Every week this year, the Lainsville Freak Town Herald is chronicling some of the alternative community's biggest players. This week, Todd returns to normalcy by interviewing area businessman Harley Benson, who seems deceptively uptight.
The Red Spotlight: Harley Benson
by Todd Jones, staff reporter and super sleuth
Business is boring. That's why movies about business are really about uhinged businessmen doing coke while they set up their mega deal, only to watch it blow up in their faces. In reality, business is about making money and balancing budgets and mistreating your employees while avoiding labor lawsuits. This week's subject is supposedly all business. One of the two remaining partners of Benson, Blake and Crawford (nee BCCS), Harley Benson is responsible for saving the collective asses of over 150 companies. His job has nothing to do with anything remotely kinky. Also, unlike Kyle Blake, he still exists.
I should have known something was fishy when I got him on the phone about the actual interview. Here's what happened:
Me: "Hi, is this Mr. Benson?"
Him: *breathe* "You, are that fox who was pestering me about Kyle Blake last week."
Me: "Well, yeah, I guess I am, I'm Todd Jones from the-"
Him: "I will pick you up in the back of the parking lot for my office building. Wear something attractive. Perhaps something like what you wore while entertaining Mr. Kirsch some time ago, at his nightclub."
Obviously my reputation preceded me like a bad smell. You might remember that I interviewed one Harold Kirsch, colloquially and appropriately known as "Hawk", owner of "The Pit". I went back there to really see what the place was about.
Anyway, that conversation was the extent of it. He gave me a time, and that was it. I didn't even have a chance to inform him that I was going to be interviewing him for the paper.
I showed up in the back of his building's parking lot, dressed in my leather jeans, a pair of New Rock motorcycle boots that looked as badass as anything a goth teenager would wear, and the black spandex shirt. I didn't belong in an office building's parking lot.
Harley did not come out and meet me on foot. Instead, he drove up and picked me up. His car was a black Mazerati Elexa Geo GTS, which was not only fantastically luxurious and Italian, but completely electric. I knew that right away because he was parked behind me for several minutes before opening the door and announcing himself. Ahem.
Harley is a very large lion. He's almost seven feet tall, built heavily but not stout, with a shocking dark ruddy mane that he does little to keep under control. The car was a good fit for him stylistically: he had a pinstripe charcoal suit and creme caramel dress shirt with a slant-striped red tie. I wasn't so sure he would actually fit in it.
Inside the car, he seemed quite comfortable, but he still dwarfed me. "I will take you out for a drive, so you can 'interview' me," he said, and his voice filled the car like that foam stuff you squirt in cracks. He sounded like a supervillain in a movie, crossed with that guy who does the Love Show late night on the smooth jazz station.
Lainsville has plenty of scenic driving, especially once you get into the hills. He drove fast, and on scenic roads that gave me the willies. The car handled it fine - I'd hope it would handle twisty roads at high speed, being a Mazerati whose price tag is not discussed except as an afterthought. Harley seemed almost robotic, pinned back in the seat, driving gloves clutching the wheel, never once looking at me with his laser-beam golden eyes.
He was not a very good interviewee. For a start, he didn't seem to want to talk. We spent almost half an hour literally driving around the hills before he even said anything else. I couldn't bring myself to say anything, because his car was practically silent and he didn't have the radio on. All I could hear was the faint rush of the road and him breathing. I couldn't ask him a damn question. I just couldn't.
"Your readers do not want to hear about how I twist the arms of business operations managers until they cry uncle and listen to my advice," he finally said, without warning. "They want to hear about what I do in the bedroom. I suppose you don't have any inkling what that is, which I find amusing, as I know what you do in the bedroom. You print pictures of it alongside your articles in the Freak Town Herald. You also have been in some of those films that you produce, if I am not mistaken."
I couldn't really respond to that, either. Since I said nothing, he just kept driving.
