Excerpt

"Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking"

Sheena Kamal

The following short story, “Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking”, by Sheena Kamal, is an exclusive excerpt from the new anthology Vancouver Noir, edited by Sam Wiebe. In this innovative story, Kamal’s protagonist delivers a caustic sendoff to an errant colleague. Sheena Kamal’s debut novel The Lost Ones was a Canadian bestseller and won her a 2018 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, a Strand Magazine Critics Award and Macavity Award for Best First Novel. The sequel It All Falls Down is now available.
  1. Smile, motherfucker.

It relaxes you on stage. You will not need to take a Xanax and fall asleep on top of Bridget the night before your big presentation, the one that you are flying into Seattle from Vancouver specifically to give. She has put up with too much of that shit already and girlfriend deserves a break. If you play your cards right, she may be compelled to share her suspicions that someone has been stealing from you for the past year, but whether or not that will happen depends entirely on your willingness to search for the mythical clitoris—which, let me tell you, actually exists. I can find it blindfolded with my arms tied behind my back. It’s right at the top of the—you know what? I’ll draw you a diagram.

For someone who has written astute in his web profile, you have a lot to learn. Not just about the female anatomy either, although it does show a certain lack of respect for the women in your life. I’m talking about the little details. I’m talking about the drips of money that have become a nice, steady river into someone else’s pocket.

We have worked together for two years now. Me in my Beyoncé-inspired wardrobe and you in your . . . how about we get to that later? For now, let me just say that the first day I walked into your corner office in the Financial District, overlooking Coal Harbour with the trees of Stanley Park edging the frame of your view, I knew something would give with this job. Or someone. I gave first.

Now it’s your turn.

Article continues after advertisement
  1. Use the stage, but don’t pace.

It makes you look like an asshole when you do that. All those years you spent dodging the homeless and the addicts on Hastings has made you surprisingly agile for a man your age, but you don’t need to advertise this during your speeches. Plus, your fashion sense can’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny. It’s amazing when people who have earned as much shady money as you have refuse to invest in a decent suit. Off the rack is not a good look on you.

It boggles my fertile, college-educated mind that the biggest white-collar corruption scandal of our day—with sexy highlights such as tax evasion, front companies, doctored communications, financial havens—seems to have disappeared like a puff of quality BC kush.

People don’t talk about the Panama Papers anymore, they really don’t. But they should. It boggles my fertile, college-educated mind that the biggest white-collar corruption scandal of our day—with sexy highlights such as tax evasion, front companies, doctored communications, financial havens—seems to have disappeared like a puff of quality BC kush. Unsurprisingly, a haze of collective amnesia has set in. Nobody remembers that a company heavily involved in advising on these illegal havens for the yacht owners of this country was based in Vancouver. Your old company, in fact. You have stayed off social media and, because your family barely talks to you anymore, it was difficult for me to make the connections that I have recently made—but not impossible. Oh, the thrills of working for a tax planner!

Please don’t think I’m judging, even though, according to my nan, this kind of behavior is clearly not beyond me. I have done my share of pacing, so I know it is a sign of a guilty conscience. But you really shouldn’t reveal that much of yourself to a paying audience. They want the tips, not the guilt. That burden is for your battered soul alone.

  1. Tone down the gesticulation.

Repeat after me: “My arms are not windmills.” Keep them at your sides, bent at the elbows. This will allow you to highlight important points with a little flourish, but will prevent you from getting too worked up. Like the time you surprised me in the office with Juanita. We both knew that Juanita wasn’t helping me find my contact lens while we were half-naked under your desk, but you didn’t have to increase my workload by 30 percent because of your barely disguised homophobia.

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, your arms. Keeping them at your side will also hide your pit stains. Honestly, I don’t know what Bridget sees in you—except for piles of other people’s money. She held the less-than-exalted position of being your executive assistant before leaving to work on her back. Make no mistake about it, it is work. I happened to see that nightmare video on your phone, which is not password protected for some ludicrous reason. How many times have I forwarded you those HuffPo articles about the security of your personal devices? I mean, people keep their entire lives on their phones these days. Terrible sex videos, appointments you haven’t synched to your official schedule, logs of shady phone calls to contacts at what seem to be shell companies, screenshots of certain account balances . . . you haven’t let go of your past yet, have you?

If Bridget has any sense, and obviously she does, she would have noticed the exact same discrepancies. Do you really think your phone sits untouched on your desk during your epic morning bathroom visits? It may seem that those bran muffins Bridget makes are your friend, but they truly are not. And, since we’re talking about Bridget, is it weird that she hired a lesbian to replace her? So that nobody else would get any ideas about her cash cow?

Please. She didn’t need to worry, bro, honestly. I wouldn’t touch you with someone else’s dusty vagina.

  1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

I can write your speeches for you (like the good little executive assistant I am), but I can’t make you good at giving them without a little effort on your part. Don’t practice in front of a mirror, do it while you’re puttering around the house—excuse me, golf course. Get the speech in your body and it will stay in your mind.

