Voice of Reason, Part 1

(by Blackbladder, 04 May 2006)


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VOICE OF REASON 
by Blackbladder 

Leila Scales put the cordless phone down on the hallway table in disgust.
Her heart pounded furiously as she struggled to accept the bad news from the
phone call. 

Kay Melville, her best friend, had started smoking. 

Leila had known Kay for years, and never imagined that she had ever been a
smoker.  Kay said that she restarted through stress from work, managing a
busy restaurant in the middle of town.   

As she walked to the staircase, she knew her anti-smoking allies were
dwindling on an almost weekly basis.  One by one, they were either relapsing
into the habit or sinking into addiction through alcohol-fuelled
experimentation.  As each member of the pressure group had left, the strength
of argument in support of a ban also declined, which was proving fatal as
Leila had a meeting with the local newspaper to further promote her campaign. 

Only a month earlier, Leila had formed a pressure group of local bar and
restaurant managers to put pressure on local government to implement a ban of
smoking in these public places.  Leila, who managed a nightclub, saw banning
smoking as a personal crusade.  However, the other outlet managers joined her
in this movement as a reaction to complaints from their own non-smoking
customers.   

"Jen - you've been in that shower for 20 minutes...get your ass out of
there!" Leila retorted to her daughter. 

"Yeh." Jen replied, her voice filtered through the steamy bathroom door
upstairs.   

Suddenly, there was a knock at the front door. 

Leila opened the door to a blonde-haired, tall lady in a business suit
smiling straight at her, carrying a suitcase.  The lady had brown eyes that
peered through the black-rimmed glasses she wore, and strongly stank of
aftershave and body spray. 

"Hi, my name is Bernie and I represent PM Securities.  I wonder if I could
take just a few minutes of your time..." Bernie said as she handed Leila a
professional-looking business card.   

"I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not interested in buying anything." Leila
replied. 

"I understand your reluctance, but we are going around all the houses,
checking to ensure that the public have adequate fire prevention products in
place.  It would just be a quick inspection.  Please." Bernie reasoned. 

Just as Leila was about to turn the salesman away, she relented at the last
moment and allowed Bernie to enter the house, unsure of her change of heart.   

She can do her check and get out of my way, Leila rationalised. 

Bernie began checking each room as Leila walked back into the kitchen,
packing her bag for the appending newspaper meeting down at her nightclub.   

Ten minutes later, and Leila sat at the kitchen table, tapping impatiently on
the wooden surface.  Her daughter, Jen, was busy getting dressed upstairs in
her room, as Bernie walked eventually into the kitchen with her briefcase.  

"I'm so sorry for taking so long." Bernie apologised as she went on to
explain that she would need to arrange for engineers to come and fit their
specialised Smoke Alarms. 

"Listen, I don't have time for this!" Leila exclaimed as she stood up from
her seat. 

"Yes, you do Leila.  Sit down and relax.  The sooner you comply, the sooner I
can leave." Bernie stated, her tone more aggressive.   

Leila felt compelled to follow Bernie's advice, and sat back down at the
kitchen table.   

Bernie smiled, placing her briefcase on top of the kitchen table as she
helped herself to a couple of beers from the refrigerator. 

Taking a seat at the table, Bernie placed one of the beers in front of Leila,
opened her own can and took a sip. 

"Ah, that hits the spot...I was dying of thirst out there.  I know what you
are thinking...you want to throw me out of your house and maybe even call the
cops...but you are not going to do that.  So just loosen up, have a drink and
I will explain everything." Bernie said to her oblivious captive.   

Leila opened the can of Pepsi and took a sip as instructed.  After the first
sip, she felt her body relax as the anger and frustration melted away with
each passing moment.  Soon, she found herself enjoying her Pepsi, and the
impending meeting with the newspaper suddenly seemed unimportant.  Despite
this, she was disturbed by her own behaviour. 

As well as confessing that the Smoke Alarms sales pitch was fraudulent,
Bernie went on to explain to Leila that PM Industries was actually a sister
company of Philip Morris.  The company had been investigating the
anti-smoking pressure group since it's birth.  They were aware of the current
campaign to abolish smoking from public places in the city, and had decided
to crush the organisation.  Bernie explained that they wrote up a shortlist
of all the group's members and got address details from the electoral roll. 

"And that's where I come in, Leila.  I was employed by Philip Morris to
nullify the growing anti-smoking movement with my special gift." Bernie
smiled as she pointed to her mouth.   

