Corporate Man is called in to investigate reports of vile, unethical business practices at Great American Business Company. What he finds there just might destroy him (except we all know the ending to The Tragic Death of Corporate Man so it should be fairly obvious that it can't really destroy him, though it can come close).
Enslaved by the Bonus Whores is an all new Corporate Man Adventure Serial. Chapters will post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Tragic Death of Corporate Man
a hero for capitalism;
champion of the working class
by Tom Landaluce
On the Trail of Greedy Butt Puppets
Best week we ever had, Ma’am,” Aaron, the manager, said. A yellow moustache dominated a large area of his head compensating quite well for the thin, sickly wisps on top. “We blew through more product than any of us could have projected. Our guys really put in the extra time and effort to ensure that all the customers were serviced in a timely manner. I’ve calculated the managerial bonuses. I think you’ll be quite pleased.”
The bosswoman’s nostrils flared and her upper lip quivered as through she detected a foul odor. Her face had no laugh lines. Oh, there wrinkles, and other indicators of age, but none of them were related to anything jovial whatsoever.
“Is that so?” she said.
Aaron tensed. He detected a tone in her voice, the one that meant his day was about to become less than enjoyable. She used this tone with him a few times a week and he never seemed to get used to it. Sweat matted thin strands of hair to his scalp.
“It’s the highest bonus we’ve ever received,” he said.
She snatched the clipboard out of Aaron’s clammy hands and glanced at the week’s numbers. After thumbing through a couple of pages she sharply tapped a section.
“What’s your explanation for that?” she said.
“The overtime? We did nearly three times our normal output. I called in everyone I could and we had to work extra shifts to get all the product out.”
“Overtime hours count against my bonus, directly affecting my salary. I lost money because your lazy workers couldn’t get their jobs done on time,” the bosswoman said. When she spoke it was as though her mouth moved independently from the rest of her face.
“Those workers scored you the biggest bonus you’ve ever received.”
The bosswoman titled her head like an older sibling suffering the irritation of explaining herself to a younger brother.
“They cost me money. Running up a bunch of overtime to line their pockets with cash that was rightfully mine.”
“I can’t believe–”
The bosswoman held up her hand and silenced Aaron. She then reached into her pocket and removed a vibrating cell phone.
“Yes,” she said. After a short pause, she continued, “Just the usual incompetence… No, no. I lost interest in the conversation about fifteen seconds ago.”
The bosswoman turned her back on Aaron and walked away.
“This is most troublesome news… No, he’s obviously a screw up, just like his grandfather… Really? Who is she? A secretary? And she works for us, you say? Uggh. Employees. I yearn for the day when it is economically feasible to replace them all with automatons… Yes, put out the word. Let’s go after these two with everything we’ve got.”
“Wait. How long was I gone?” asked Mr. Jones.
“No one’s seen you since the turn of the century. Ten years at least,” said Tanya Jefferson. They were speeding along the interstate, Tanya glancing back and forth in the rearview mirrors. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Election night. Al asked me to check out a situation in
Florida. I was working side by side with him and the
Clintons. They had plans to continue
building up the economy. I try not to
take sides, but that imbecile the Republicans were running encouraged my
Tanya cut across three lanes of traffic, barely making the exit. In her mirrors she saw two brown sedans attempt the same maneuver. They didn’t make it. Tanya smiled.
“So what happened in
Florida?” she asked.
“It’s hazy. I think they were trying to rig the election, but I’m not sure if that was simply bait to lure me into their trap or what.”
“Oh they rigged the election alright. And that moron somehow managed to get a second term in office. Coincidentally, the country is now a financial ruin.”
“I failed,” Mr. Jones said.
“No. No. I went down there to stop that sort of thing and they outsmarted me,” Mr. Jones said, shaking his head. “How?”
Tanya banked the car into a dark alley and parked it in a shadowy spot.
“Quick. Follow me.”
They fled the vehicle, scurried up the fire escape of an adjacent building, climbed through an unlocked window into a vacant apartment, ran out into the adjoining hallway, dashed down the corridor, then down a stairwell to the basement garage, crept over to a nondescript minivan, got in, and drove back out onto the street.
They drove in silence for some time and it wasn’t until they had traded the minivan for a pickup truck in a similar series of preplanned steps that Mr. Jones asked the question that had been burning in the back of his brain.
“Didn’t anybody else stand up to this? Did nobody fight back?”
Tanya took a deep breath and said, “Some of us. You have to understand, the players that they didn’t… remove from the game the night of the election were eliminated after .”
Mr. Jones furrowed his brow, but before he could ask, Tanya continued, “We haven’t been able to prove that the attacks were initiated by them, meaning our government or the corporate conglomerates that control our government, or if it was truly an act of terrorism by scary foreign guys and the party in power just took advantage of the situation. What’s clear, however, is that certain powers were granted to certain agencies in order to deal with the supposed threat. Those powers were then, of course, used to force those like us into hiding or, in some cases, to eradicate us.”
Mr. Jones shook his head. “Who? Who’d they get?”
“Remember Ben Buck, the Dollar Man and his sidekick Two Cents?”
“Yeah. Dollar and Cents.”
“Well, Professor Inflation got a hold of Two Cents. No one knows what that bastard did to him, but Two Cents has been worthless ever since.”
Tanya turned the pickup into a parking lot of a huge grocery superstore. She shut off the engine and said, “We still don’t know who killed Ben. His brains were smashed in with the Gold Standard. Most people think it was a member or the Foreign Market but I think it was an inside job. Only American hands can lift the Gold Standard.”
Tanya opened her door and got out of the pickup. She motioned for Mr. Jones to follow her.
“Here?” he asked.
“We need supplies. I doubt the stuff at The Office is still good after all this time and we need to lay low for awhile.”
“But here? This is a Waldos,” he said.
“Companies like this are part of the problem.”
“I know,” Tanya said. “But there are no locally owned places anywhere near here.”
Mr. Jones made a reluctant exit and followed Tanya toward the superstore.
“Who else?” he asked. “Anyone ever locate John?”
“As in John Q Public?”
“No. After his brief return in the late nineties he fell off the radar again. No one’s seen him since. Most members of The Union are unaccounted for or assumed dead. Miss Pension suffered the loss of most of her family at the hands of The Crash. She went after that beast and ended up a quadriplegic.”
As they crossed the threshold of the Waldos superstore, Mr. Jones wrinkled his nose and held his fist up to his mouth.
“Oh God. It stinks.”
“They all smell like this,” Tanya said.
“It’s like… panic sweat and fast food.”
“With a hint of cheap plastic and formaldehyde.”
Tanya led them through a variety of departments, filling up their shopping cart with various supplies. The look of disgust never left Mr. Jones’s face. He overheard a manager speaking with a very sullen looking employee.
“I’m sorry Sally, but there’s really no room in the budget for raises. Waldos is what you’d call a ‘penny profit’ organization. With such great discounts and low prices we really don’t make much money. Have you looked into government assistance? There are many programs suited to someone of your income level.”
Sally tugged at her ear lobe and sighed. “But sir, I got kids that–”
“The government will help you with. The government loves kids. That’s why they have the programs that they do.”
“Can’t you just ask H.R.?”
“I do. All the time. The answer is always the same. Now don’t you have some Price Drop Downs to get done?”
“Better get on it then. I’ve got to cut some hours from next week’s schedule. Only those that show me some hustle are gonna be working.”
“Yes, sir,” Sally said and scurried off. The manager smirked and brushed the leg of his navy blue pants. He then fiddled with the cuffs of his scarlet shirt and checked to make sure his vest was still a smudge-free white.
Mr. Jones stood in the aisle, his face expressionless except for his eyes, which failed to mask a seething anger. The manager finally noticed him and said, “Welcome to Waldos, sir, where we’re dropping down prices. Is there anything I can assist with?”
Mr. Jones cocked his head to the side.
“Don’t do it,” Tanya hissed in his ear. “We’re trying to keep a low pro–”
“I’m not sure you can,” Mr. Jones said.
“Oh, well I’d like to try,” said the manager, smiling. His eyes did not smile with the rest of his face.
“Would you, truly?”
The manager’s eyebrows narrowed.
“I sure would,” he said.
“That’s wonderful,” said Mr. Jones, walking toward the manager. “How about you start by giving that poor woman a raise?”
The manager’s smile vanished.
“I’m afraid that’s none of your concern,” he said.
“Company policy, I’d imagine,” said Mr. Jones.
“Is it company policy–”
“Don’t do this,” Tanya said.
“–to hire everyone at part time status to avoid offering them health care benefits but then ask them to work extra shifts so you end up getting a full forty out of them, but then never have to actually qualify their status to full time so they don’t receive the benefits of that designation?”
The manager’s jaw released and his mouth gaped for a moment. “I… I… That wasn’t even what we were discussing.”
“Yes it was,” Mr. Jones said. “She was asking for a raise and you told her that the company was too poor to afford it. I doubt a quarter more an hour would sink the Waldo fleet of… How many stores is it now?”
“Eight thousand three hundred and twenty-two,” Tanya said.
“Christ. That many,” said Mr. Jones, stunned by the figure. His gaze hardened. “I’ll bet Sally’s still making minimum wage, too.”
The manager straightened his shoulders, set his jaw, and said,” Now that is untrue. Sally’s been with us for nearly three years and has received her annual percentage increases.”
“And what percent is that? Two percent?”
“I’m not at liberty to say,” the manager said, averting his eyes.
“Wow. Less than two. So either one percent or, worse, a half a percent. That’s despicable. What do you make a year?”
“I’m not at–”
to say,” Mr. Jones cut in. He leapt
forward and grabbed the manager by the shoulders and yelled, “I bet it’s
considerably more than minimum wage.”
And then a strange moment occurred between the two men. A slight pause where neither man struggled. Not to escape the other’s grip; not to maintain a grasp upon his opposite.
Mr. Jones broke the silence.
“You make 140K a year,” he said.
The manager’s eyes went wide. He opened his mouth but no words came out.
“Plus store performance bonuses,” Mr. Jones added. “A percentage of sales less overtime hours, payroll totals, and insurance costs.”
The manager yanked free of Mr. Jones’s grip.
“They reward you for exploiting your employees,” Tanya said.
“How… How did you–” the manager stammered.
The sudden flood of financial knowledge shocked Mr. Jones as well. He turned to Tanya, his eyes wide and confused.
“Don’t you know who this is?” Tanya said, abandoning her plans for keeping a low profile. “This is
“Oh God, you’re from Corporate?” the manager said.
“No,” said Tanya, shaking her head. “Corporate
Man. Capitalism’s hero. Champion of the working class?
“I don’t know who that is or what this is or what your two are trying to pull, but I don’t like it. I’m calling the head office.”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Jones, recovering his focus. “Better call in, protect your position. After all, you’ve got plans to buy another vacation home with the salaries you steal from your employees.”
“I do not steal!” the manager yelled. “I worked very hard to get where I’m at. I’ve got a family to support and… and–”
“A lifestyle to maintain?” Mr. Jones said.
“That’s not fair!”
“To you or the laborers beneath you trying to eek out an existence?”
“Stop it!” the manager shouted.
Mr. Jones set his hand on the manager’s shoulder and said, “I know you worked hard and probably made a lot of sacrifices.”
“I have. I really have,” the manager said, his voice wavering on the edge of cracking. “Worked too hard. She always said I worked too hard. Now I’ve got alimony instead of a family.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to exploit these people,” Tanya said. “No matter what this horrible company will allow.”
“And it’s not too late to change,” said Mr. Jones. “You could be a stand up guy. A hero to your employees instead of a villain.”
“I… I want to be the good guy,” the manager said.
“We can help. What’s your name, son?” Mr. Jones asked.