You know what stays in my mind?

The night you found me in your office with Juanita. That was when I first realized something was off. A late-night visit to the office isn’t exactly your style. You hadn’t forgotten anything—I made sure of that. And you haven’t burned the midnight oil in years. You needed to clean up a mess, didn’t you? Later I looked over your accounts.

It took me awhile to notice all that foreign money pouring into companies that you helped establish, before poof!, the money disappeared into the ether of various offshore accounts.

It took me awhile to notice all that foreign money pouring into companies that you helped establish, before poof!, the money disappeared into the ether of various offshore accounts. You did an awesome job at hiding the paper trail, by the way. I have to give you some grudging respect for that, at least. I used to think you were a total idiot, but I was wrong. Your idiocy isn’t all-encompassing. You’ve got your skills, man, you really do. Creating documents to cover up money transfers, contracts, and invoices. Slow applause from me for this. But there’s very little you can hide from your executive assistant when she’s got revenge on her mind.

I only had the time to do all this investigating and uncovering of trails, you understand, because Juanita broke up with me. She hasn’t come out yet, but we’d been slowly getting there until your surprise visit spooked the hell out of her. I won’t lie, this was a serious blow to my personal life. Do you know how hard it is for a lesbian to get laid in Vancouver?

The calls I made to her went unanswered. I got worried, because she’d taken to running the trails up by Pacific Spirit Park in the evenings after work, so I went by her place in Point Grey.

I waited for hours.

This is what love can do to a perfectly rational person when it slaps her upside the head. I was about to leave when I saw her walking down the road. She was just coming home from drinks, I assume, because I saw her on the sidewalk, wobbly on the high heels they made her wear at the perfume counter. There was a man holding her up by her elbow. She looked into his eyes and let him kiss her. Right in front of me.

I beat a hasty retreat right then and there but wasn’t sure if she’d seen me until she texted me the next day.

I’m sorry, but it’s over. I’m really sorry.

With the periods and everything! In a text!

The man she was with looked like your average married guy with an itch to scratch away from home. But he had money. I could tell from his suit, which was leagues above the quality of yours.

So she wanted money?

It’s not so hard to get some of that, if you know what you’re doing.

  1. Know when to quit.

(See above about letting go of your past.)

Just because something worked before doesn’t mean it’s going to work again. If you sense you’re losing your audience, don’t double down. Move on, man. Move on. For example, when I was at the University of British Columbia, I crammed myself into Intro to Economics along with a horde of other undergrads reeking of weed. We were all hoping for a career in investment banking so that we could go yachting with models. The others seemed to do okay, but I could not, to my shame, read a simple line chart to save my life. Numbers I can handle. Concepts I can rattle off with no trouble at all. But there was that god-awful midterm where it was all about the line graphs. Let me tell you, economics as a prerequisite class is not geared to the graphically disinclined.

When the Papers came out, naming your old firm as the center of a Canadian shitstorm of what could have been epic proportions, that should’ve been enough for a thinking person to walk away. Yet you maintained your connections to your past. You still advertise snow washing, because why not tempt fate?

If I had to draw a graph to explain what snow washing is, it would look like a pile of garbage. So I won’t even bother. Plus, you already know, don’t you? It was your specialty. Advertise Canada as a more lucrative tax haven for high-net-worth foreign individuals, set up a front company with no legal obligation to disclose the real owner, and bada-bing, bada-boom. Tax haven benefits without the money-laundering stench that now pervades the Caribbean. Which is still used, but not as often as it used to be. Speaking of . . .

  1. Make eye contact.

But only hold each pair of eyes for a few seconds. You want to include the regular plebes in your presentation, but you don’t want to be creepy. Save that for one of your island getaways when you send Bridget off to the spa and sit on the beach ogling women who are young enough to be your granddaughter.

There it was. Secret accounts for your secret accounts, and vacay spots that line up perfectly.

Which reminds me, I sent a card to your granddaughter for her birthday last month. She said thank you for the personal note and the generous dollar amount on the check I signed on your behalf. You’re lucky I know how to forge your signature so well. It keeps your personal life in order and everyone, including me, happy. Birthday cards, apology notes, memos, miscellaneous documents pertaining to your secret accounts . . . I sign them all.

Were the Cayman Islands nice? What about the Bahamas? Boss, you have no idea how happy I was to get that shitty little box of chocolates you brought for me from Switzerland. Airport chocolates from the Swiss are so much better than what you get here, am I right?

There’s an interesting pattern that emerges when one is of the mind to look into the timing of your vacations with Bridget. It took me awhile to get the documents sorted, but when I did, boom. There it was. Secret accounts for your secret accounts, and vacay spots that line up perfectly.