"I don't understand." Leila said before taking another sip from her Pepsi. 

"I can influence others into doing anything I want, Ms Scales, through the
tone of my voice.  I studied most hypnosis techniques when I was younger, and
moulded my own format that didn't require putting anyone into a trance.
By using this calm but firm tone, and my constant eye contact, I can impose
my thoughts and opinions onto others, including yourself." Bernie explained
happily as she helped herself to another Pepsi from the refrigerator.   

Accepting another Pepsi from Bernie, Leila sat back in her chair as her
captor opened up her suitcase. 

"Fetch me a saucer, Leila." Bernie commanded as she spread the suitcase atop
of the table.   

Leila complied, placing the saucer on the table next to the open suitcase as
she took her seat again.   

To her disgust, the suitcase revealed packs of cigarettes and lighters of all
different brands. 

"What are you doing? Get out!" Leila stated, as she began to feel Bernie's
influence starting to subside.   

"Just relax." Bernie said calmly, her tone forcing a tingle to run up and
down Leila's toned body. 

Suddenly, Leila could feel Bernie's influence grow again, and was unable to
disobey as Bernie looked adoringly over the cigarettes.  She was unable to
break the intense eye contact between herself and her captor. 

"Tell me Leila...why do you hate smoking with a vengeance?" Bernie asked as
she removed a pack of Marlboro Reds from her pocket, lit up routinely and
held the smoke in her lungs, only releasing a perfect plume once satisfied. 

Rather than complain, Leila could only manage a direct reply to the question.
The hate of smoking started during her previous failed marriage.  Leila and
Max had been lovers since their late teens.  Leila fell pregnant to daughter
Jen, a year after they got married.  Although they had much in common, Leila
hated Max's social smoking habit.  Leila constantly tried to harass Max into
quitting for her and Jen, as she felt Max was setting a bad example to her
daughter by smoking in front of her.  The smoking issue eventually forced
them to drift apart, and Max eventually left Leila for someone else who was a
smoker.  

"I think you've got this all wrong, Leila.  It's a good thing I'm here to
help you see the light." Bernie said as she took a final large puff on her
cigarette, before grinding it out in the saucer.  

"Think about all of this.  Your ex probably enjoyed the social element of
smoking...and all you did was get on his back for it.  You should be ashamed
of yourself." Bernie moaned as she lit up another cigarette without protest
from Leila. 

Leila instantly felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame as her thoughts
altered.  Bernie's comments now appeared to make perfect sense, and she now
felt responsible for ruining her relationship. 

"You also can't shelter Jen from smoking either.  She is going to be exposed
to it at some stage of her life." Bernie suggest as smoke punctuated her
words. 

Leila nodded in agreement uncontrollably as she finished her second Pepsi.
Looking back, she could now realise that she felt excluded, and was unwilling
to associate herself with her anymore.   

Bernie realised that the anti-smoking bitterness had gone, and decided to
press on with her plan. 

"Now you understand the need to start smoking.  Not only as partial
retribution for your failed marriage, but also so you can learn to truly
relax.  Your priorities have been so misplaced for so long.  Time to put that
right." Bernie said, inhaling again, as she brushed her hand over the packs
of cigarettes. 

"I think Virginia Slims will be good for you.  They are the perfect
cigarettes for a lady.  I know you will love them." Bernie said, removing a
pack from the suitcase and handing it to Leila. 

With a blank expression on her face, Leila flipped open the lid and removed
one of the white-tipped cylinders, and put it between her lips.  She was
surprised by how light it felt between her lips, and instantly accepted the
light from Bernie's bic lighter. 

The warm, creamy smoke filled her mouth, and a feeling of satisfaction spread
throughout her body as the tip glowed red. Bernie smiled as Leila removed the
cigarette from her mouth, held the smoke for a couple of seconds before
blowing it slowly out in a dense cloud.   

"Well done Leila.  Now you copy me.  You will love your first inhale, and
will suffer no ill-effects from the process." Bernie commanded, knowing her
statements became engrained into Leila's memory.  Bernie taught Leila to
inhale and, as commanded, she complied, releasing the smoke towards the
ceiling like her teacher.   

From that first inhale, Leila was now hooked, and her anti-smoking repertoire
had been crushed with ease.  Although Bernie had converted the other members
of the pressure group, she took equal pleasure in watching Leila's
transformation from anti-smoker to smoker.   

