Encore – Chapter One – Janus Arises


What if you were living every day twice, and only the second one counted? Leo Melikian, a smart but naïve 25-year old stuck in a lowly white-collar job in the South of France, wakes up one day with this exact power. In this chapter (the origin story!!) Leo’s power first manifests, right when he is about to have the business meeting that could make or break his career.

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Encore Chapter One: Janus Arises

 

I was screwed. It didn’t matter how well I got along with Thierry – he was going to fire me for this one. I had exactly five hours before Alicante, the regional head of BNP Paribas, came in to hear my presentation on our latest botched advertising campaign, and my PowerPoint file had disappeared.

It wasn’t in my usual “Prez” folder. I did a search with the name of the file. Nothing. I looked in the Trash folder. Nothing. I checked the USB on which I had backed it up. Still nothing. I could feel my heart pound against my chest. My fingers began to shake. I opened Powerpoint, but didn’t find it in ‘Recently Opened’ documents. A quick Google search recommended looking in the Temp folder, but it wasn’t there either. I was completely screwed.

I got up from my cubicle in the open-space on the second floor of BNP’s two-story building. I had joined BNP’s Marketing Department in the South of France right after graduation, and two years later, I was still the most junior member on our five people team. The pay was terrible, but working for a French semi-state company had the advantage of a steady paycheck and room for advancement. If I played my cards right, I might end up in the Paris headquarters. My missing presentation however, meant that I would be lucky to even keep my job here.

I walked towards Thierry’s glass office, our agency’s head of Marketing. Each step felt heavier than the next. He was the one who had insisted that I gain exposure by presenting. Now I had to tell him that I had completely messed up. I thought about bolting. I could leave work and never come back. But before I knew it I was knocking on the door he always kept open. He looked up.

Thierry was your typical mid-level regional manager. He was in his late thirties, had one kid and his black hair was already receding in a widow’s peak. He always dressed in black suits with a red power tie, based on a fashion tip he must have read once and never forgotten.

I struggled to find the words. How do you tell your boss that you messed up beyond all possible repair?

“Thierry,” My voice shook slightly, “I can’t find the presentation for Alicante. I’ve looked everywhere, it’s just not there anymore.”

I braced myself. I expected shock, screaming or complete disbelief. Instead, Thierry cocked an eyebrow quizzically and set down his pen.

“Ok… well how much time do you need to redo it?”

That was the real problem. I had spent all day working on it the day before, and only gotten home late at night when my parents had already been sleeping. There was no way I could finish it in five hours.

“I’d need at least a full day…” I let it hang.

“Well then do it. Work overtime if you have to. We need this for tomorrow no matter what,” he said.

“Wait, but-”

“Just get it done. Let’s debrief tonight. You’re wasting time,” He picked up his pen and got back to the documents he had been studying.

I walked back to my desk with hesitant steps. Wasn’t Alicante coming in today? I stopped and almost doubled back to ask him, but decided to avoid looking like even more of an idiot and checked on my Calendar first.

I opened the app and literally slapped myself on the forehead. The presentation was tomorrow, on April 17th. Somehow, I had been convinced that today was the 17th. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. No wonder Thierry was so calm. It wasn’t the first time I had gotten my dates wrong, but it was definitely the most panic-inducing one. I went back to work and powered away on the presentation, skipping my lunch, and got it done by 7 p.m. A quick check into Thierry’s office, and I saw that he had already left for the day. Typical. I sent it to him by e-mail with the line ‘FYI here’s the presentation. Let’s go over it tomorrow morning’, and headed home.

 

When I pulled up in my parking spot in front of the yellow sandstone house I had grown up in, I saw that the lights were still on. My parents were up. I opened the door, kicked my shoes into a corner stacked high with my dad’s climbing equipment, and walked into the living room.

“Help me set the table,” yelled my mom from the kitchen.

As I took out the dinnerware, I snuck a peek at what she was cooking.

“Pasta again?” I complained.

“If you want something different, you can cook it yourself,” she said, busily stirring the sauce.

That wasn’t really an option, given that my cooking skills were mostly limited to pasta. And microwaving. Especially microwaving pasta, like I had done last night with the left-overs.