For a moment the manager could not recall. When he did answer, the response was more of a question.
The he repeated his name with more conviction, “Matt.”
“Well, Matt, it’s good to meet–” But Mr. Jones stopped. The little button on Matt the Manager’s vest, the one proclaiming “
Super Store,” was flashing back and forth between blue and red.
“I see it,” she said. “Looks like someone’s been monitoring poor Matt and didn’t like what they heard.”
“Oh no. This is bad, isn’t it?” Matt the Manager said. “Why’s it doing that? Why’s this stupid button blinking?”
The sound of a helicopter, faint at first, grew gradually louder until it landed on the roof. A few moments after the rotors went silent two burley men in white, short-sleeved shirts with pale blue ties came walking toward Matt the Manager. They wore mirrored sunglasses and coarse black hair sprouted from their swollen forearms.
“Sir, you need to come with us,” one of them said. The other glanced around and fingered his earpiece.
“What? Where?” Matt the Manager said.
“The CEO is in the upstairs office. He’d like to see you.”
“That was fast,” said Tanya.
“He’s here?” Matt the Manager asked.
“I believe that was the implication of my previous statement,” the man said.
Matt the Manager’s head dropped. He shuffled toward the office, flanked by the two men. Tanya and Mr. Jones followed. The two men ushered Matt the Manger into the office then turned to stand guard at the door; a beefy blockade to prevent Tanya and Mr. Jones from gaining audience with the CEO.
“Just where might you be headed?” the large man said.
“To see the CEO,” said Mr. Jones.
“Oh, I get it. You’re a comedian. Well, piss off funnyman.”
“And if I don’t?”
The large man flung one of his meaty hands out and grabbed Mr. Jones by the shirt and yanked him forward so they were face to face.
“I might have to get rough,” the large man said. A grin spread across Mr. Jones’s face. “You find that amusing, do you?”
Mr. Jones raised and eyebrow and said, “No. I find it interesting that your salary is almost fifteen thousand dollars more a year than your buddy here and you’ve been with the company for less than two years.”
The large man did not flinch at this information. But the other large man did. He lifted his hand off his ear piece, and ran his sausagey fingers through his bristly crew cut.
“Move. Along,” the large man said.
More twitchings shook the other large man. He opened his mouth, hesitated slightly, and had nearly closed it again when he said, “That better not be true.”
“Pay him no mind,” the large man said.
“How much you make?” the other large man asked.
“Let it go.”
“Not a chance in hell. I’ve been with this outfit for over a decade. I better be making more money than you.”
The large man glared at Mr. Jones and then said to his companion, “You make more than me. Now drop it.”
“What do you make?” the other large man asked.
“We aren’t allowed to discuss it. As per company policy.”
“You do make more, don’t you?”
“And he’s bedding that girl from corporate that you have a crush on,” Tanya said.
“Kristi?” the other large man yelled.
“Now that’s a damn lie,” the large man said.
“And they laugh about your puny salary,” Tanya added.
“You son of a bitch!” shouted the other large man. Before the large man could get in another word the two were grappling on the floor in one beefy, hairy mound of man.
Mr. Jones and Tanya walked into the office of the CEO.
The bossman opened up a chat window and typed <well?>
The response was swift <nothing yet. alerts are out over all twelve districts. no sign>
<and the other corners?>
<south and west report negative results. east side has yet to provide an update>
That bitch, the bossman thought but did not type. Then he typed it and added an mf and a few other expletives that he would never allow himself to send across the company intranet. He deleted the remark, closed the chat window, then pressed a button on his desk phone.
“Get me that bitch on the
There was no reply. Oh yes. That’s right. Ms. Adams had defected to the other side and this morning’s temp had already quit. Quit or had been fired, he couldn’t remember which. He looked at the buttons on his phone. There was a grouping of four; separate from the standard numbers and interoffice speed dials. They were designated N, E, S, W. The bossman scowled for a moment and then pushed the E. A ringing tone came from the speaker.
“Incorporated Business Corporation Incorporated.”
The bossman cleared his throat and said, “Don’t jerk me around missy. I need to speak with your boss right now.”
“Sorry, sir. She’s in a meeting,” the cheerful voice said.
“No she’s not. She has the same job as I do and there are never any meetings. And, if there were a meeting, I would be there. And if it were a meeting that I was not required to attend then it would be something that she could get out of without any issue.”
“Which branch are you from?”
“Not that it matters, but the North Side,” the bossman said.
“Thank you, sir. That will be just one moment.”
There was a slight pause.
“Yep. She’s in a meeting.”
“Stop it. Right now. I am not amused by this whatsoever,” the bossman said. He enjoyed using the word whatsoever. Not as much as using abbreviated curses in a chat window, but it was still a bright spot in any conversation when it presented itself.
“I can put you through to her voicemail,” the cheerful secretary suggested.
“Do not! You will transfer me to her cell phone.”
“I’m sorry, sir, only a privileged few have access to that number.”
“And I am one of them.”
“Oh. Well congratulations sir. How thrilling for you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Yes. Transfer me to her gd cell phone!” the bossman said. And though he loved abbreviated curses in an online forum, he loathed it when they slipped out in an oral conversation.
“I’m sorry, sir, I must have misunderstood you. I thought you said you have access to the number.”
Then bossman clenched his jaw. When he finally spoke his voice was considerably louder than before.
“I am authorized to call her cell. I’m just… away from my desk right now. So put me through.”
“Sir,” the cheerful voice said, becoming slightly less cheerful. “The line we are speaking on is an office line. Direct from your desk phone to that of my boss, routed to my phone because she is otherwise occupied.”
“Just call your boss. Tell her it’s me. Then put me on the line with her,” the bossman yelled.
“Please hold,” the cheerful voice said, her tone bordering on curt. There was no hold music. Instead, the bossman had to endure nearly four minutes of corporate back patting and messages intended to bolster enthusiasm in the company. The bossman felt his enthusiasm for the company waning.
“What?” a gruff female voice said, finally interrupting the corporate propaganda.
“Fire your secretary,” the bossman said. “She’s incompetent and kept me on hold for nearly five minutes.”
“Actually, it was four. And the bulk of that time was just me… leaving you on hold. The call was transferred to my phone over three minutes ago,” the bosswoman said.
“I hate you.”
“No. You’re just jealous of my success.”
“Are you saying you’ve located the bull?” the bossman asked.
“Sadly, no. And I’ve been too busy firing people over it to look into the matter myself.”
“Then file your negative sighting report, damn it.”
“I don’t like negative reports on my record,” the bosswoman said.
“It’s an information update advising the other branches that you have not located the bull yet. IE… Search results negative.”
“Still sounds bad,” she said. “Now, I really must disconnect. I haven’t finished counting all of my bonus money yet.”
“Once we get this upgrade installed we’ll be back in business,” the CEO said. He held a power drill with a very aggressive bit. In his other hand was a clunky metal box. A tangle of wires sprouted from one side and a toggle switch stuck out on the other.
Positioned on the desk in front of him was Matt the Manager. Matt was on his hands and knees, navy blue slacks around his ankles, bare ass in the air.
“Will this hurt?” Matt the Manager asked.
“Oh most certainly,” the CEO said. “Didn’t you see the size of this thing? Still, no pain, no subordination, right?”
Matt whimpered and said, “I suppose… Isn’t there some other way?”
The CEO scowled.
“Listen Matthew. You need to ask yourself if you want to be a part of this company?”
“Oh, trust me, I am,” Matt the Manager said.
The CEO continued unimpeded, “And if the answer is yes then what sacrifices are you willing to make to be successful? How can you work more efficiently, save the company money, and broaden our market share?”
The CEO set the metal box on the desk, gripped Matt’s left butt cheek, and test fired the drill. Matt flinched at every successive whir.
“I thought I was doing all that,” Matt the Manager said. “I keep my payroll low, full-time personnel to an absolute minimum. I always–”
“You are in need of retraining. And a software upgrade. Please… just try to enjoy it.”
Mr. Jones and Tanya stood in the doorway, mouths agape.
“Are you also suppressing the urge to vomit?” Tanya asked.
The faces of the CEO and Matt the Manager snapped toward the door like two startled teenagers caught by un-knocking parents.
The CEO hissed like a cat.
“This isn’t, uh… We weren’t,” Matt stammered. “It’s all office related.”
The CEO stopped hissing, his face suddenly the epitome of calm.
“That will be all, Matthew. Please pull up your pants and wait outside. I’ll print out some instructions so you can finish the upgrade at home.”
Matt the Manager scrambled off the desk, fumbled his pants into a less incriminating position, and fled for the door.
“And you must be my… next appointment?” the CEO said.
“Not in your sickest, most demented dreams, you perv,” said Tanya.
“We don’t have an appointment.”
“No appointment?” asked the CEO.
“No, but it looks like your schedule just opened up.”
“Ew. Don’t say opened up. Not after what we just saw.”
Mr. Jones continued, ignoring Tanya’s comment, “We’re here to talk to you about certain company policies that Waldos not only urges its managers to employ but actively trains them in as well.”
“So you don’t have an appointment?” the CEO said.
“Didn’t we cover that?” asked Tanya.
“Well, I’m sorry. If you have no appointment, I can’t see you.”
“You’re here with us. Right now,” said Mr. Jones.
“I’m very busy. Call my secretary,” the CEO said.
“Yes. We have an appointment,” said Tanya.
“Oh wonderful,” said the CEO. “Please, sit down. Let’s get started.”
He slithered behind the desk into a leathery, well cushioned office chair and gestured for Tanya and Mr. Jones to take the plastic, quite durable seats opposite him.
“I prefer standing,” Mr. Jones said.
The CEO shrugged and then wriggled against the plushness of the chair. He strained slightly, as if searching for the most comfortable position. His eyes glazed over and the adjusting ceased.
“I appreciate your point of view, but I think you fail to see the big picture,” the CEO said.
“I haven’t explained my point of view yet,” said Mr. Jones. “Don’t try to placate me.”
“It appears as though there’s been some miscommunication.”
“We have yet to begin communicating.”
“How about we take it again… from the top?” the CEO said, locking his hands together and setting them on the desk. Mr. Jones shook his head and grit his teeth.
“The treatment of your employees is deplorable. Your management staff is encouraged to–” But Mr. Jones did not finish. He caught sight of the CEO’s golden wasp cufflinks and froze. His vision became a harsh, monochromatic amber yellow and he no longer saw the office or the CEO.
He saw a vertical grid of hexagonal cubicles. In the hexagons, visible through a hazy but translucent film, were human forms. Their heads were housed in large cylindrical containers complete with blinking lights and a scattering of wires connecting the cylinders to the hexagonal walls. Through the film the blinking lights looked like fuzzy, tennis ball shaped stars.
Men and women in expensive suits with golden wasp cufflinks escorted men and women in far less expensive clothing through a series of velvet ropes to the cubical wall. Helpful signs, hastily painted in black on white paper, provided instructions with equally helpful arrow shapes.
Corporate Philosophy Seminar and Reeducation ®
Modern Business Tactics and Thought Processes ¬
Complimentary Lunch Cafeteria ¯
Coin Op Bathrooms
“The training is intensive, I won’t lie,” a woman with far too many teeth, which were also a bit too white, explained to a man in a brown polo shirt. “It takes the better part of a week, but thanks to our Corporate Mind Hive you will receive two years worth of knowledge and information within that short period of time. Results guaranteed.”
The man in the brown polo looked apprehensive.
“Is the process safe?”
“Of course,” the abundantly toothed woman said, adjusting her cufflinks.
“I’ve heard that some people are brain damaged by the training. And that a few have failed to survive altogether.”