Now all that was left was to give Leila new instructions... 

Meanwhile, Jen had been admiring her athletic, toned body in the mirror after
getting dressed.  Jen was in her mid teens, tall, black hair and blue eyes.
She was a member of the school netball team and took great pride in her
appearance.  Jen could hear conversations come from downstairs as she put on
her jacket.  Closing her room door behind her, her nose instantly picked up
the fresh scent of cigarette smoke as she descended the staircase to the
hallway.   

Jen blinked in shock as she walked straight into the kitchen, aghast to see
her mother smoking leisurely. 

'What the hell is going on?! You hate smoking!' Jen retorted,
horrified to see her mother release a cone of smoke towards the ceiling. 

'I did hate smoking, but Bernie has showed me that I was wrong.  I
didn't understand why people did this, but now I do.  It is so
fantastic'夷t just blows my mind.' Leila replied enthusiastically,
smoke punctuating her words. 

Bernie just smiled knowingly, delighted with the progress her captive was
making with the smoking.   

'What have you done to my Mom?!  Get the hell out of our house!' Jen
shouted as she vented her anger at Bernie. 

The girl has spirit '" but it is so misused, Bernie thought. 

'Daughter, watch your language.  You need to calm down.  I'm sorry
Bernie for her behavior.' Leila said as she tapped her cigarette ash into
the saucer the way Bernie had shown her before taking another long drag. 

'Don't worry Leila'夷t's nothing that can't be fixed.
Don't you wish your daughter could be more tolerant like the new
you?' Bernie suggested to Leila as she exhaled casually towards Jen, who
waved away the smoke in disgust. 

As Bernie took a final deep puff of her own Red and ground it out in the
saucer, she turned her full attention to Jen.  She knew her work wasn't
finished quite yet in the household. 

'Look at me, Jen.  Relax.  Read my lips.  Calm down and take a seat.'
Bernie spoke softly, peering straight into Jen's blue eyes. 

Jen's anger began to disappear as she stared compliantly at Bernie's
red lips, each spoken word echoing inside her mind.  Jen tried in vain to
look away, but her body felt drained of energy suddenly. 

'Do as you are told, and sit your ass down!' Bernie demanded as she
noted the look of confusion on Jen's face.  She smiled as Jen eventually
complied, sitting next to her smoking mother.    

Bernie lit up another Red from her diminishing pack confidently as Jen sat
with a blank expression on her face, looking straight at her captor. 

'You have a lot of built up anger inside you.  You need something to do
which can contain your anger.' Bernie suggested as she nodded towards the
suitcase packed with brands of cigarettes. 

'What are you thinking?' 

'I loathe smoking'夷t stinks.  The sight of these entire cigarette
packs disgusts me.'  Jen replied, still angry enough to give her captor
abuse. 

'That is how you used to think.  Tell me '" how did you come to hate
smoking?'  Bernie asked as she inhaled on her cigarette. 

Leila lit up her second Virginia Slim, and put her arm around Jen, trying to
reinforce her approval of the current situation.  She now wanted Jen to
co-operate as much as possible with Bernie. 

'Mom has always ranted and raved against smoking.  Even when Max smoked,
he was always forced to smoke outside.  It looked pathetic.  I pitied Max and
wondered whatever Mom saw in her.  I also tried to get my grandparents to
quit smoking'在ut they refused and ended up dying of cancer.' Jen
responded instantly, unable to break her gaze at Bernie's smoky lips. 

'I'm sorry to hear that, Leila.' Bernie said genuinely as she
took another puff, thinking of how to deal with Jen's hatred of smoking
linked through grief for her grandfather. 

'Thanx Bernie'奸ike my daughter, I also used to think my mother wasted
her life on cigarettes'在ut now I know better.  Jen just doesn't
realize the truth yet.'  Leila acknowledged, raising her Virginia Slim to
her lips for another drag.  She was now reveling in the smoking process. 

'Jen '" you need to know that your grandparents smoked because they
were addicted'在ut they were addicted because they loved how smoking made
them feel.  Smoking helped them deal with all situations.  Asking your
grandparents to give up that life-coping method was really wrong of you.  How
would you feel if you were told you couldn't do something that you really
couldn't live without?'  Bernie asked Jen. 

'I would feel annoyed and frustrated.' Jen replied blankly. 