We eventually came up to one of the scenic entrances to the Barrin Botanical Gardens. A big bike path (excuse me, "Multipurpose Pathway") had been winding along the road with us, and probably served to dump jogging soccer moms at the nature area. Harley parked the car and grabbed my leg. No, I did not pee myself.
"You will follow me," he said, let go, and got out of the car.
Walking with him was just as fruitless. I tried to ply him for answers to various biographical questions, and he barely gave me enough.
He was from Connecticut, and despite his current pedigree, had been the rough kid in the family. That had culminated in him joining some fight clubs in college, which apparently were full of intellectual types who sought philosophical refuge in beating each other up. Or, in his case, beating everyone else up. That jived with his attitude; I could imagine the towering lion saving up every inconvenience and irritation until he spontaneously punched someone's heart out of their chest and ate it. [Editor's note: Harley contacted us to express his admiration at Todd's frank description of his attitude.]
He had turned around in college and learned how to make himself more presentable, partly thanks to a lesbian friend of his. I thought that was an unusual anecdote.
The more we walked around the botanical gardens, the more he seemed to lose his alarming veneer, but I never saw him smile, and he still avoided looking at me. We finally sat down on a park bench near a rose garden. I got up my nerve. "So what do you do in your bedroom? I mean, I've heard your name come up, but you don't wear your kink pride on your sleeve. You don't raise your kink flag high. You don't-"
He grabbed my leg again. "I am a First, Mr. Jones. I spend much of my time trying to keep from eating people. I would not normally eat a fox, but you are much smaller than me." Okay, I could feel some pee getting ready. "I spend another portion doing my job. The rest is reserved for cultivating relationships, so that I can get what I want when I want it. Do you understand?" No one would notice a little wet spot... oh, leather pants, even better.
I didn't really understand what he was talking about, but that was okay since a distraction came up. Someone came jogging by, wearing skimpy running shorts and a shirt that was almost identical to mine. He jogged to a halt right in front of us. A zebra. A zebra-hybrid, judging by his being grayish instead of white and all splotchy. He had dyed his mohawk blue. "Hey Harley. Is this that newspaper report-oh! I know you!"
Harley knew me because I was writing articles for the alternative newspaper. The zebra knew me because I'd been in a band with him in high school, before he joined his 'real' band and tried to make it big. His name was Zale Sterling and I was pretty sure he was Australian. He used to try to talk like he was from California to hide his accent.
"Mr. Sterling, do not interrupt us. This is an interview," Harley said. Zale's sunny jogger demeanor immediately crumbled and he looked beaten. "You did not answer my question. Do you know what I'm talking about?" Harley continued as if I actually remembered as well.
"Mm-hmm," I nodded. Zale looked trapped. Harley looked completely fed up. I smiled.
"I am done sitting," he growled, then stood up and started walking down the path, the way Zale had come, the way we hadn't. At first, I thought he was going to simply walk off. He didn't. Zale picked up with me and walked along, sweating. He had the expansive body of someone pretty, but he was built like a man.
"Wanna interview me? I like to talk about stuff."
Up ahead, Harley growled to himself.
Zale laughed at me. "I'm kidding. I guess he didn't tell you that we were picking me up? I have a friend from work come drop me off here and I go running. It's really pretty, even if you get attacked by cougars sometimes."
"You know, middle-aged women who want to get laid."
I started to feel a little dizzy. "Mr. Benson, I don't think that's the way back to the car."
He turned to look back at me, gave me a glare that would rot meat, and then kept walking. We wound through the entire bontanical gardens, then back around to his car. Harley didn't speak to me the rest of the time; Zale and I only talked about peripheral things like what he'd been doing all this time. Something had happened, but I wasn't party to it. I would have said Harley was angry, but there was a strange, completely unspoken warmth between him and Zale and only indifference to me. Plus, I couldn't stop thinking about Zale's cryptic mention of big, horny cats.
They dropped me back at the same building I'd started at, then drove off to wherever they were going.
I didn't get the story I was looking for. I did get a wet sock.