“Yeah but two days in a row…” I said.

“What are you talking about? We had salmon yesterday.”

“No we didn’t, you left me left-over pasta.”

This nagging wasn’t just me being overly dramatic; it was also part of a ritual with my mom. I would complain about the food, and eventually she would complain about how at 25 years old I was still living at home. Tough love. I wasn’t exactly proud of the fact, but with youth unemployment in the South reaching close to 20%, I was lucky to even have a job, even if I couldn’t afford my own place yet.

“No,” she insisted, “We had salmon. I bought it yesterday morning at the supermarket and I didn’t want it to go bad.”

“That was two days ago!”

She gave me a glare, looked over to the faded yellow couch where my dad was reading the paper, and yelled out to him: “Pierre, what did we have yesterday?”

“Salmon.”

I dropped it and set the table. I had the usual chitchat during the meal on which of my mom’s pre-school students had been naughty, excused myself before dessert and went straight to my room. I wanted to be well-rested for the presentation tomorrow, and today’s stressful morning had tired me out. I lay down on my bed, and tried to go to sleep. I tossed and turned for a while before ending up on my back, staring at the ceiling covered in glow-in-the-dark stars. Something felt wrong.

I pulled up the Calendar on my phone. The meeting was indeed scheduled for tomorrow, April 17th. I don’t know how I could have gotten that wrong. Maybe I was just confused because my file had disappeared and I panicked? It didn’t matter. Now I was ready for the meeting tomorrow and I was sure I would nail it. I set down my phone on the bedside table, closed my eyes and went to sleep.

 

I woke up in the IKEA bed that I had bought with my parents for my sixteenth birthday, a queen-size to mark my transition to adulthood. I took a shower, made myself a coffee, chatted with my dad, and drove my run-down Renault Clio to work.

Driving to work was always the best part of my day. My city, Valbonne, was lost in the hills of the South, and the road to work was an endless succession of curves looping up and down around them. My brakes were iffy at best, so I would downshift to third gear right before each bend, relishing the thrum of the motor as the car suddenly jerked down to a lower speed. Shafts of light from the bright blue sky poked through the giant oak and palm trees that lined the way to Sophia Antipolis, turning the road into a spotted constellation of color. It was a beautiful ride.

Sophia, as the locals called it, was France’s failed attempt at creating its very own Silicon Valley. In theory, it was perfect: Sophia had sunny and warm days all year long, the beach was but a few kilometers away, and house-prices were sky-high because of tourism. What better place to create a vibrant tech hub? In practice however, French laws and taxes made companies shun it.

The review with Thierry went surprisingly well. Yesterday’s disastrous interaction seemed to be mostly forgotten, as his only inputs were a few typos I had made, such as misspelling the name of our product, SCIP, as SICP. He was a very hands-off boss. We grabbed lunch, a panini bought at the little shop across the road, and awaited Mr. Alicante’s arrival. I still found myself repeatedly checking if the presentation was still there, but quickly began to feel confident that this would go well.

Thierry and I expected this to be a fairly straightforward affair. Three months ago, BNP had launched a new savings product, called SCIP, for the richer segment of its consumers. Being in the South of France, land of the nouveaux-riches, we actually had quite a few. The product was simple: it gave our clients a share of our investment in private companies that specialized in buying properties, renting them out, and selling them a few years down the line when they had increased in value.

As it came from the HQ’s budget however, all promotion of SCIP was handled directly from Paris. They used a big ad agency who came up with a catchy slogan: ‘Votre empire immobilier’, ‘Your real-estate empire’, and promoted it actively with a mini-site, an adwords campaign, and bombarding our local social media pages with information.

I hated it from the start. The French have a strange relationship to money. Ostentatious flaunting of wealth is frowned upon. The rich live by the credo ‘Vivons heureux, vivons cachés’ or ‘To live happily, live hidden’. This campaign concept was the complete opposite. It glorified wealth rather than humbly accepting it, and I was convinced it would not resonate with our target consumers. My faith in it only dwindled when I saw their operational strategy. Not only was the concept bad, but the execution had been terrible as well.