'Exactly.  You should have been supportive rather than aggressive about
your grandparent's smoking.   Your anger probably made them more stressed
out in their last days.  You simply never helped their situation.' Bernie
exclaimed, as her influence grew over Jen. 

Jen now felt ashamed and embarrassed.  Was it really worth hassling my
grandparents over smoking?, Jen asked herself as new thoughts began to form
in her mind.  Her grudge with her late grandparents lifted instantly. 

'Do any of your friends smoke?' Bernie asked, tapping her cigarette
ash into the saucer whilst exhaling casually. 

'Yes'夸ust a few though.' Jen replied. 

'And what do you think of that?' Bernie asked. 

' Smoking makes you breathless, and is not good if you want to play in
the netball team.  Our coach doesn't allow it at all.  I'd been
thinking of ratting on my friends to the coach as I am struggling to get a
game for the team.' Jen said blankly. 

'I say to you, Jen, that you don't want to do that.  If your smoking
friends are getting a game ahead of you for the netball team, then smoking
isn't the problem here.  You feel as though you are missing out.
Don't you agree?'  Bernie commanded as Jen nodded effortlessly. 

'The only way you are going to get into the team is to become a smoker
yourself.  That way you will be able to share your new habit, and get your
friends to put in a good word to the coach for you.  You want to play after
all?' 

'Yes I do want to play'在ut do I really have to smoke?' Jen asked. 

'Yes you do.  I know what is best for you at the moment.  Smoking is the
only way.  Now you admire and envy all your smoking friends, and dream of
joining them.'  Bernie commanded as she watched Jen absorb every spoken
word directly into her mind, processing suggestion into fact. 

'So there's no time like the present.' Bernie stated brightly,
puffing furiously on her cigarette as she removed a pack of Marlboro Lights
from the briefcase. 

Handing them to Jen, Bernie sat back as the entranced teenager tentatively
peeled the cellophane off the pack, flipped open the lid, removed the foil,
and extracted a cylinder delicately. 

Jen looked up at Leila, her blue eyes pleading for approval as she held the
cigarette between her fingers. 

Leila smiled back, noting how mature Jen looked holding her first cigarette,
before reaching for a lighter, and producing a flame. 

'Go ahead - Let's see you smoke.'   

'You will enjoy each drag, and not have any urge to cough whatsoever.
You will love the feel of the smoke as it fills your mouth and enters your
lungs.'  Bernie said gently as Jen put the Marlboro Light between her
lips and accepted the light. 

The tip glowed red, and smoke flooded into Jen's mouth.  The feeling was
of pure bliss as the smoke was held in for five seconds, before being blown
out.  Jen smiled back at her mother, who continued to suck on her own
Virginia Slim greedily. 

Bernie passed two lighters to her new recruits as she thrived on the sight of
mother and daughter watching each other smoke with a passion.  Closing the
suitcase, she witnessed with joy as Leila went on to teach Jen how to inhale.
From Jen's first successful inhale, she was overcome with pure delight,
directing her exhale towards the ceiling. 

An hour later, and a haze of smoke dominated the Scales household.  Leila and
Jen had been chain-smoking since Bernie's departure, and were loving
every moment of it.  As Jen shot some hoops out on the backyard with her
smoking friends, she constantly had a Marlboro Light dangled on her lips.   

Inside, Leila sat in front of the TV, chaining into another Virginia Slim.
Now with her own smoking habit, she contemplated apologizing to Kay about the
treatment she gave her.  As she looked at the burning white-filtered cylinder
burning between her fingers, she realized that smoking would give her a
stronger bond with Kay than she ever had before.     

Meanwhile, Bernie drove in her car en route to her next assignment, one hand
on the wheel and the other dangling her cigarette out of the window, when her
carphone buzzed to life. 

'So how did it go, Bernie?'   

'Very well, boss.  We now have converted the entire pressure group so
there should be no problems now.  I also ensured with each conversion, that
they bought their cigarette supplies through me'存o that the company would
benefit directly as a result.'    

'Fantastic news.  Where are you now?' 

'I've got a meeting with the local newspaper.  Our latest target,
Leila Scales, has arranged for me to meet with her contact at the press
office so we can nullify their own threat.  We can kill this dead in the
water in a matter of hours.' 

'You have exceeded our expectations.  Can I invite you out for dinner
tonight?' 

'I appreciate your offer, but I have other plans for tonight.  I am going
clubbing.' Bernie smiled, thinking of Leila's nightclub in the centre
of town later that evening.  


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