“If that’s true then they must have been sorry businessmen. Not suited for management. Let me ask you this, Mr. Lowry. Are you a poor businessman? Do you want to fail?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Then why are you worried? You’ll be fine.”
“Do I really have to be naked in there? In all that goopy stuff?” he asked.
“I think you’re asking the wrong question. It should be, ‘Do I get to be naked in there?’ Am I right?”
“Uh, okay. Do I get to be naked in there?”
“Yes,” she said with great enthusiasm.
“Okay, then why do I get to be naked in there?”
“Because it’s fun and it feels good.”
“It has nothing to do with process? The science of it all?” he asked.
“That’s an excellent question. Now, let’s get you into one of the Mind Hive Pods.”
She rushed the man in the brown polo toward an open, hexagon in the cubicle wall and ordered him to strip. The man unbuttoned two of the three buttons on his shirt, the third existing in a constant unfastened state as per the mandates of its particular style. He gripped his shirt collar and looked around nervously.
“Hurry up,” the woman with far too many teeth said. When her demand was met with more hesitation she turned toward the wall, opened up a small cabinet in the space between Mind Hive Pods, and pulled out a black and yellow striped cattle prod. She brandished it about in a manner that would be described as “threatening” by some and “motivational” by others. The business end of the device crackled with white hot sparks.
The man in the brown polo whipped his head back and forth, searching frantically. The woman with the mouth full of teeth and the hand full of authority motivated the man in the brown polo. He yelled and grabbed at his backside.
“Okay, okay. Just quit with the – Ow!”
She prodded him again, this time in the chest. The man tried to dodge but she hit again and he skittered toward the Mind Hive Pod.
“That’s enough!” a deep, booming voice called out. The smiley woman whirled around, cattle prod burning through the air like sparklers on the 4th of July. The man in the brown polo exhaled and his shoulders slumped forward.
Corporate Man dropped down from above, necktie fastened in a stately Windsor knot and billowing like a cape behind his dark suit. He crashed into the cattle prod bearing woman with his fist. A sprinkling bright white chickets tinkled across the floor. The next time the woman smiled there would be noticeably less teeth in her mouth, but still far more than average.
Normal vision returned. The CEO was waving a hand in front of Mr. Jones’s face.
“Apparently, we have a breakdown in communications,” the CEO said turning his attention to Tanya. “Perhaps we should reschedule.”
Before Tanya could respond, Mr. Jones leapt onto the desk, grabbed the CEO by the wrists, and slammed the two golden wasp cufflinks together. There was a static pop, a crackle of sparks, and a hollow exhalation of breath escaping the CEO’s mouth. A smell like burnt hair crept into the room and a wispy trail of smoke bled up from somewhere on the CEO’s scalp.
“What did you do?” Tanya asked.
“Shorted his programming.”
“He’s a robot?”
“No, but those cufflinks are wired to his nervous system and run all the corporate protocols,” Mr. Jones said.
“How did you know to do that?”
“Oh… I remembered it. Junior Executive and I once infiltrated the Corporate Mind Hive. This woman was about to put him into a pod that would restructure his brain to the preferred corporate model. After I knocked out some of her teeth we–”
Tanya huffed her disapproval and scowled.
“Don’t worry, she had enough to spare. Anyway, we were swarmed by Mind Hive security. Junior was the one who saw it first. All the guards wore the golden wasps as well. I think he was trying to rip a pair off a guard’s sleeve and during the struggle the cuffs clanged together and the guard shorted out. There’s a monitor center that takes over when someone in the field goes down like that. You’ll see it with our friend here in a–”
“LET’S DO A TEAM BUILDING EXERCISE,” the CEO said raising up quickly in his chair, seemingly alert.
“He’ll shout corporate jargon while tech support attempts a reboot.”
“SHELF TALKERS ARE AN
EFFECTIVE WAY TO
REACH OUR CUSTOMERS.”
“See,” said Mr. Jones.
“THE COMPANY’S SUCCESS DEPENDS ON YOUR ABILITY TO WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM,” the CEO called out after a moment.
Tanya’s face pinched and she shook her head. “Aw god. Make it stop.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“Can we slap him or something,” Tanya asked.
“Don’t see why not.”
“PLEASE FOLLOW THE PLAN-O-GRAM TO ENSURE OPTIMAL MECHANDISING DISPLAYS,” the CEO continued.
Tanya smacked his face.
“USE YOUR SCRIPTING–”
“IDENTIFY AREAS OF
“AN EFFICIENCY EXPERT–”
Slap! Slap! Slap!
“I’M SORRY BUT HOURS HAD TO BE TRIMMED. WE ALL HAVE TO MAKE SACRIFICES IN ORDER TO EXCEL.”
Tanya raised her hand again, but Mr. Jones grabbed her wrist and, like a boy detective solving a great mystery, he said, “Hey, have you noticed that every time you slap him he immediately begins another line of corporate jargon? He doesn’t even leave a pause.”
“Yeah,” said Tanya, eager to find out what Mr. Jones had discovered.
“So stop hitting him,” Mr. Jones said.
Tanya slumped in a chair and folded her arms.
“GOOD WORK TEAM. WE’RE FIVE PERCENT ABOVE PLAN.”
The bossman was fuming. He shouldn’t be fuming. After all, the bull had been located. A tech support agent doing a standard system reboot on a short circuited CEO had made the ID and sent out the alert. He should be elated. And he would’ve been if it wasn’t for that bitch from the East Side Branch. In accordance with a request that her search report be brought to him the moment it was finally filed, a subordinate brought him the print out. It was submitted two minutes after the tech support agent created the sighting alert.
Branch is happy to report that a successful search for subject: the Bull has
been completed. Subject was sighted at
Waldos, store number 459, in the manager’s office with a malfunctioning CEO and
the North Side Branch’s former secretary, Ms. Adams. East Side Branch is therefore happy to report
a successful search for subject: Ms. Adams as well.
The bossman spasmed with a deep, broiling rage every time he thought of the report; which was quite often. His office had born the brunt of his fury and would require several days of clean up, repair, and re-filing.
“What are you looking for anyway?” Tanya asked. Mr. Jones was rifling through the desk where the defunct CEO was still seated.
“I don’t know, actually,” Mr. Jones said. “I don’t even know why I shorted the CEO out like that. Kind of going on instinct here.”
“Why not search him?” Tanya said, pointing to the CEO. “He’s bound to have something important on him somewhere.”
“Yeah, but is that a search we really want to conduct? You saw what he was up to when we walked in here.”
“Exactly. Still…” Mr. Jones sighed and then checked the CEO’s pockets. “Hey, do I have a tie somewhere? You know, a special kind of–”
The CEO lurched forward, biting at Mr. Jones’s hand. Mr. Jones jumped back, yanking his hand away, and let out a startled yelp.
The CEO made no further movements, and everyone remained frozen as seconds slid by like glaciers. Tanya and Mr. Jones shared an exasperated look and then inched toward the CEO, advancing slow and cautious.
“Sorry. I couldn’t help myself,” the CEO said. His voice sounded different, strained and bubbly like sweaty flaps of skin clapping together. “A detainment team will be here shortly, but I wanted to be the one to confront you,
“Who are you?” Mr. Jones said.
“What? You don’t recognize me? How depressing. We’ve shared so many good times together,” the CEO’s mouth said, though it seemed to open and close independently of its jaw muscles and tongue. The CEO’s eyes were rolled back in his head, the blood-shot whites twitching, the eyelids fluttering.
Mr. Jones held his hand out, palm toward the CEO as if sensing something. He grimaced and shuddered. After another moment his eyes snapped open and he said in a low, breathy growl, “Greed.”
“Wonderful,” the Greed said with the CEO’s mouth. “Anyway, that was fun. Pleased to see you, but you know, money to make, taxes to dodge. Must go. Oh… and you can die now.”
The CEO rose up out of his chair, held aloft by a sticky looking, pinky-white tentacle. The tentacle drew back and then swung the CEO forward like a club. Mr. Jones and Tanya dove out of the way and the CEO’s body bashed into a filing cabinet. The tentacle drew back again and swung, missing the intended targets again and upended a potted plant that sat in the corner. There was a flurry of violent swings, like a cat struggling at the end of a leash, but Mr. Jones and Tanya managed to avoid the attacks. The CEO’s face slapped against the surface of the desk, his head rebounding with a disgusting fleshy knock.
On the next swing Mr. Jones pinned the CEO’s body against the desk and when the tentacle pulled back it found little give and yanked harder. On the third of such yanks the tentacle pulled itself free from the CEO’s backside. There was a sucking, schlooping noise and a horrible reek.
“Don’t let it get away!” Mr. Jones called out, but it was too late. The thing had slipped out of the room.
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Tanya said.
“Well, how’d you expect me to stop it? No way was I grabbing that slimy, stinkin’ thing. What the hell was that anyway?”
“He’s called The Greed.”
“I know who The Greed is. I’ve never seen him like that before.”
“He’s a living embodiment of that desire,” Mr. Jones said. “Just his proximity is a taint that most cannot resist. This must be a new, mutated form.”
There was a commotion in the hallway, just outside the office door.
“Looks like he wasn’t lying about the detainment team,” Tanya said.
“We need to go. Now. You see another way out of this office?”
Tanya pointed to the floor. “Not that I want to, but we could follow that trail of slime The Greed left. He didn’t use the door.”
The slime trail led to a hidden access panel in the corner of the far wall. It wasn’t difficult to locate the secret switch as The Greed’s residue was splattered all over a concealed lever built into the paneling.
“Ah, god. You touch it,” Tanya said.
Mr. Jones rolled his eyes and shook his head in way that parents and teachers often reserved for children. He pulled the lever and immediately wished he’d insisted that Tanya do it. The slime was not only unpleasant to the touch, but it felt like diseased water and cold sludge in his mind.
The panel opened onto a dimly lit corridor. Naked light-bulbs burned a sickly-brown dot-to-dot trail down the narrow hallway; patches of The Greed’s slime pooled randomly on the floor reflecting the dirty light.
Mr. Jones snapped the secret lever off the wall and then he and Tanya slipped inside, shutting the panel behind them. They raced after The Greed in a cautious rush.
The corridor twisted and turned, dropped down steps, climbed ladders, and connected to other corridors through elevators, doors, and even a rusty, overzealously-greased escalator before it finally dead ended at a concrete wall.
“Great. What happened? Did we take a wrong turn?” Tanya said.
“No, there’s a puddle of goo right here on the floor. Maybe he slipped down a drain or something.”
“There’s no drain in this floor,” Tanya said. And then a big plop of boogery gunk dripped from the ceiling and onto her shoulder. “Oh that better not be–” she started but another wad of nastiness wriggled down the nape of her neck.
Tanya squirmed, jumped to the side and shouted, “Hell no! Is that–”
“Afraid so,” Mr. Jones said. There was a small, wet length of cord dangling from the ceiling. He tugged on it and an attic-like doorway opened up. A ladder unfolded into the chamber. They climbed up the steps into a small office where they found a pool of slime at the base of small desk. From there a set of wet footprints led toward the door, fading near the exit.
“The Greed’s found another host,” Mr. Jones said. “We need to find it.”
“Hey, we need to find a bathroom first so I can wash this nasty stuff off my neck. Where are we anyway?”
Mr. Jones leafed through some papers on the desk.
“Looks like some sort of fabric or crafting store.
Tanya grabbed one of the papers
“Jolene’s. Yeah, big chain store. Arts and crafts and sewing things.”
“The Greed would take root in the greediest person it could find. Could be a manager or a district rep who keeps an office here.”
The two followed the disappearing set of footprints out onto the sales floor.
“SYNERGIZE IS THE BEST WAY TO OPTIMI–” the CEO’s voice froze and a series of lights flashed behind his eyes. There was a clicking whir emanating from somewhere beneath his nose. After a few minutes the lights ceased their flashing and the whirring noise abated.
