Herding Cats

Herding Cats

by John McCabe


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More "hi-octane hi-jinx" from the author of Big Spender and Stickleback.

In a small town in the south west of England, rivals of a large business are being brutally dealt with one by one. Enter Tim Power, hotshot advertiser, whose girlfriend has placed him on a strict 12-month relationship test.

Caught in a commercial war between two low-grade meat producers, Tim discovers that bad advertising can be every bit as effective as good advertising, provided you don't mind upsetting violent psychopaths with dubious family histories. Worse than this, Tim finds to his cost that failing in a relationship can be even more harmful to your health than accidentally offending tyrants with a passion for meat grinding.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780552770903
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Limited
Publication date: 06/22/2004
Pages: 359
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

John McCabe is the author of Stickleback, Paper, Snakeskin. His latest novel is Big Spender. He lives in Birmingham and works as a geneticist.

Read an Excerpt

An End to Peace

A stack of pallets blazed in the corner of a dying industrial building. Two men stood and faced the same direction, flames alternately lighting and shading their features, a greasy sweat oozing from their pores. The slimmer of the two tucked a baseball bat through the belt of his grubby jeans. 'I want . . . a bigger share,' he snarled.

'No way,' the other answered. 'We carved it up fair and square.'

'That was' - a piece of wood crackled and sent a spark fizzing through the air - 'seven years ago.'

'You were strong then. Now you're dying . . . on your arse. I've heard the rumours. So I want more . . . of what's going.'

The silence was broken by another violent crack in front of them. 'Taunsley is a small town, and I'm a big player. There's no way you can reach me.'

'No fucker is out . . . of reach. Not even you.' When riled, the leaner man talked in short volleys, his machine-gun delivery hitting home in prickly bursts. Behind a second stack of broken pallets, a pair of eyes watched proceedings intently.

'You can't touch me. And you know it.'

'Maybe I don't . . . know it any more.'

'You've got your ten per cent. Be thankful for that. The town is quiet and there's been no trouble for a long time. So let's just leave it there. Now unless there's anything else, I-'

'I know how to . . . ruin you.'

'I am a rich man,' he replied irritably, as a pallet infested with flames succumbed to the attack and collapsed, bleeding sparks across the floor towards another pile of timber. 'I employ a lot of people. You won't be able to ruin me.'

'That all depends . . . on your definition,' the man answered.


'Finances don't even . . . come into it. Your definition of ruination . . . is not my definition.'

There was a lengthy pause, punctuated only by a mild whimpering noise as flames took hold in the adjacent wood. Both men gazed into their own fire, too enraged to look at one another.

'Spell it out for me.'

'I'm saying that . . . in this age of image and communication . . . of commerce and advertising . . . ruination has taken on another meaning.'

'Which is?'

'Now the mayor is dead . . . things are set to change . . . in Taunsley. A lot of his by-laws . . . have been overturned.'

The eyes that had been observing the scene widened considerably as the fire really got going.
'So what are you proposing - using local by-laws to damage me?'

'Or lack of. And then,' the slimmer of the two said, removing the bat and scratching his newly cropped hair with it, 'I'm coming to get you.'

As his companion slipped back into the darkness, the portly man savoured the last of his cigar. He licked his dry lips. Fear and anticipation surged through his body. It was time to go to war again. He tossed the spent butt into the fire and watched the flames slowly eat it up. Seconds after he had walked away, the roofless building was filled with commotion. A large, scruffy man tore through the increasingly alight pile of timber concealing him. Taking out his member, he treated his shoes, which were on the verge of melting, to a prolonged river of urine. While he doused himself, he opened a can of warm lager and swallowed it gratefully. Being burned alive didn't, as far as he could recall, feature among the duties of his job. Squelching away from the scene, the tramp-like man took out a notepad and scribbled down the details he had been able to discern between moments of blind panic. On reaching his car, which had been hidden at the back of the building, he sprayed himself liberally with a can marked Toilet Freshener. The pubs were still open, and he was willing to bet that a combined odour of singed hair, molten shoes, urine, cigarettes, lager and poor hygiene was not going to get him served. Still, one more piece of evidence had been collected. The Big Story was about to enter its final and bloody phase.

Simply the Best

Inside the office of Tim Power Advertising plc, Taunsley, Avonshire, Tim Power sat at his desk, appreciating that Taunsley was a small town with a big problem. Its 30,000 residents, almost without exception, were oblivious to the outside world. There was an insularity about the place that unnerved people who passed through. The gene pool was more of a puddle, most visitors not staying long enough to muddy its waters with their genetic material.