It had been an absolute failure. 20% of the entire budget had been spent on social marketing through daily posts and engagement on our Facebook page – and of the 3,000 fans on our regional page, none were clients whose income qualified them as potential targets. It was as if we had been throwing money down the toilet.

The AdWords campaign was just as poorly done. The agency’s choice of keywords like “Real-estate empire” and “BNP savings” meant we weren’t getting the right people to click-through to our micro-site. Our bounce rate, or the number of people who left the mini-site after viewing only one page, was a whopping 97%. The mini-site itself was horrendous, with no information on our regional office contacts, no call-to-action buttons… basically, if anybody was interested in the product, they had no idea how to contact us.

I was sure I would be able to convince Alicante that the campaign was a failure and that next time, we should choose a different agency. Ideally, even convince him to let me do the choosing.

I was totally, completely wrong.

 

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BABY DOLPHINS?” yelled Alicante.

“I… I…” I stammered. I had no idea what he was talking about. “The numbers are bad all around. We completely underper-”

“Stop!” Alicante was completely red in the face. “You’re telling me you don’t know how we did with the baby dolphins? How the HELL do you want to convince me that this campaign was a failure?”

“The baby dolphins…?” I ventured.

“Why do you think we’re doing this campaign with Facebook and Google and whatever?” he yelled, “Our whales don’t care. They’re old and rich. It’s a wonder if they use e-mail! We’re doing it to get the younger ones, early, BEFORE they become whales.”

I had heard the term ‘whales’ before. It was typically used to describe our wealthiest consumers. But this was the first time anyone had mentioned ‘baby dolphins’. And shouldn’t it be ‘baby whales’? I thought. I bit back the retort.

“We probably did terrible with the baby dolphins too,” I answered, “We did terrible everywhere-”

“You don’t have that data! How many did we sell to the baby dolphins? If we reached a ton of them, then the campaign was a success and that’s it. The. Baby! DOLPHINS!” he said, punctuating each word by bashing his fist against the table, “When it comes to digital marketing, that’s all that matters.”

He slammed his laptop closed, stood up and walked to the exit. Turning around, he looked at my boss, purposely ignoring me, and added: “Next time don’t waste my time, Thierry. I’m waiting for the numbers by e-mail. If they’re low we’ll tell the Paris HQ to change agencies.” He stormed out.

Thierry looked at me with a mix of pity and guilt.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get him the numbers and he’ll see you’re right. ”

“Yeah,” I answered half-heartedly, fully aware that I had wasted my big chance. I had looked like an unprepared idiot in front of the big regional boss, and there was no coming back from that. Even if I was right and even if the concept of baby dolphins made absolutely no sense.

I went back to my desk and e-mailed the regional headquarters asking for the numbers. Since Alicante’s terminology seemed completely arbitrary, I decided to define baby dolphins as consumers under 35 with an annual income over 80,000 euros a year. That seemed fair.

I got the numbers back just half an hour later – as expected, they were low: Only 215 of the 1,312 SCIPs we had sold since launch had been to baby dolphins, or only about 15%. Meanwhile, our total sales target had been 25,000. We hadn’t even come close. Worse, our branch itself had only sold 32, against a target of 2,100, of which only 2 were to baby dolphins. I had been right, but it was too little, too late. I forwarded the numbers to Thierry, and left the office early.

For once, I didn’t enjoy the drive home. I went straight to my room without a word, collapsed on my bed and fell asleep.

 

I turned off my alarm at 8:00 a.m., stared at the ceiling, and went back to sleep. Fuck today. I’ll head in late, nobody cares anyways, I thought.

My phone started to ring. I woke up again and looked at the time: 10:47 a.m. Thierry was calling me. He’s probably concerned I quit, I thought, and picked it up.

“Hey Thierry, I’m sorry I-”

“WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?” Thierry yelled into the phone.

“I’m at home, I-”

“WELL GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE QUICK. Alicante is arriving in 3 hours for the presentation and we haven’t had time to go over it yet! I’m expecting you in 30 minutes tops!” yelled Thierry and hung up before I had a chance to answer.