A team of field tech boys stood gathered around him. They wore thick black-framed glassed and employed severe parts in their slickly combed hair.
“Got him,” one of them said. “He’s back online.”
“Run a battery,” said another one. He was dressed differently from the others. They wore collared, short-sleeved shirts the color of Post-It notes, thin black ties and black pants. He sported a black blazer with large elbow patches the same pale yellow as the shirts.
One of the tech boys reached for a black attaché, opened it, and pulled out what appeared to be a miniature car battery and an equally diminutive set of jumper cables. He attached a yellow and black clamp to the battery terminals while another tech boy popped open the buttons on the CEO’s shirt.
“Wait, what’s going–” the CEO began, but the tech boy pounced, clamping the alligator teeth of the jumper cables on the CEO’s exposed nipples. After that the CEO’s conversational repertoire was reduced to screams and shrieks.
“Is… Is that what’s supposed to happen?” asked another tech boy, this one wearing a sleeveless collared shirt in the pale yellow shade and black shorty-shorts instead of the long slacks.
The tech boy in the blazer grinned and said, “Oh yes.”
“When… When do we… take those things off,” the tech boy in the shorty-shorts asked, his face squirmed with the CEO’s every howl.
“When the timer goes off, newbie,” said one of the other, standard issue attire tech boys. A ding sounded from the attaché and a dot matrix form printed from it’s side.
The CEO stopped screaming.
The tech boy in the blazer looked over the printed form. “Hmmm.”
Shorty-shorts asked, “What’s that form tell us? Does it have the results of his diagnostics?”
“That is its secondary function,” the blazered tech boy said. “Primarily, it contains hardcopy data of everything his body witnessed while he was offline.”
“What’s wrong?” a standard tech boy asked as the scowl on blazer’s face deepened.
“It’s The Greed,” he said. “Things just got interesting, boys.”
“Why’s it so hot in here?” Tanya asked.
“Yeah, I know,” said Mr. Jones. “I’m sweating.”
“Hey. Is it always this hot in here?” Tanya asked one of the Jolene’s employees nearby. The lady was stocking obnoxiously small packets of notions from an obscenely large cardboard box. She tugged on her forest green polo, scratching at the embroidered Jolene’s logo. Her blue-white, cottony hair frizzed fromthe humidity of her scalp sweat and her face flushed a rashy red.
“The air conditioning is broken again,” said the cottony haired woman.
“Yeah, I’ll say,” said Tanya. “When is it supposed to get fixed?”
“Oh, about three weeks ago.”
“Three weeks. Are you kidding me?”
“Gosh no, I’d never insult a guest,” she said glancing at the box of notions sitting on a cart, still unworked.
“Honey, you aren’t insulting me. But this ridiculousness with the AC is not only insulting, it’s dangerous.”
“You look like you’re ready to pass out,” Mr. Jones said.
“I’ve come close a couple of times, but I haven’t gone down yet,” the cottony haired woman said. “I can’t afford to.
passed out three times and she was let go.”
“They fired her?” Tanya asked.
“Oh yes. Keep in mind, she was given several warnings not to do it again and… well, she went and did it again. So I guess it was her fault really.”
“No. That’s bullshit,” Tanya said.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” Mr. Jones asked.
“Margaret,” the cottony haired woman said.
“Margaret, who’s your manager?”
“Tina. She’s probably up at customer service. By the registers.”
“Can we bring you a glass of water?” Tanya asked.
“Oh we’re not allowed water on the floor,” Margaret said. Her tongue made pasty smacking sounds against the roof of her mouth when she spoke and small sweat beads bedazzled her brow.
“I’m getting you some anyway,” Tanya said and stormed off.
“I better get back to work,” said Margaret and she turned back to her box full of notions.
Mr. Jones grit his teeth and marched toward the front of the store. The manager was nowhere to be found so he had one of the sweaty checkers page her.
In a few moments a haggard looking, middle-aged woman with sweat matted hair and pit stains soaking through her polo, scampered to the front.
“Hi, Tina,” Mr. Jones said, his voice failing to disguise his anger. “I’m a concerned party and I was wondering about a couple of things. The first of those things being the very uncomfortable temperature in this place. The second is the limited access to water that you allow your employees.”
Tina shook her head and grimaced. After a drawn out, calming breath she said, “Are you from corporate?”
“I am not affiliated with Jolene’s in any way.”
“Well, unless you’re from the head office and are here to personally oversee the so-called repair of our air conditioning system, I don’t care what your concerns are. If, on the other hand, you’re a loyal customer and find the heat unbearable, then I apologize and assure you that we are working on it.”
“That’s a hell of an attitude.”
“Don’t blame me. Corporate won’t let me simply call in a repairman.”
“Are you saying that all of this,” Mr. Jones said, gesturing toward and through the air, “isn’t your doing?”
“You got that right. I don’t make policy. And I sure as heck wouldn’t adhere to any mandate to keep the heating and cooling systems in a constant state of non-repair to cut expenses. I sweat just as much as the other employees. Keeping it cozy for the sweater set is one thing, but this sort of heat poses serious health risks as far as I’m concerned.”
“And the water?” Mr. Jones asked.
“What water?” said Tina.
“Exactly. These employees don’t have access to water while they’re working.”
“Yeah. Ridiculous, I know. Talk to Sean.”
“He’s our resident douche,” a young girl behind the register called out. Tina shot her a glare, but smirked at the same time.
“A douche? As in… bag?”
“That’s the one,” the young girl said. Then she and the other ladies up front started giggling.
“District Operational Supervisor. D.O.S. He likes to tell the newbies D.O.S. for dos. As in, dos and don’ts and if you have any questions about what you should and should not do… go to him. Molly made the leap from dos to douche within the first week of employment. Which is probably why I keep her around. Lord knows I don’t get much work out of her.”
“And where is this douche?”
“Can’t say. Just try to think of something douchey a douche-bag supervisor would do and that’s probably what King Douche is doing.”
Where did all these wrinkles come from? The question, in one form or another, had stirred in her mind daily for the past few years, each and every time she looked in the mirror. She’d adhered to all the latest beauty regimens. Avoided sunlight, moonlight, and fluorescent light. She’s injected the toxins of almost all stinging, hive-building insects into her face and rubbed gallons of honey across her cheekbones, forehead, chin, and neck.
And still the wrinkles creased her face.
She hadn’t smiled in months for fear of those lines. What were they called? Crow’s feet? She even avoided crows in hopes of warding off certain facial destruction. Perhaps she should carry small scarecrows in her purse to–
Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz.
Her desk phone broke her train of thought. It would take her twelve days to remember the scarecrow idea.
“Yes,” she said, fingering the speaker button.
“We just got word ma’am–”
“I’m terribly busy right now.”
“But The Greed is–”
“As fat as he ever was, I’m sure.”
“No. We have–”
“Please stop,” she said, shaking her head slightly, though not too much or else gravity might work another crease into her face.
“I don’t care.”
“What?” Her eyes flared wide.
“You heard me.”
A scowl bit down between her eyebrows.
“I’ll be right up,” she said.
Man. He’s the one that’s responsible. Her descent into wrinkled, aging spinsterhood
traced directly back to him and his stupid fist. She had believed him to be dead. Apparently she’d been misinformed. Good. Very good.
She’d get an opportunity for revenge after all.
Her mouth had far too many teeth in it.
Two small, invisible crows landed at the edges of her eyes.
“Are you the douche?” Tanya asked
“Excuse me?” the man said. “What are you doing in here? Didn’t you see the ‘closed for service’ sign?”
“Yes I did and–”
“And you’ll just have to wait to pee pee, won’t you?” the man said. He turned his attention back toward the bathroom stall he was squatting in front of, raised a carpenter’s square to a sidewall, and squinted like an artist eyeing the proportions of a nude model.
“No. I won’t. I’m covered in something nasty and need to wash. Also, I don’t think I’ve peed since the hospital so my business here is compulsory. On top of that, I’ve been circling this bathroom for twenty minutes looking for the douche bag in charge, hoping the maintenance man would hurry up and finish with the bathroom so I could attend nature’s call.”
“That’s quite the life story. Now get out.”
“What are you doing? You aren’t even fixing anything.”
“Oh yes I am,” said the man.
“Yeah? And what would that be?”
“In the toilet?” Tanya said, putting her hands on her hips.
“It sure has been. But once I trim a few unnecessary costs, we’ll be back in the black.”
“Oh god. You’re the douche. The D.O.S.”
“District Operational Supervisor. Uh huh.”
“We were racking our brains trying to think of douchey things you might be up to and we thought up some pretty douchey stuff. And now, here you are.”
“Yes. Now there you go,” he said, pointing toward the door.
“So… just out of curiosity, what are your doing to cut costs. And just how extraordinarily douchey is it?”
“I have no obligation to explain myself to you, but your over use of the word douche has put me somewhat at ease so I’ll explain. Also, I do like to show people how budgetarily clever I can be.”
“Thrill me,” said Tanya.
“Well, the bulk of our clientele and the majority of our employees are female and, as your intrusion into this facility illustrates, your gender tends to use the restroom an awful lot,” the D.O.S. said.
“Buddy, you’re entering dangerous territory here.”
“Was it the bathroom comment of the use of the word ‘bulk’ when referencing women? I know you tend to be sensitive about your weight.”
“Oh! You did not just–”
The D.O.S. shook his head and waved his hand back and forth dismissively.
“Doesn’t matter. The way I figure it, if I reduce the amount of available toilet paper I can trim three percent off our operating costs. So I’m proposing the installation of dispensing machines which will provide only one square of toilet paper per person.”
“Oh I know what you’re going to say. ‘One square is not enough for number two.’ But when it comes to that, a guest may simply exit the stall and reenter for another piece of paper. Or, if corporate really wants to invest in this idea, there are machines that can detect malodorous emanations and dispense up to five squares.”
The D.O.S. smiled.
“No, what I was going to say was that dispensing machines would cost more than the amount of money saved on the toilet paper.”
The D.O.S. shook his head, ever so slightly, and said, “See. That’s why you aren’t a high ranking corporate official. The expenditure for the dispensing machines would be allocated under the remodeling budget and would, therefore, not count against the store performance statistics.”
“Can you excuse me for a minute?” Tanya asked.
“Certainly. I’ve got a lot of measuring to do.”
“Yeah. You do that. I’ll be back directly.” Tanya shook her head and mouthed the words “douche” and “bag” as she went back to the sales floor.
The light was vivid and primary. Like the glow of the 4th of July or the pristine sheen of the 1950’s. Clean and pure, but ultimately unsustainable. A collection of brightly garbed masked men and women sat gathered around a conference table.
“Motion denied. Again,” said Ben Buck, the Dollar Man.
“We haven’t even taken a vote,” said The Elephant.
“Sure we have. The last five times you brought it up. We voted. All neighs except for your sad, lonely yay.”
The Elephant glared at Donkey then tugged his golden belt buckle up over his ever swelling belly and pinched at the scarlet spandex molesting his porky thighs. He’d have to design a less constrictive uniform soon. This one made him seem all love-handley and paunchy.
gives off the impression that we support labor unions and–”
“Oh, Christ stop!”
“–and we all know what havoc the unions have wrought on our economy over the years,” The Elephant said.
“Listen to you,” Donkey yelled. “You sound like some fat-cat corporate tycoon just looking to squeeze more revenue out of the little guy.”
“That’s business. You make it sound–”
“Low? Dirty? God look at you. Elephant and aptly named. You’re getting fatter all the time.”
“And you’re an ass,” The Elephant said.