But what made the town's isolation all the more remarkable in an age of cheap and fast transport was its geography. It lay in the middle of a flat expanse of arable land, close to motorways, railway lines and even an airport. On still summer evenings the continuous rumble of other people's progress could clearly be heard above the town's torpor. Taunsley could barely have been more accessible. The whole world was available to its residents at the turn of a car key. But no one, aside from his girlfriend, chose to leave. Few journeyed in the opposite direction either. Those who did weren't exactly given a civic reception. And as a recent new arrival, Tim still felt more like an intruder than an incomer.

Glancing up at his sole client of the day, Taunsley's first and only advertising executive tried to remain calm. Without really listening, he appreciated that it was about to happen again.

'So what I really want is something, how shall I put it?' Mr Fellows of Fellows and Sons Motors, Taunsley, paused.

Tim did all he could to speed the painful process to its inexorable conclusion. 'Direct?'


'I see.'

'Now we're getting somewhere,' Mr Fellows beamed. He was lean, fair, and always dressed in linen suits as if on the perpetual verge of a safari. He scratched his scalp, not in the usual way, but by keeping his hand still and nodding his head. 'Above everything else, it's directness I'm after,' he continued.

'And you want me to come up with a campaign, some slogans, that sort of thing?'

'Yeeesss,' he replied. 'Only I've already come up with a slogan.'

Tim entertained the mental image of Mr Fellows being run over by one of his own cars. 'Which is?' he asked, knowing full well what it was. Seventeen clients, and twelve of them had the same lousy slogan.

Mr Fellows cleared his throat and puffed himself up, as if he was pitching a huge new concept. 'Simply the Best!'

In his reversed role, Tim summoned his best impression of surprise and admiration. 'Simply the Best!' he echoed.

'What do you think?'

Please kill me. Someone, drop something heavy on me from a large height. Put me out of my misery. A big London ad firm, expenses, clever campaigns, receptive clients, for this. What the hell was I thinking? And if I ever meet Tina Turner there's going to be trouble. Tim tried to disguise his bitter regret. He steadied himself. This was the fourth Simply the Best since Monday. It was going to be a long week. 'What do I think?' Again, images of an easy death and a quick exit from being the sole advertiser in a small town seduced him in sharp monochrome and tasteful slow-motion footage. 'Fucking,' please death come now, 'fucking,' he looked hopefully up towards the ceiling, 'fucking,' he shook his head and made a pact to try and last until lunchtime without cursing his change in fortune, 'fantastic!' he said, finally. 'Love it! Let's go for it!'

Mr Fellows sat back in his chair and grinned. 'Fellows Motors. Simply the Best!'

Tim ran an irritable finger down the bridge of his nose. What was it with this town? Surely there had to be a compromise. To try to appease his client and yet move things forward, he decided to propose a daring move up the evolutionary ladder of creative advertising. 'OK, it's good,' he said, resting forwards on the palms of his hands, his expensive watch clinking against the glass of the table, 'but it's slightly . . . well, overused. So how about this? Just a slight shift in emphasis.' Tim took a deep breath. 'Fellow's Motors - Better Than All The Rest.'

While Mr Fellows mouthed the new words to himself, Tim's assistant Dave coughed portentously. Tim glanced over at the other side of the office. On Dave's desk, a small sign read, 'David Manners, Assistant Advertising Executive, Power Advertising'. A few weeks ago, Tim had been severely outfoxed by a work experience girl, who hadn't wanted the work and certainly didn't need the experience. At sixteen, she had run rings around him. He smiled, before realizing that his assistant was about to say something.

'What tag line are you going to use then, eh?' Dave asked. 'Better than anyone, anyone I've ever met? Doesn't quite scan, does it?'

Tim glared at him. Technically it wasn't Dave's job to assassinate his ideas in front of mediocre clients. 'No, but it's something different.'

'There isn't anything different. Those are the lyrics, that's how it goes.'


'You can't muck about with a classic. Look,' Dave explained, heading for the CD player, 'I'll put the song on again.'

Tim stood up. 'No you fucking won't,' he said with menace.

Mr Fellows cleared his throat. 'I don't really want to take sides,' he muttered, removing a small fleck of something from his suit, 'but I think Dave's got a point. ''Simply the Best'' is an all-time great. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

Tim sat back down and reclined his chair with a forced smile, an expression of benevolence painted across his displeasure. Before he had come to Taunsley, everything had been right. What had struck him the very first time he visited was the lack of marketing in the place. It was like a blank canvas. Journeying from London to Taunsley was a weekly culture shock. The tube had ads on the escalators, ads on the trains, even ads on the ads. Every available chunk of the city was being eaten by a visible essence which spewed catchy slogans and half-amusing puns. Nothing escaped its clutches. The clothes you wore, the phone you carried, the watch you checked. Objects had become self-promoting, their logos large enough for everyone to see, the disposable consumer durable becoming the new hoarding. It had you by the balls, and this is what Tim loved. It didn't matter how rational you were about the whole thing, it still sucked you in. It was that powerful. No one was immune. Not even advertising executives.

Taunsley, however, was different.

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