually: jeans, t-shirt, long jacket, no jewellery, no noticeable make-up, her short dark hair sort of ruffled. He opted for casual too. And no tie. Never a tie. Not even for the Tom Holbon.
What the heck? What does Barbie Ken want with her?
Jack turned to see better, leaning his back against the bar, just as the barkeeper served the triple G & T. Earlier, the Barbie Ken guy introduced him to Tom Holbon. Now, Barbie Ken was talking to Alice Adler. And she was frowning. And now, Barbie Ken just walked away. She was looking after him, kind of puzzled. What the hell?
Jack turned around again, picked up his G & T and took a few thoughtful sips.
He hadn’t given her situation a single thought. He was just angry. He even remembered what a famous actor once told his young self: ‘As an actor you are a prostitute, stripping for your audience, body and soul. When you are famous, you strip for the world. And as a reward, the world will own you. Every single one of them will own you!’
A fucking prostitute!
And tonight Tom Holbon tried to buy his services, saying: ‘Whatever it takes. I will, of course, reimburse all expenses.’
Did Holbon really mean …?
No wonder, he got angry. Walked out on Holbon. But Barbie Ken caught up with him and explained, with smugness dripping from every word: ‘Mr Harris, Tom isn’t all himself. He is experiencing a brief stretch of senility. It will pass. He just turned sixty-three. These things happen when people get to that age. I mean, he invited Alice Adler out of the blue. No one was more surprised than me. And now, we have to keep Tom from making a fool of himself. He can’t be seen to fall for a prank. Right? Besides, if there is anything to her idea, then it’s better we know about it and not our competitors, right? So, we need you to get her talking …’
What a total dick!
Jack wondered how Holbon would react if he knew that his PR manager portrayed him as a dotard. Aren’t PR managers supposed to present you through some rose-coloured glasses? Do you still get screwed over even if you are the richest man on the planet?
But what about Alice Adler?
What had she walked into?
Jack frowned, remembering something else Barbie Ken mentioned. ‘We have several people at the party who will gather information about her and her idea. But you with your famous charm … You might have the best chances.’
Jack nearly punched Barbie Ken.
But that was the curse of being famous. You couldn’t just punch anyone. Least of all in public. If you did, there would be hell to pay.
Jack shock his head.
‘I’m curious, Mr Harris. That’s all,’ Holbon’s voice repeated in Jack’s mind.
‘We have other people at the party,’ Barbie Ken’s voice added.
Yes, yes … I should at least warn her. Make clear I don’t want to know a thing. Just warn her.
Though, she seems like the kind of a person who can look after herself.
Yeah. I know.
He had seen it many times. People thought they could get through trouble on their own — and failed. In the past, he needed help, but people thought he didn’t. And he failed.
Jack finished his gin and tonic and turned around.
He looked at the spot where he had seen Alice Adler last.
She was gone.
He scanned the loft.
Was she really gone?
Oh, well …
Since she was gone, there was nothing he could do.
He was simply too late.
Jack sighed and went looking for her.
He had been in this loft before. It was popular with the rich and famous, who rented it for their parties. This party was Tom Holbon’s. Hence all the suits, and the celebrities for the suits’ amusement.
Jack shook his head.
Apart from the main room, with two long bars on either side, there were several smaller rooms: for gamblers, dancers, smokers, chillers and one for minimalists.
That’s where he found Alice Adler.
He couldn’t help a little smile, but then he stopped in the doorway, hesitating.
The room was nearly empty, just a few stools and fewer guests. The walls were grey, and the bar was the only source of light. Alice Adler was sitting at the counter, lost in thoughts, a cocktail in front of her. No one else was nearby, except a young barkeeper at the back of the bar, who was working his phone.
Jack still hesitated.
What if she got star-struck and started to giggle? What if she didn’t deserve a warning? Maybe she wanted to trick Tom Holbon. Oh, fuck. What if she was an undercover journalist, out for a story to ridicule Holbon?
Just talk to her.
Are you sure about this?
And then a third thought added: But maybe you should have some fun with this.