“Quiet. Both of you,” Miss Pension said, fidgeting with her mauve colored domino mask. “We’re supposed to be helping. The Greed’s out there again and we’re bickering with each other like a bunch of–”
“Screw you, Donkey!” The Elephant yelled.
“Yeah, I’ll bet. And with all the illegal immigrant workers you support I’ll bet you’ve got a
connection where you can get just that.”
The Elephant bellowed and slammed his fist against the conference table. His belly, thighs, back-fat, wobbly triceps, and double chin jiggled with aftershocks.
“That’s it. Elephant Charge!” he called out and ran toward Donkey.
Donkey sidestepped the charge in one quick, hopping movement, positioning his hands on the ground and thrusting his legs in the air.
“Burro Kick!” he shouted as both feet slammed into The Elephants hindquarters.
There was s thudding, slapping sound and The Elephant pitched forward into a filing cabinet. There was a crash of metal and paper documents exploded into the air and scattered across the floor. Donkey streaked toward The Elephant and leaped into the air, cocking his fist back.
The Elephant pivoted and called out, “Ivory Tusks!” as he jabbed his rigid fingers up into Donkey’s gut, knocking all the air from his lungs. Donkey writhed on the ground, gasping.
A shadow seeped into the pristine light like a cloud obscuring the sun, spoiling an idyllic picnic. The Elephant advanced, wiping sweat from his forehead with a thick, meaty hand. A sticky substance clung to the back of his fingerless, spandex gloves, leaving thick tendrils like melted cheese between his face and his fingers.
“It’s him!” Ben Buck, the Dollar Man cried. “The Greed’s here. He’s got The Elephant!”
“Huh,” Mr. Jones said, his memory fading. The sickly gloom of the craft superstore fluorescents seeped back into his field of vision; antiseptic and sterile.
“Found him. He’s in the bathroom.”
Mr. Jones’s shoulder dropped and his head lulled. When he spoke, his face made no attempt to hide the sour expression.
“Yeah. So we gonna go get him or what?”
“In the bathroom? No thanks. I’ll wait until he comes out.”
“I don’t think he’s coming out for a while.”
“A further indicator that I do not want to go in there.”
Tanya shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “Are you seven? He’s not in there shedding a brown pound, he’s taking measurements.”
Mr. Jones cocked his head to the side and flared his eyes. “Like that’s better.”
“Oh. I see. We’re in junior high now. I’m the one that gets to make the juvenile comments, remember? He’s in there measuring stuff as part of his douchey cost cutting initiative. So grow up and let’s go get him.”
Mr. Jones sighed and they marched toward the restrooms.
The D.O.S. had three pages of notes, measurements, and figures jotted in a spiral notebook. He really should have some sort of palm-pilot-black-berry-i-phone-blue-toothy electronic device with voice recognition software to act as secretary and make notes for him. He’d send a requisition to corporate as soon as he was done here.
He made a few more calculations and mocked up an algebraic formula to include in his report making sure it looked complex and therefore quite impressive to the board members that would be approving the funding for his plan. He’d probably get a huge bonus out of this. Just the thought of all that extra money caused a flutter of butterflies in his stomach. He imagined those butterflies to have greenback wings and the sensation increased. Or perhaps it was cramping. Either way, he liked it.
“So where is he?” Mr. Jones asked.
“He was right here,” said Tanya. “Look. His tools and charts and notes are still laying around on the floor over there. Hey! Hey douche. Where are you?”
Tanya kicked open the only stall door that was closed. The D.O.S. was sitting on the toilet, a look of pleasant comfort on his face, pants resting on his shoes.
“Oh god!” Mr. Jones cried out. “You said he wasn’t–”
“Hey!” the D.O.S. shouted, snapping out of his blissful trance. “Occupado! Occupado!”
“Pull up you pants,” Tanya said. “We need to have a little chat about your business practices.”
“First,” the D.O.S. said, “we don’t discuss corporate policy with out guests, the press, the competition, or our employees. And two, the thing I need to have requires that my pants be down, and from the aggressive sensation in my bowels, it’s not at all little.”
Mr. Jones shook his head, took a calming breath, and then said, “Listen up douche bag we–”
“Why is everyone saying that today?” the D.O.S. said.
“We know you’re harboring an enemy of the people and we intend–”
“What I’m harboring is a couple of tacos, last night’s cheese pizza, some bear claws and a pack of corn nuts,” the D.O.S. said.
“Dude. Sick,” Tanya said.
“As for ‘enemy of the people’ if you’re still here when this bad boy crowns I imagine you’ll be at odds with whatever comes out.”
“Okay, stop it. Seriously. Or I’m gonna throw up,” Tanya said, backing away.
There was a moment, silent and still, where neither of the bathroom occupants spoke or moved. A frozen piece of time in which those involved weighed their options. Finally, the D.O.S. shrugged, hunched his shoulders, and started grunting.
“Get him off the toilet. Quick!” Mr. Jones shouted, jumping into the stall and grabbing the D.O.S.’s arms.
“Not on your life,” said Tanya.
“If he shits The Greed into the sewer system we’ll lose his trail.”
“Fine by me.”
“I need your help.”
Tanya gritted her teeth and then lunged forward, clamping her hands around the D.O.S.’s ankles. She shook her head violently and shouted, “Why do I gotta get the legs?”
A symphony of grunts and groans, accompanied by squelchy, slurping, sucking noises, echoed through the bathroom as the combatants strained and flexed.
Amidst the clamor a soft, timid voice chimed, “Is the bathroom ready for–”
But the old woman proffering the question never finished her inquiry. Her breath caught in her throat and she covered her mouth with a white gloved hand. She could not fathom what would cause such terrible noises. It sounded like an orgy of fantastically painful bowel movements. When she saw three pairs of legs protruding in spasms from one stall she bolted from the room, eyes pinched shut, hands waving frantically at the side of her head.
Mr. Jones and Tanya wrenched the D.O.S. from the toilet seat and dragged him, bare assed, out onto the bathroom floor. A trail of foul slime traced his journey along the tile.
“Isn’t this one a real piece of work?” a deep burbling voice said with the mouth of the D.O.S. “Absolutely no consideration for the well being of others. Anything for that almighty dollar. But you know the best thing? There are thousands more, just like him, all across the city. And I can move through them all.”
A terrible gurgling boil sounded in the pit of the D.O.S.’s stomach. He thrashed and writhed and his body began to bloat. His shirt stretched taught across his expanding torso.
“Oh shit,” said Mr. Jones. “I think The Greed’s planning an explosive exodus.”
“Aw god, no. Count me outta this,” Tanya said, tossing her arms into the air.
“We can’t let him go.”
“Oh yes we can. He’s about to let go and I want no part of that.”
“Get back over here and help me,” Mr. Jones yelled.
Tanya cringed and moved back toward the D.O.S. A belch ripped from his mouth and she jumped back, shaking her hands as if flinging away something foul and watery.
“Come on. Don’t get all timid on me,” Mr. Jones said.
Tanya bit her lip, charged forward, and grabbed a hold of the D.O.S. His body shuddered and the gurgling sound intensified. The seems of his shirt tore in slow succession as the stitches gave way.
“Oh lord, Jesus,” Tanya shouted.
“Point his ass toward the corner. Away from the drains,” Mr. Jones said.
The two maneuvered the D.O.S. so that his backside faced the tiled corner. The possessed executive struggled against them, bucking and frothing and swelling. Then he stopped moving, except for his lips which quivered slightly with a small tremor. The tremor became a shake and the shake turned into a spasm which racked his entire body.
The D.O.S. opened his mouth wide. The sound was like walruses mating in a tub of pudding. Mr. Jones and Tanya closed their eyes, flinching away from the impending catastrophe; Tanya screaming about the nastiness of it all. Then a deep hiccupping wretch belched from the D.O.S.’s esophagus and a fire hose of vomit spewed from his mouth.
“AH! Ah god it stinks. Ah god!” Tanya yelled.
The vomit splattered against the wall behind them but did not leak down to the floor. Instead, it slithered upward into a vent and slurped through the grilled opening. And was gone.
Tanya yanked the D.O.S. away from Mr. Jones, discarding the limp form roughly into one of the stalls. She yelled, shook her arms, and kicked her legs. The she took a deep breath, repeated the exercise, and stomped into an open stall.
“I need to pee!”
The tech boys stormed into the bathroom like a swat team. Each movement practiced to perfect reflective action, their formations models of efficiency, tested in computer simulations thousands of times.
“He’s there,” said one of the boys in the standard, black and pale yellow field tech uniform as he pointed to the slumped D.O.S.
The boy wearing the black blazer with the significant elbow pads, scratched at his stubble-less chin. “They’ve been here too,” he said, “and so has The Greed.”
“How can you tell without running a battery?” the tech boy in the collared, sleeveless, pale yellow shirt and black shorty shorts said.
“Easy. Use your nose. That smell of covetous sweat, dirty money, and exorbitant filth is The Greed’s signature scent,” the blazered tech boy said.
“Oh. Is that what that is? I just thought it meant that someone dropped a deuce,” said shorty shorts.
“That’s because you’re new, newbie,” said a standard issue tech boy.
“Wait,” said shorty shorts, “how did we even know to look in here?”
A standard issue boy rolled his eyes and said, “Easy. Our system monitors all our people in the field. We ran a search for any operative whose bodily readouts were instable. This guy pinged something fierce.”
“Looks like they escaped into the ventilation system,” the blazered tech boy said, pointing to the grating on the wall. Viscous, gelatinous ooze dribbled from it’s horizontal slits.
“Sick,” said shorty shorts.
“Yes. Sick indeed,” said blazer. “In you go, newbie.”
“What? Why’s it gotta be me?” asked shorty shorts.
“I thought we went over this already,” said blazer. “Because you’re new.”
Shorty-shorts’s shoulders slumped. His head fell forward and he kicked the tile floor as he made his way over to the ventilation access; a chorus of jeers and laughter salting his little figurative wounds.
“Good god, how long is this vent shaft?” Mr. Jones said. “There’s no way we’re still inside the Jolene’s complex.”
“I case you hadn’t noticed,” Tanya said, “I am currently on my hands and knees, crawling through a greasy, foul smelling, bodily secretion. I’m using all my mental energy to convince myself otherwise so I don’t have time for your petty little wonderings. In fact, you don’t really need to speak again until we’re out of this stinky, claustrophobic hell. And preferably… after I’ve showered.
Tanya and Mr. Jones continued on in silence.
The bossman was having trouble keeping his car at an acceptable rate of speed. He prided himself on traveling at least twice the speed limit of whatever roadway he found himself traveling on. At the moment, that would have been sixty miles per hour, but for some reason the teenaged punk in front of him was topping out at thirty-five. Worse, when there was no possibility of passing, the prick slowed down to twenty. The bossman though he saw little beedy bastard eyes in the kid’s rearview mirror, eager to spot the brimming hostility of the following vehicle’s pissed off driver, taking pleasure, no doubt, in any irritation he created.
The bossman wished he had the self control to deny the teenager this joy, but every time a passing opportunity opened up, peach-fuzz would hit the gas and the bossman would reflexively pound the steering wheel. Why did someone to whom pubic hair was still a novelty have a faster car than him? The bossman punched his dashboard. He wouldn’t even be out here driving around if his office wasn’t such a mess. Still, it might afford some benefits. Should a report come through concerning Corporate Man, he would be in a better position to–
The street opened up into two lanes. The bossman swerved into the vacant one and slammed on the gas. His pubescent tormentor matched his acceleration until they caught up to another car. One which happened to be in the bossman’s lane, forcing him to slow down. He glanced over and saw the young boy, and his pack of acned passengers, cackling.
“Asshole!” the bossman yelled.