  1. Know your audience.

When I first moved to Vancouver from butt-fuck nowhere Ontario, I wanted to get laid. So obviously I signed up for all sorts of websites, run by people who were all too happy to take my money. They understood their demographic well. I wanted sex, and money for school—therefore I needed a sugar mama. Vancouver isn’t a sugar-baby mecca for nothing, my friend.

The first “date” I had was with an older woman named Carla, in her fifties. She had no time for bullshit, kept multiple phones to keep her various lives separate, and would spend no more than one hour each week in my apartment, which she helped me pay for.

It was the most blissful hour of my week. Carla could have me naked and panting in three minutes flat, but usually made me wait. We lasted six years.

One afternoon—it was always afternoons—she came in looking rushed and overwhelmed. Something was clearly on her mind, and it was so pressing that she wouldn’t even let me touch her first. I sensed it was the end, so I popped a bottle of champagne I kept in the fridge and poured two glasses. She didn’t even smile when I handed one to her. We drank half the bottle before she took me to bed.

Afterward, she asked me who I worked for. I said it was you, of course. She nodded once, because she already knew, and said that she’d seen me at an event, holding your phone and whispering the names of VIPs into your ear like a goddamn idiot.

“You’re better than that,” she told me. “You’re better than him. After what he’s done . . .”

“What?” I said, even though I’d already started to suspect the worst about you. This was before the night in your office when you found me and Juanita.

“I hear there’s an investigation going on,” said Carla. She was a real estate agent who worked exclusively with wealthy international clients. She found them investment homes in the pricey Vancouver marketplace, then helped them figure out how to avoid paying hefty taxes on said mansions.

“I’m warning you right now, if your boss goes down, so will you.”

“There’s massive corruption, and your boss is a part of it. A bunch of journalists around the world are working together to investigate a series of documents that show where and how the super-wealthy have been funneling money for years. They’re calling them the Panama Papers. I’m warning you right now, if your boss goes down, so will you.”

“Speaking of going down,” I said, reaching for her.

She pushed me away and slipped back into her clothes. “I’m serious, Mags. You could get into a lot of trouble working for this guy. It’s always the staff that gets scapegoated when this stuff comes out.”

“You worried that I’m going to ruin your reputation? Nobody knows about us.”

“It’s not that.” Her look was clear as day. When she made a decision, nothing in the world could turn her away from it. And it was obvious she had already decided about us. “We’re going to have to stop, me and you. My wife just retired and she’s spending more time at home—if she ever found out about us . . .”

“Is this about my boss or your wife?” I asked, watching her from the bed. She never talked about her wife with me.

She shook her head and leaned against the doorway. “Look. I just don’t want to see you hurt because of your boss. It’s tough enough for a woman in business, especially in the financial sector. You have to work twice as hard—and you already go above and beyond. Don’t let this man ruin your career.”

What career? I didn’t have a career, as anyone who watched me settle your dry cleaning bill would know.

It’s not the only thing she was wrong about. I wasn’t going to be hurt because of you. She didn’t know her audience, you see. Her warning me about you only sped up my timeline.

You know, everybody underestimates the sugar baby. You have a number of little companies of your own, and you know who has signing rights on them besides Bridget? Well, of course, the person who can forge your signature like a pro. Setting up my own company was simple. There’s a reason why those rich foreigners do this. Canada, land of opportunity, makes it so damn easy.

  1. Keep it short and sweet.

Closing remarks should be brief. For example: “I would like to thank you for all the years you have kept me employed doing your dirty work without once giving me a raise. My career is a dead end and my love life is in shambles, but all of this has taught me a very valuable lesson. In a city taken over by the wealthy, where white-collar crime is the norm, where everyone has a price, nobody blinks at a little cream being skimmed off the top. When it comes to the ‘tax planners’ of Vancouver, who are the lubricant of the astronomically priced real estate market, everyone does it. The thing about stashed money and the misrepresented funds of companies that are not required to disclose their real owners, also, is that anyone can steal from a thief without repercussions. Nobody in this shady business wants to bring on any extra scrutiny. So thank you for all of your help in padding my own shady accounts, and sayonara.”

See? Easy as Bridget.

Hope your speech goes well tomorrow. I have booked you an economy seat on a flight that’s always jam packed. Good luck on getting upgraded to business class this time, asshole. And if you’re thinking of trying to get back at me somehow, remember that I’ve seen the pervy videos on your phone and, whoops, made a few copies.

If you’re upset about suddenly joining the ranks of the lower classes, remember that your office window opens outward.

And by the way, I left that diagram on your desk. Happy hunting. J

__________________________________

Excerpted from “Eight Game-Changing Tips on Public Speaking” by Sheena Kamal, copyright 2018 by Sheena Kamal, included in the anthology Vancouver Noir edited by Sam Wiebe. Used with permission of the author and Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com).




More Story
Is Mumbai the 21st Century Capital of Noir? Mumbai (though still, and probably always, Bombay to the locals) was recently described in The Economist as having emerged...