I sprung into action, powering through my confusion. I took the quickest shower of my life, jumped into the car and drove off. On the road I kept trying to understand. Was Alicante coming back for a second meeting now that we had the numbers? Maybe the numbers were so disastrous that Alicante wanted to understand the digital side more? Had the regional HQ messed up the data they sent over? I glanced at the time on my dashboard. 11:12. I’m almost there, I thought.

I did a double take. Next to the time on the dashboard was the date.

17 Apr. 2019

April 17th? What? Alicante was supposed to come in on April 17th, that much I was sure of. But April 17th was yesterday.

The date in my car was probably just set up wrong and I hadn’t noticed it until now. It was the only explanation. I calmed myself down, parked my car and ran into the building, straight into Thierry’s office.

“Open your computer,” he said hurriedly. I pulled out my HP laptop, and it immediately opened to the Powerpoint presentation.

“Go to slide 14,” said Thierry. I did. But my eyes focused on the top right corner of my screen. On the date. A date which read: 17 Apr. 2019.

This was getting weirder. No wonder I had been confused about the date two days ago. It seemed like every single one of my electronics was wrong.

“There’s a typo here on SCIP, you spelled it SICP,” said Thierry, “Change it. And go to Slide 17.”

That was the exact typo he pointed out yesterday, I thought. I looked at him quizzically, but he was focused on the presentation.

My mind was running through the situation. Both devices said it was April 17th. Thierry was doing the exact same changes as yesterday. Changes that should have been fixed yesterday but had miraculously re-appeared overnight.

I could find a dozen explanations for what was going on: I had never realized the dates were off by a day. Thierry was suddenly struck with amnesia. Someone had hacked into my computer and car at exactly the same time.

But the simplest of all explanations was also the weirdest one: I was living yesterday all over again.

I sat, dumbfounded by the realization, but still mechanically going through the motions of fixing the typos. Was this really what was going on? It made no sense, but then again, strangely, it was the only explanation that made at least some sense. When the clock hit 1:30 p.m., Thierry told me we were done and to go back to my desk before Alicante came in.

I walked to my cubicle like a zombie and sat down, staring into space. What the hell was going on? Was it really April 17th again? Was yesterday a dream?

I loaded the homepage of the newspapers Le Figaro, Le Monde and Nice Matin. All said the same thing: April 17th. So much for my devices being wrong. I checked my calendar, and Alicante’s meeting was scheduled for today. Nothing on it for yesterday. Nothing on it for tomorrow.

I stared at my screen. If it’s not a dream, then I’m about to re-live a terrible chewing out by the big boss. I checked the time: ten minutes until Alicante arrived. I quickly opened the presentation and inserted a slide at the front with the numbers I remembered from yesterday, complete with an accompanying visual. I finished polishing it up just as Alicante walked in through the door. I got up and walked into the meeting room.

As soon as salutations and the casual small-talk expected in French meetings were done, I plugged in my laptop to the projector. The title slide ‘Review of SCIP Marketing Campaign – Results and Suggestions’ appeared. I started talking.

Bonjour Mr. Alicante, and thank you for being here today,” I said, my voice slightly shaky with yesterday’s memory, “We will be going over the results for the SCIP campaign, which, as you will see, was definitely not a success. Before we go into the details however, it’s important to remember the one metric at the core of this marketing effort…”

As I pressed the next button on my keyboard, loading the new slide I had just inserted, I saw Thierry react with horror and surprise. Next to the chart I had just created was a giant picture of Flipper the Dolphin.

“…what about the baby dolphins?” I continued, “The most important metric of all to judge success when it comes to digital campaigns. And we completely, totally, failed when it comes to the baby dolphins. They account for only 215 SCIPs out of 1,312 sold, for a total target of 25k. Only 2 baby dolphins for this agency. Now let’s look at the reasons why…”

I looked at Alicante. He was captivated, nodding and taking notes on the numbers.

“Please go on,” he said, “Mr…?”

“Leo,” I answered, beaming, “Leo Melikian.”

 

– End of Chapter 1 –

 

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