The teenager slowed his car down, matching the pace of the vehicle currently blocking the bossman’s forward progress. A thunderstorm of abuse rained down across the bossman’s innocent, though not quite unsuspecting, car’s interior.
Felix prided himself on the tidiness of not only his store, but of his personal appearance. He’d inherited the shop from his father and his father had taught him that, in the jewelry business, there was no compromising when it came to appearances.
“Think of yourself like a well cut gem,” he’d say. “Precision and clean lines. Maybe a little sparkle.”
Felix had always taken this to heart. He shaved every morning and then again on his lunch. He had his hair cut once a week. His office contained an extensive wardrobe of fine suits should he ever wrinkle or, god forbid, spill something on himself during the day.
He preferred that his customers share, if not an equal appreciation at least a general tendency toward, neatness. So it was to his absolute horror when he found himself confronted by the extraordinarily foul couple at his counter. They stank like number two and looked as if they slept in buckets of the colonel’s special recipe.
And where had they come from?
The door chime hadn’t sounded in its soft crystalline way and Felix had been Windexing counter displays near the store front when these creatures had suddenly clamored toward him from the rear of the store, babbling about greed and the relief of their hellhole.
Oh god. The horror of that mental image.
Still, a tidy appearance was only part of a good jeweler’s demeanor. Organizational skills, attention to detail, a great sense of style, and a confident, pleasant disposition. Which meant he had to lead with politeness.
“Good afternoon and welcome to Felix.” His father had named him after the store. “I apologize,” he continued, still the epitome of pleasantry, “but I didn’t see you come in”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t have,” the woman said, shooting a dirty look at the even dirtier man.
“Are the two of you in the market for an engaging piece of hand embellishment?” Felix said. He loved that question. It seemed a shame to waste it on a pair he would undoubtedly be asking to leave the shop sooner rather than later.
“I don’t know, honey,” the woman said, “After all this time are you finally gonna pop that question and make an honest woman out of me? Or are we gonna continue with this filthy life of sin?
Felix blushed. It must be the stink and the grime. In all his years he’d never asked a married couple if there were looking for an engagement ring.
“So… what’s your deal?” the man asked, planting himself well within Felix’s bubble of personal space. “These diamonds come from war ravaged regions at the expense of the innocent? Some of this gold fall off a truck? Or are you pushing low-quality merchandise as high-grade jewelry?”
“I never!” Felix said, hand covering his heart as he gasped a shocked intake of breath.
“Well he chose you for some–”
“Oh Corporate Man,” a woman, one of Felix’s regulars, called out from the other side of the shop. She was a leathery, tanning-bed addict, with chemical blonde hair. Her fingers were adorned with large carat rings, the nails long and salon pampered. Though she was far from elegant, she was always pleasant. But today, Her voice was low and gurgly. Felix would have to sanitize any of the areas she frequented to avoid whatever plague she’d had the misfortune to be stricken with. And what was this she was insinuating about him being a corporate man?
“The shop is privately owned. My father–” Felix started.
“He’s talking to me,” the dirty man said.
“Sir, did you intend to visit the optical boutique downstairs or something? Clearly she’s–”
“You see, Corporate Man,” bleach-blonde leather-skin said, “greed exists not only in the proprietors but also in the clientele. This woman has closets full of jewelry, expensive clothes, and all the finer things. She’s never worked a day for any of it and she always wants more, more, more.”
The noises coming out of the blonde woman’s throat were nothing short of nauseating. Felix felt a pang in his stomach and fretted over the possibility of having his neat and tidy demeanor stripped away.
The filthy couple lunged at blonde/skin but she dodged them and dove behind a necklace display case. There was a ghastly chortling noise and a stench that only sewer rates might find appealing.
Felix went green.
A giant, greasy, almost translucent, mucousy, greenish-brown, slug-like, wormy thing streaked across the jewelry store floor leaving a thick, sticky trail. The filthy couple made half hearted attempts to grab the thing and then chased it out the door.
The thought of touching that thing sent Felix into the restroom to be sick.
Shorty shorts tech boy was no longer crawling through the endless ventilation system. He was curled up, on his side, whimpering and fetal. The shorts he once took pride in were soaked through with some sort of foul gel. They were no longer a source of accomplishment and dignity, but a mark of amateurish shame.
He sniffled and cried and wished he were back home with his parents, gaming online, sharing adventures with his real friends. His cyber friends.
Tanya and Mr. Jones trailed The Greed worm out of an upscale mall complex, into the city streets, and right into a Price Killers Wholesale Superstore.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Tanya said. “Track him, confront him lose him, and track him again. What’s our goal here?”
“I know, I know. But I think I have a plan now. Find the section with the kitchen items. Cling-wrap and tin foil and such. Get some bags and then find me. I’ll locate The Greed.”
“Alright fine, but if I happen through ‘bath essentials’ on my way to find you, I’m getting us a couple bars of soap and an economy sized can of deodorant spray.”
Shorty shorts tech boy was crawling again. If he ever got out of this hell-of-endless-vents and recounted his harrowing tale, he’d explain that his courage redoubled when he thought about what his online avatar, Mantech, would do in a situation like this. He wouldn’t crumple up and quit. He’d press on.
Of course, short shorts tech boy would be lying. The thing that actually motivated him into resuming forward movement was the scary, growling sound he heard in the passage behind him which he promptly scrambled away from, mewling and sobbing. He’d also peed his shorty shorts, but he felt confident that no one would notice with all the other foul grimes and jellies that already coated his lower half.
“Are you positive,” said the woman with far too many teeth.
“One of my scouts just reported from Price Killers, he’s tracking them through the low-price warehouse right now,” a voice full of crackle and static responded
The woman with far too many teeth always used the speaker phone option on her cell phone. She feared the radiation from mobile units would accelerate aging. What she what she had not accounted for was that in her efforts to decipher the garbled speech coming from her phone, she would often scowl. This caused two deep furrows to cut through her brow. Over time this left her with a permanent set of vertical wrinkles.
“Do not engage,” she said, fighting the urge to grin and allow all her teeth to show. “I’ve got the helicopter on stand by. I’m on my way.”
She wasn’t supposed to be using the tech boys for this kind of work, by they were out in the field, nearest to Corporate Man’s current location, and she didn’t want to risk losing him. She wasn’t authorized to commandeer the helicopter either and landing in on the roof of a Price Killers in the downtown area would, no doubt, cause a shit storm. But once she had Corporate Man, all would be forgiven.
Felix was sweating. He hated sweating. He’d once asked his father if beads of sweat might be a good thing, like little body diamonds. His father explained that sweat drops would be akin to cubic zirconium, not diamonds. Felix then ran squealing to the shower and had refrained from strenuous exercise ever since.
He considered closing his shop after the incident with the dirty couple and the… Actually, he couldn’t bear to acknowledge the thought of the thing that had squirmed around his sales floor. But by the time he’d composed himself and come out of the restroom, the store was crawling with sharply dressed tech boys. Felix was horrified that so many people were seeing his business in such a state.
And it made him sweat.
“Copy. We will maintain surveillance but not engage,” said a tech boy wearing a black blazer with pale-yellow elbow pads. He slid his slick, gadgety looking, Post-It yellow phone into the chest pocket of his jacket and made some smart looking hand gestures. Three of the other tech boys snapped to attention and then ran out of the store.
Blazered tech boy glanced around. Was he assessing the situation and deciding what to do with his remaining operatives or was he scrutinizing the condition of the sales floor?
“Alright boys, we need to finish up here, and fast. I have no doubts that we’ll all be seeing some real action and soon.”
There was a burst of nervous hurrahs from the standard tech boys. Then one of them gestured toward Felix and said, “What about him? Do we need to run a battery?”
Felix felt his ass clench.
“He’s not one of ours, but be sure to issue–”
There was a loud crash and a dripping, putrid smelling tech boy with black shorty shorts and a sleeveless, collared shirt of indeterminate color, fell through the cold air return in the ceiling at the back of the store and slammed onto a glass-top counter. It did not break. Felix only dealt in quality.
“I made it out! I’m alive!” shorty shorts said, bounding around the store. Droplets of grayish contaminants flew from fingertips spattering the display fixtures.
“You reek,” said blazered tech boy.
Shorty shorts stopped dancing. His eyes narrowed as he examined the store.
Oh god, even this filthy thing was passing judgment.
“How’d you guys get here?” short shorts asked.
“Duh. In the van,” said a standard tech.
“Then why’d I have to crawl through that corridor of hell if you already knew to come here?”
The tech boy in the blazer stepped up to shorty shorts, leaned forward, and said, “Cause you’re the new guy, newbie. And because it’s funny. Now come on, let’s close it up here and get to where the action is.”
The tech boys flitted around the Price Killers Discount Superstore like stealth ninjas. They’d located both targets then tailed codename: Corporate Man and codename: Business Woman throughout the sales floor. Codename: Corporate Man harassed several store employees and even a few customers pushing carts, heaped to overflowing, with discount goods. Codename: Business Woman appeared to be… shopping.
The Greed was well hidden this time. Mr. Jones had already confronted several likely host candidates but none of them seemed to house The Greed. Where could he be? From a few scattered memories, Mr. Jones recalled past encounters with this entity of avarice but this creature seemed much more advanced. From what he’d seen so far, each new host seemed to be a platform for The Greed to illustrate just how extensive his influence was; how deeply embedded in the American people he’d become.
So who would it be? Which person here was different from the previous hosts?
And finally, Mr. Jones knew. There was a boy, maybe eight years old, with an armful of toys, filling his mother’s shopping cart. He didn’t seem to care which toy, there were many duplicates in fact, just that he get as many as he could.
Mr. Jones looked around for Tanya and spotted her in the perfume section. She reluctantly joined him when he motioned her over.
“He’s in the kid,” he said, and gestured toward the boy.
“What? No, I don’t believe that. Then he’d be in every kid in the world because they all want everything.”
“Maybe he is. Look at our society. Look at the rampant commercialism in kid’s entertainment. We’re creating a populous engineered to act as hosts for The Greed.”
Tanya shook her head and said, “Uh uh. That’s just sick and wrong.”
“I think I know a way to get him out of the boy,” said Mr. Jones.
“Yeah, I want no part of that.”
“Would you just trust me, I think I’ve done something like this before. Back in the 80’s. You have the bag?”
Tanya held up a box of zippered freezer bags.
“What is that?”
“Bags. You said to get bags.”
“I meant big bags. Extra durable garbage bags. How are we going to–”
“They’re moving, Jonsey,” Tanya said, pointing to the boy and his mom.
Mr. Jones swore and then hurried along after them. He grabbed the boy by the shoulder, and spun him around.
“I know you’re in there,” Mr. Jones said.
The boy smirked and when he spoke it sounded like gravel in yogurt and smelled like rotten fruit. “Of course I’m in here. I was trying to be obvious. We can’t play this cat and mouse game forever, after all.”
Mr. Jones stepped back, a look of concern and puzzlement spread across his face.
“Yes,” The Greed said. “Do you recall yet? Our previous encounters? Or are you still going on blind instinct and half remembered flashes?”
Mr. Jones clutched at his temple, rubbing his eye and the side of his forehead. There was a sharp, panging throb beating through his brain.
“Go on. Procede as you had planned. Let’s play out parts and see how it turns out this time.”
Mr. Jones grunted and fought to clear his head. “You… don’t have to be like this,” he said.
“Yes, yes. And what comes next?”
“I think you’re supposed to appeal to the boy’s sense of valor,” The Greed said.
And then it clicked. Mr. Jones remembered. The light went deep orange and the edges of everything glowed a whitish, violet neon as if lit by a black light.