Jack grimaced with the touch of a half-smile. Maybe some fun would be good.
He slowly walked towards the bar. As he got closer, a bit of excitement bubbled up. He pulled at his shirt, took a deep breath, put a whimsical smile on his face and sat down on the barstool next to her.
She looked up.
And she stared.
She just stared at him.
That never happened.
People made a fuss, gasped, begged him for a selfie or an autograph, or they giggled. No one just stared at him with angry — no, not angry — frustrated eyes.
Oh, come on. She probably has a miserable night too.
‘What is it?’ she snapped.
‘Well, um … I heard a few things about you …’ Dude, really? That’s the best you can come up with?
She frowned. ‘What did you hear?’
‘Um… Your name is Alice Adler, and you are from Berlin. You were invited to this party by Tom Holbon after you sent him a letter, proposing some kind of experiment. How am I doing so far?’ he added sort of jovially, trying to regain some ease or confidence or anything that didn’t make him feel like a fool.
Her frown deepened. ‘A bit too well. Who told you? And why are you talking to me?’
Her bluntness struck him both as unpleasant and pleasant. He looked away. Usually people didn’t wonder why he talked to them. And often he wished they would. But her bluntness was a bit off-putting. Still pondering, he met her eyes again. And again he nearly flinched.
‘Tell me,’ she demanded. ‘Who and why?’
Better get this over with quickly. But explain it properly. ‘I should start from the beginning,’ he said, trying to ignore her unnerving gaze. ‘I rarely go to parties like this. Too many business people, feeling too good about themselves and too excited about meeting celebrities. Also, I rarely go to parties on Mondays since that makes the rest of the week harder to get through.’ This remark earned him a little twitch on the corner of her mouth. He went on: ‘But for the party tonight, I got several calls, people telling me that Tom Holbon wants to meet and that I had to go or come.’
Her expression darkened.
‘Nobody gave me any details,’ he quickly added to point out that he was the good guy in this story. ‘Look, I’m in New York for Easter, and so I agreed. Shortly after I arrived, I was introduced to Mr Holbon, and he told me about you—’ Jack stopped, suddenly realising what was coming next.
Did he have to tell her everything?
Just say it already.
Embarrassed, he continued: ‘Mr Holbon said that he needed to know all about you and your idea and—’
Did he really have to spell it out?
Just say it!
‘And he suggested that you would open up to someone like me.’
Alice Adler gaped. Maybe she even blushed a little, but he wasn’t sure. He was sure, however, that he was blushing.
He forced himself to continue: ‘Look, I’m not the only one. There are others who will try to trick you into talking. So I thought I should warn you. Not that you seem like someone who needs a warning. But then we all—‘ For fuck’s sake, stop babbling! And he did, but he continued to talk. ‘I mean, you don’t have to take my word for it, but I don’t want to know a thing. Not a syllable. I won’t ask you a single question.’ You are babbling again! Fucking hell. This is too embarrassing.
Jack inhaled and added: ‘I should have punched Tom Holbon for his impertinence, but I just walked out on him, drank too much, and suddenly I realised that you don’t know about the others. So—’ Jack stopped and wished again he hadn’t come here tonight.
And she— She just looked at him with unseeing eyes. She was so strange. No one just looked at him, especially not with unseeing eyes.
Then she sighed. It was a little sigh, like it had travelled a great distance and a mere echo made it all the way to this grey room in a loft in New York.
And she seemed to see him again. Of course, the frown was back, but her voice had lost the snappiness. ‘That explains why other people tried to get me to talk. And it explains why you are talking to me.’
This assessment seemed to conclude their conversation, and she turned to the bar again, lost in thoughts — again.
Earlier he thought that talking would make him feel better. It didn’t. Or that she would thank him. She didn’t.
Alice Adler puzzled him. Not in a good way.
He decided to leave and stood up.
‘You know what’s funny?’ she said, looking at him again.
‘Funny?’ he retorted irritated.
‘Yes, funny,’ she replied. And for the first time, there was a smile in her eyes. Just in her eyes. But it was there, and she added: ‘I think, someone like you might be good for the project.’
‘What?’ he burst out.
Alice Adler smiled. This time a full smile. Amused, she said: ‘You think I’d ask you to be the poster boy for my project.’ She raised one arm and proclaimed jestingly: ‘See here: Jack Harris, the Hollywood star, and just as hot as our project.’
He didn’t have a good feeling about this. Any of it.
‘And you wouldn’t?’ he asked, undecided whether to leave or stay, stand or sit.
‘No, I wouldn’t,’ she answered, still amused. ‘Neither your looks, nor your fame, fortune or profession would play much of a role in this.’
He nearly burst out laughing. What would there be without his looks, fame, fortune or profession? Another part of him, the curious part, asked: ‘OK …?’ That part also made him sit down again. And she said: ‘You are one of the few actors I can actually put a name to. But I haven’t seen all your movies.’
Bloody hell, I wish I knew where this was going. ‘Should I be hurt or relieved?’
‘Maybe both,’ she replied with a lopsided smile. ‘And I know little about your life. But the little I do know suggests a person who cares about the well-being of others and who has an active mind as well as a playful instinct.’
Now it was for Jack to frown. And since his active mind refused to send any input, or output for that matter, he said: ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t follow.’
‘If this project goes ahead, experts of many professions will be needed. But the project also needs people who aren’t academics. Playfulness and ease are as important as expert knowledge to make this project work.’
‘And you think I could help?’
‘I have seen your playfulness on screen. And I’m sort of hoping it wasn’t all acting.’
Jack only just kept himself from gaping.
On the face of it, it was a compliment. Sort of. Wasn’t it? But … ‘I’m just an actor,’ he said more testily than intended. ‘And I don’t fancy being the clown for a bunch of academics.’
‘Sorry, that’s not what I mean. The playfulness, I’m talking about, should be part of the very fabric of the project — not an entertaining sideshow. It’s about loving and enjoying life, venturing, twirling through the air, provoking, crossing lines, laughing, opposing, daring … It’s the talent to play around with ideas, questions, impossibilities; always open, never narrow-minded or fixated on existing knowledge; free to explore. Mind you, I’d hope to get other artists on board too.’
Listening, Jack felt anger rising. Anger that ran much deeper and was much older than his earlier anger about Holbon’s request.
And he snapped. ‘You are decades too late. That playful, optimistic, life loving guy, you might have seen on screen— He doesn’t exist any more. If he ever existed, he’s dead!’
‘That’s a shame,’ she returned calmly. ‘And I don’t believe it.’
‘What?’ Jack exclaimed and nearly got up again.
‘No need to get angry with me,’ she countered. ‘You can’t lose playfulness. You can bury it though. But, be that as it may, if you’re not interested in a challenge, then you’re not.’
Jack was struggling with his anger and broke eye contact, turning towards the bar. Man, what the fuck’s happening here? What is she even saying? Playful? He used to love that guy. But— But life pushed that guy away. That guy became a prostitute and now the world owned him. How could you remain optimistic when, no matter what you achieved, you still got screwed over. And no matter what you did, the world was still a screwed up planet?
Earlier he asked Holbon: ‘What’s the idea about?’
Not out of interest. Just to find a counterargument for his involvement. And Holbon replied: ‘It’s about turning the world upside down to give it a good shake. I have no idea what she means. But I can’t get it out of my mind.’
He sounded a little senile then. But just a little.
Give the world a good shake … That wasn’t possible, was it? But what if it was? And what if …?
(book 1, beginning)
book 1: beginning, or drafting a town experiment
book 1: beginning,
or drafting a town experiment
Alice Adler, a Berliner, sets out to convince Tom Holbon, the richest man on the planet, to build a town experiment. The aim of the experiment is to rethink — well, everything.
Pages: 499 pages
Price: €8.42 (incl. VAT)
At its core the Easy Town experiment is about being curious, about trying out visions, about exploring and playing around with ideas, testing the limits of the possible, daring to try out the unconventional, questioning the inevitable, allowing for complexity.book 1, beginning, before