Corporate Man became aware of The Greed infestation while investigating Halloween Wholesale Ltd, a company that dealt exclusively in holiday related merchandise. Incidentally, HWL would one day be responsible for bringing color coordinated Christmas lights to Halloween, Valentine’s Day, the 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter. They have yet to crack the Thanksgiving market.
After a merry chase, Corporate Man tracked The Greed into the Jorgeson Bluff neighborhood, one of the largest trick-or-treat destinations in the city.
Back then, when The Greed traveled from person to person, he didn’t invade their bodies, per se. His presence already existed within the host and his manifest-psyche (what would one day become his gelatinous slug-like sewage form) had yet to become a physical thought-form projection of himself, so it drifted superficially from one carrier’s mind to another.
Ironically, he was a slipperier catch in those days, but his host minds were generally quite obvious.
The kid was wearing a Rocket Man Rik spacesuit. It was his third such costume of the evening and he’d been revisiting the houses that gave out full-sized candy bars or lesser candies in fistful quantities. He planned to store the candy and sell it school when everyone had eaten the last of their Halloween goodies.
“What are you supposed to be?” the infected, Rocket Rik wearing boy said.
“I’m Corporate Man,” said
“A hero for capital–” Corporate Man.
“Never heard of you. Your cape looks more like a tie. Should be Nerdman.”
“And you look like a greedy little boy who’s taking advantage of the generous people in this fine, upstanding neighborhood.”
“Shut up, Nerd.”
The white stripes running down the sides of the boy’s space suit glowed a brilliant blue-white that was so bright in the orange, atmospheric haze it made Corporate Man’s eyes ache.
“You aren’t adhering to fair business practices and at such a young age I feel you may never escape corruption.”
The boy’s voice became harsh and garbled. When he smiled his teeth were a dull sickly green. “I get them younger and younger these days. Can’t you see the futility of your efforts, Corporate Man?”
“I’ll give up on the American people when I’m dead,” said
“If that’s what it takes,” The Greed said.
He pounced. His glowing space suit left light traces in the air, his movements becoming a luminous blur. Corporate Man sidestepped and batted the child aside. The boy stumbled and crashed into a mailbox, opening a gash above his eyebrow.
“Is that what you intend to do, Corporate Man? Beat up this small boy? Why don’t you break his nose or fracture his legs to teach me a lesson?”
Corporate Man took a step back and gritted his teeth.
“Oh, don’t think we’re done fighting just because you’re conflicted about hitting me,” The Greed-boy said. He lunged forward, swinging. Corporate Man blocked the punch and dodged a swift kick from little-boy legs.
“Don’t give in. Fight it,” Corporate Man said.
“What on Earth are you talking about,” said Greed-boy as he attempted a leg sweep.
“Life’s not all about money and how much stuff you can accumulate.”
“Oh, dear me. Are you trying to reach out to the little boy I’ve inhabited?” Greed-boy asked. He shook his head. “Pathetic. Simply pathetic.”
Greed-boy charged forward, lowering his head like an enraged bull. Corporate Man spun away and locked his arms around Greed-boy’s neck.
“Fight it, damn it. Fight! Can’t you see that you have more than enough already?”
The Greed-boy struggled, but Corporate Man maintained the headlock.
“All the money in the world can’t buy happiness. You’ll end up isolated and alone.” Corporate Man tightened his hold. “Share. Be giving and generous. That’s the way. You’ve more than enough candy to go around.”
“Hey! Hey, check this out,” a voice called from across the street. “Dude’s beating up a little kid. Trying to steal his candy.”
Corporate Man looked up. A teenager with glowing red hair and a bright skull painted on his face was motioning in Corporate Man’s direction. He wore a black body suit with the bones of a human skeleton emblazoned upon it, glowing in that black-lit blue-white.
“Dude, that’s totally bogus. Let’s kick his ass,” a larger teenager said. This one was dressed like a devil. There were five boys in all. Corporate Man dragged Greed-boy away from the pack and continued his attempts to reach the mind of the child inside.
“Dude! Dick’s trying to get away. After him!” called out devil teenager.
“Fight The Greed, boy. Reject him!” Corporate Man yelled.
“Uh oh, Corporate Man, it looks like you’ve made some friends.”
“Oh shit. Uh… shit,” Corporate Man said, picking up the boy and running. The teenagers broke into a sprint. “Come on kid. Do you think your rocket man guy would be such a greedy bastard? He’d be ashamed of you if he saw you. You aren’t fit to wear his uniform.”
A spasm shook the boy’s body and a loud gurgle belched from his mouth. It smelled like asparagus and wet dog. The teenagers were almost upon them.
“You have to decide. Who are you? The Greed or a space hero?”
The boy’s jaw flew open. Corporate Man twisted away from the gaping mouth, angling it toward the teenagers. A dirty, milky blast of fluid erupted from the boy’s gullet, spraying the angry, teenaged mob.
“What’s this? What’s he doing?”
Tanya shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s done this a couple of times. Just kind of blanks out. Stares off into space for a minute. Never seen him do it for this long.”
“Well, it’s shit,” said The Greed with the boy’s mouth. His voice was noticeably less gurgly. “I was making a point and about to do something really cool and now… What? I just have to sit here like a turd in a toilet, hoping for a flush so I can get on with it?”
“If the shoe fi–”
“Don’t. Don’t even say it. I’ve got scores to settle with you too, woman. It’s just… If we get into now and he wakes up while I’m distracted, I’ll miss my big moment.”
“What a shame,” said Tanya.
“Damn right. I’ve been planning this for a couple of decades now.” The Greed leaned his boyish host body against a store display. “Oh well. I’ll just have to wait then.”
Tanya, likewise, leaned against a shelf.
After a moment The Greed said, “What’s with the freezer bags and the body spray?”
“I don’t know. It was his idea,” Tanya said. “If I knew, I wouldn’t have to wait around either.”
“Looks weird is all.”
“You know what… Let’s just pass this time in silence, shall we?”
Waiting for news, and all the dashboard boxing, had left the bossman with an appetite. He pulled into a Super King’s Biggie Burger and ordered a giganto meal. He was especially looking forward to the pound of fries. The food at SKBB was lackluster, but for three and half bucks he got the aforementioned pound of fries, the giganto burger (which had a total of four buns, three quarter-pound patties, and two varieties of flavored processed cheese melted over every single slab of meat-like substance), and a thirty-two ounce soda. For a quarter more he could upsize to the sixty-four ounce drink. As a bonus for upsizing his burger would come with three slices of bacon, tenderly strewn across the melted cheese of every burger patty.
Nine slices of bacon!
It was quite a bargain and well worth the stomach cramping and horrendous gas he’d suffer through later.
He paid for his meal at window one and waited his turn at window two. His mouth salivated and his butt flinched. Then his phone beeped, alerting him of a text message.
Now? Really? Just when he was about to get his gloriously colossal giganto burger? Great. It was going to be a confirmed sighting of the illusive codename: The Bull and it would ruin the lovely meal he’d cultivated here.
He read the text message.
East Side Branch is happy to report continued success in the monitoring of the whereabouts of subject: the Bull. Current position: Price Killers Wholesale Superstore. Additional monitoring success for subject: Miss Adams. The former secretary of Northside Branch continues to accompany primary subject.
The bossman was still yelling the word “bitch” in rapid fire succession when the SKBB employee opened window number two. After she handed the giganto meal to the bossman she went to the restroom and cried.
The orange Halloween haze and black-lit colors faded from Mr. Jones’s sight leaving him in the fluorescent ache of the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore. The Greed-boy leaned against a store display, tapping his foot and rocking in an agitated manner.
“Finally,” said The Greed-boy. “You know, you should get yourself checked. Zoning out like that in the middle of a fight. Gonna get you killed some day.”
Mr. Jones glanced around. His eyes were confused and lost until he spotted Tanya and her box of freezer bags. Then the clarity returned.
“Leave that boy alone, Greed,” Mr. Jones said.
“Ah yes. That’s it,” said The Greed-boy, the deep gurgle returning to his voice. He sauntered forward a couple of steps. “The boy is mine and will be for his entire life.”
“Fight him boy. Cast him out!”
“Arrghh! No!” yelled The Greed-boy.
“Be like… Dick Danger,” Mr. Jones said spotting the rocket man image on the boy’s shirt. “Be a hero. Be upstanding and honest.”
“Arrh. Oh no. What’s happening to me?” The Greed-boy screamed, clutching at his lower abdomen. “I can’t stand it. It’s… It’s… not working this time.”
The Greed-boy stood upright and smirked with the boy’s mouth.
“Fight him boy. Fight,” Mr. Jones tried again.
“Do you even know what kind of space ranger Dick Danger is?” asked The Greed-boy, the gurgle in his voice slightly diminished. “He wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of any situation in order to get what he wanted. He’s not like the upstanding, noble heroes you used to get. After all these years, the heroes these kids look up to are more like me than they are like you.”
“I… I…” Mr. Jones stammered.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Tanya. “This? This is that big moment your were blathering on about while Jonesy was in his trance?”
The Greed-boy smiled, and with a low, gurgle-choked voice he said, “Not exactly. It went a little more like this.”
The possessed boy raised his arms and a dozen nearby Price Killers Wholesale Superstore customers lifted off the ground, a dirty, translucent, slimy tentacle jammed up their backsides. They swayed back and forth, held aloft like filthy puppets.
“I’m deep into most of
these days,” The Greed-boy shouted over the rising screams of the un-puppetted
shoppers. “Look around your Corporate Man. It’s my kind of world and you’re just an
insignificant clean spot waiting to be stained.”
More customers throughout the superstores rose up from the ground. Cracks fissured through the concrete floor and beastly greed-tentacles erupted all around. The Greed-boy waited just a moment longer, for effect, and then he started swinging Price Killers Wholesale Superstore patrons at Tanya and Mr. Jones; like a sludgy octopus deftly wielding people-mallets.
“Move! Move! Move!” the blazered tech boy shouted, motioning his agents through the entrance to the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore. “Scout team reports major activity with our targets. Head directly to the back of the store. Double time it ladies. This is our moment to shine.”
The standard issue tech boys charged onto the sales floor shouting various peppy slogans.
“Let’s show ‘em what we’re made of!”
“Death before dishonor!”
Of the boys at the head of the charge, only one managed to squeak out an “oh crap” before being pummeled by a greed-puppetted patron. Unconsciousness took them immediately.
The tech boys in the middle of the pack were able to scream multiple variations of “oh crap” as they slid to a stop, more than eager to turn back. A few even called out for their mommies as they were beaten limp by the bodies of compromised customers jammed on the ends of wild swinging greed-tentacles.
Those bringing up the rear of the charge scattered without any physical damage, but more than one would suffer the dishonor of discharging a few involuntary squirts of urine into his pants as he frantically sought shelter.
The scene was too much for the fragile mind of shorty-shorts tech boy. He completely lost it and ran screaming. But, without his wits, he ran headlong into the heart of the superstore, not out.
The woman with too many teeth was so happy it was pissing her off. It felt like all of her teeth were trying to jam themselves into one gigantic Cheshire grin and she knew this was wreaking havoc on the wrinkle-less parts of her face. As for the areas already plagued with age lines they were, no doubt, suffering utter catastrophe.
Still, she could not help it. Her tech boys had ferreted out Corporate Man and she was moments from landing on the roof of the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore.
“Move it you teenaged fucks!” the bossman shouted.
What was wrong with the youth of today? Were they all pussies? In his time there were only two ways to drive a car: fast and faster. He was certain that this had not changed, that kids today still felt that the accelerator belonged on the floor. So how did they instinctively know to slow down when they were in front of him?
He should never have chanced driving past the highschool on his way to the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore. Now he had three jackassed teens boxing him in, all exploding with laughter whenever he pounded the dash or screamed expletives at them.
Blood streamed down Mr. Jones’s face but it was impossible to tell if it was his blood or blood from the customers that The Greed had pummeled him with. Mr. Jones had taken at least six good, hard hits from these patron fists. His vision had gone blurry on the second shot when the forehead of a fat woman slammed into his left temple. The next few swings either missed or glanced off his body, but a third, direct hit, left him with a high pitched ringing sound in his ears.
Mr. Jones scurried along the floor, The Greed’s fists hammering all around him destroying store shelves and merchandise displays. When he reached the checkout stands, Mr. Jones groped for a donation jar, the image of the bald little girl was the last thing he saw before a large, well-muscled man who’d been stocking up on body building supplements, connected with Mr. Jones’s face.
Tanya dodged another patron-fisted attack as she made her way to Mr. Jones. The impact with the body builder had nearly taken his head off and he was rolling around defenseless. She dove over a swinging tentacle and ducked as a mustachioed man whipped overhead.
The Greed was cackling and shouting words of triumph as his customer capped fists grew ever redder.
Tanya tried to tug Mr. Jones to his feet, but he flinched and rolled away from her. He was clutching his chest. Was he having a heart attack? Or was he holding on to something? Tanya grabbed him again and rolled him over. His hands, knuckles completely white, were clenched around a plastic donation jug full of loose change and small bills.
“Jones! Are you okay? Jones! Hey Jonesy. What’s with the donation jar? Is it part of your plan to take out The Greed? And what about these baggies?”
Tanya lunged to the side, narrowly avoiding a bloodied up Price Killers customer. Mr. Jones was not so lucky and received a shoulder and an elbow to the upper abdomen and crotch, respectively.
Mr. Jones gasped and moaned and groped for his injured parts.
“Sorry, Jones. Let’s get you out of the line of fire,” Tanya said, dragging him under a cash register. “What’s with the jar, Jonesy?”
The sounds that came out of Mr. Jones’s mouth were nothing close to intelligible; not even close to English. The confused look in his eyes was enough to convince Tanya that her partner had taken too much of a pounding to recall what, if any, significance the donation jar actually held.
One glance at the sad little girl pictured on the jar left Tanya with a pang of guilt; ashamed that material goods were more important to most people these days than they well being of a fellow human. At least some had cared enough to donate. Tanya’s eyes flared briefly. Then she wrestled the jar from Mr. Jones and charged out into the chaos of the superstore.
A helicopter landed on the roof of the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore and the woman with too many teeth got out. She ducked her head and made her way to the rooftop door that exists on all large corporate structures for just such helicoptered-in visitors.
The remaining conscious tech boys regrouped in the superstore restrooms. The blazered one barked orders but most of the orders had to do with going back out onto the sales floor and none of the standard issue techs were willing to do that.
The bossman’s car screeched to a halt at the front entrance to the Price Killers. There were streaks of automobile paint scratched down the length the driver’s side and broken bits of taillights lodged into the front bumper. The bossman exited the vehicle, a huge, satisfied grin on his face, and thoughts of those teenaged bastards trying to explain to angry parents just what had happened to their speedy little cars drifting pleasantly through his mind.
Tanya fought through the tangle of flailing greed-tentacles, dodging the abused fists as they made every attempt to level her.
It was as if The Greed knew she held something toxic to him and was herding her as far from his central host body as he could.
Tanya pressed onward.
Mr. Jones found himself in a slouched position beneath a cash register. His eyes couldn’t seem to agree as to what he should focus on. He was also having trouble keeping his head from rolling around on his neck.
Shorty shorts tech boy had not stopped screaming. From the moment he ran onto the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore sales floor he’d been in constant shriek. The Greed’s tentacle arms had yet to touch him though many a narrow miss had contributed to shorty shorts’s prolonged squealing.
The woman with too many teeth opened the door from the special stairway and stepped onto the sales floor where she was immediately struck with a Price Killers Wholesale Superstore customer and knocked unconscious. She lost another handful of pearly white teeth in the collision but still had more teeth than the average person.
The bossman was on all fours, speed crawling through the debris and unconscious shoppers strewn about the superstore. A steady stream of one syllable expletives beginning with the letter “F” poured from his mouth.
He crawled right past Mr. Jones.
“Greed!” Tanya called out when she was finally within sight of The Greed-boy’s body. She trudged forward. He didn’t seem to pay her any attention, but an increased flailing of his tentacle limbs advised her of the contrary.
She ducked and dodged and scooted and spun and dove and even cart-wheeled her way closer.
“Greed!” she yelled. When he ignored her again Tanya yelled another grunting scream, grabbed a handful of change from the jar, and pitched the coins at The Greed-boy.
She was hoping the minor nuisance would possibly gain his attention. What she didn’t expect was for the coins to sizzle and hiss, like holy water on a vampire, when they struck his body.
The Greed bellowed like an elephant as the coins embedded in his flesh and slowly burned their way deeper. His flailing tentacle limbs stiffened, flexing straight. A creamy, gelatinous, poopy ooze bubbled from the coin wounds.
Tanya hesitated for a moment and then flicked a dime at one of The Greed’s nearby tentacles. It struck, embedded, and hissed; melting the flesh like gasoline on a Styrofoam cup. She tossed a quarter at another tentacle and the effect was twice as violent.
A smile spread across Tanya’s lips and when spoke, her voice was loud and authoritative.
“You people should be disgusted with yourselves. Look how far The Greed has gotten into you. Literally. It’s sick. You’re overly concerned with material goods, possessions, and getting more, more, more. There are little girls like this out there who are in need.”
She hoisted the donation jar above her head and jittering vibrations pulsed through The Greed’s tentacle limbs.
“She needs a heart transplant, people. How many discount televisions and gallon-sized jugs of Muscle Fuel do you really think you need in comparison to that? Perhaps all of you need a new heart.”
There was a still moment in which Tanya doubted whether her words had produced any practical effect. And then one of the tentacle arms popped, vaporizing in a whiff of reddish, copper-scented dust. The bludgeoned woman at the end of the tentacle dropped twenty feet to the concrete floor of the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore where she writhed in both physical and emotional agony.
A series of similar metallic explosions, with a cadence not unlike a bag of popping corn, echoed throughout the store as The Greed’s limbs self-destructed.
“I’ve still got the boy,” The Greed-boy gurgled, his body spurting nasty fluids from the coin-sized wounds.
“I’ve got a whole jug of change here, Greed. I’m willing to bet it will drive you out. And there are a few bills in here too. If a quarter donation inflicts more damage than a dime, think of how severe the effects of a buck or a fiver will be. Oh. Look. Someone was charitable enough to donate a twenty.”
Tanya grabbed the twenty from the jar and waved it back and fourth, taunting The Greed like a matador teasing a bull.
Mr. Jones had found his feet once again and was stumbling about the store. Sifts of red dust kept getting in his eyes and he coughed when he breathed it in.
He didn’t know why, but he desperately wanted to find a plastic bag.
The tech boys were still huddled in the bathroom, sitting in various corners, as far from the toilets as possible. A scout, venturing as far as the door whispered in a hiss, “Something’s happening. Those poopy worm things are popping.”
“Then let’s get out there,” the blazered tech boy yelled. The tech boys jumped to their feet, ready to charge the door.
“Wait,” said the scout, “there’s some kind of brown dust. When the things pop it leaves clouds of the stuff.”
The standard issue tech boys halted and looked around at each other, fairly certain that no one would be venturing out until the poop-dust had cleared.
They all returned to their various corners and took up brave, seated positions once more.
The bossman held a flannel shirt he’d swiped from a discount bin over his face. He was not about to inhale this stuff. The dust stung his eyes and he contemplated a detour through the athletic department to check for swimming goggles, but it was taking far too long for him to locate codename: The Bull – aka Corporate Man – as it was. Think about what the possible composition of the brownish dust might really be seriously unnerved him.
And then he spotted his target.
The bossman’s eyes flared. This allowed more of the reddish-brown dust to land on his exposed eyeballs causing excessive blinking and tears. He should have narrowed his eyes. The desired effect would have been similar and far more appropriate considering the airborne circumstances.
Corporate Man was near the woman, subject: Ms. Adams. He was stooping, trying to pick up a box of, what looked like, freezer bags. She was waving around a twenty dollar bill in a manner that was quite tawdry.
Both had their backs turned toward him.
This should be easy.
There was a cessation of those strange exploding sounds, the ones that signaled the eruption of greed-tentacles, and released this dreadful dust. But then there was another sound. A deranged wailing, war cry of a sound.
The bossman turned and the last thing he saw before three of his ribs snapped was a terrifying image of a pasty, bare legs, pumping madly as a screaming man-boy wearing shorty shorts crashed into him.
Mr. Jones held the package of freezer bags, but he was still unsure of their intended purpose. Tanya was nearby taunting an oozing boy with a twenty dollar bill. Somehow this seemed more comprehensible than his need for freezer bags. A screaming sound turned his attention for a moment and he swiveled just in time to see two people occupy the same space. One clad in shorty shorts, the other in an expensive looking suit.
Apparently the price of the suit did not matter in the end, offering up little protection against the flailing, unclothed legs. The suited man crumpled, gasping and clutching at his side. The shorty short boys barely stumbled and continued forward in a terrified panic.
He was headed right for Tanya.
In his blind panic shorty shorts tech boy could only process so much information. Most of his thoughts centered on a place called “away” and the quickest possible manner in which to get there. Was that a mannequin displaying a nice suit that he’d just run into? Since when do mannequins swear and cry out in pain?
Oooh. A dancing lady. And she’s giving out money.
It is scientifically proven that, even in a blind panic, most teenaged boys are genetically programmed to notice the female form above all else. With blood already speeding through the veins it is much easier for that adrenaline filled fluid to veer southward into the more erogenous zones.
Science has yet to realize that a woman dancing with money, showing intent to reallocate said funds, is the most fundamentally erotic image housed in the male psyche, dating back thousands of years to a common fantasy, shared by most men of the time, involving the employees of the oldest profession offering up a refund to a particularly gifted patron.
Tanya heard the strange screaming but did not dare risk a look over her shoulder to see what it was. A thudding sound, followed by gasps of pain, confirmed her suspicions that another of The Greed’s human fists had fallen to the floor.
“You touch me with that twenty and it will kill the boy,” The Greed-boy said, his host body still dribbling a nasty gel-paste where the charitable coins had lodged.
“Somehow I doubt that,” said Tanya.
“You’ll have to get close to me to use it,” said The Greed-boy. “You can’t pitch a bill like a coin.”
“That won’t be–” Tanya started, but a foul smelling, wild-eyed teen snatched the twenty from her hand as he screamed past her. He looked down at the money as if confused by its sudden appearance in his hand. When he looked back up he was only a step away from The Greed-boy.
Both boyish forms shrieked like girls and held their hands up in preparation for the imminent collision. Only one had a charitable twenty dollar bill in his hand. There was a noise that sounded like a bug zapper, a dry belch, and an M-80. Following this improbable noise was a burst of brown light, reddish dust, and sticky tendrils, as if someone set off charges in a rotten pumpkin full of iron rich dirt.
When the cloud of debris settled, Tanya could see the two boys lying on the ground, covered in dust and sticky strings. Three brownish slug creatures the size of large sausages slowly inched away from the point of impact. They looked like a mix of gelatin and fibrous ground beef.
Mr. Jones stepped forward with a freezer bag and captured the fleeing slug creatures. “Well, I guess these freezer bags of yours were an appropriate size after all,” he said.
“I think we need to get out of here, Jonsey. You okay to walk?”
“I’m fine,” said Mr. Jones. “In fact, I’m more than that. Everything’s so clear now. I think… I think I’m Corporate Man again. Let’s go get my necktie cape.”