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.

After nearly a decade of imprisonment, Corporate Man returns to find the economy in ruins and his deadliest enemies in control of all but a fraction of society's wealth. He embarks upon a quest to set right the wrongs of the business world; a task that will ultimately destroy him.


The Tragic Death of Corporate Man
a hero for capitalism;
champion of the working class

by Tom Landaluce

Section 3:
Breakroom meeting and the economic ills.

Everything was antique gold and soft sepia.  His vision seemed scratchy, like an old film, and audio ambiance sounded as though it came from a record player; needle down on dusty vinyl.
A light breeze was on the air, bringing scents of freshly mown grass, apple pie, kettle corn, and crisp dollar bills.  He was wearing a suit made of high quality linen which he found very comfortable in the warm summer sun.  He stood on the roof’s edge of a small savings and loan in a great American town and adjusted his tie.
The breeze was picking up.
Corporate Man reached into his suit pocket and retrieved a gadgety device made of gears and levers, housed in a small glass tube.  This miniature stock ticker produced a tiny tape which allowed him to monitor trading.  He was waiting for his stocks to increase in value, as he knew they would.  Should be in about four minutes from now.
He surveyed the landscape of the picturesque town and noted the malt shop across the street.  Business there was booming these days.  He’d have to stop by for a treat once he’d finished his business elsewhere.
His necktie lengthened and the breeze became a gust.  The four minutes had passed.  Stocks were up.  They would remain up for the remainder of the week.  This was good.  He would need his special necktie in the coming days and it never seemed to work properly when the stocks were down.
He checked the ticker tape to confirm his portfolio’s peak and then stepped off the edge of the savings and loan, his necktie fluttering over his shoulder, stretched out behind him like a cape.
Corporate Man rose up into the sky amongst the puffy white clouds and disappeared in the circle of brilliant summer sunshine blazing over the small American town.

“So I thought you wanted your neck-cape-thing.”
“Huh. Wuh?”
“Yoohoo, Jonesy?  Off in la la land again?” Tanya asked.
“Kind of.  And call me Corporate Man,” Mr. Jones said.
“No thanks.  I’ll stick with Jonesy.”
“No.  You put on your costume and your special necktie and then I might call you Corporate Man,” Tanya said.
“Come on, Business Wo–”
“Ah ah ah.  Tanya’s just fine for now.”
“Until you’re in your costume I suppose,” said Mr. Jones.
“Oh, hell no.  You think I’m wearing that thing again?  My boobs aren’t nearly as perky as they were in the nineties and there’s a bit more than muscle to my thighs these days.”
Mr. Jones thought for a moment and then he grinned.
“I see you recall it then.”
“Yeah.  Wow.  What an outfit.”
“Well, it was the nineties.  Everything was skimpy-bad-girl garbage back then.”
“Hey, one man’s trash is another man’s–”
“I wasn’t–”
“No, no, trash is right.  And that’s where that costume is staying,” Tanya said.
Mr. Jones looked out the window of the nondescript automobile and thought back to better times.  It was dark outside.  After Pricebusters and The Greed they had fled the superstore and made their way to a safe house, one of many that Tanya kept throughout the city.  After some long deserved showers they’d picked up one of Tanya’s emergency cars at a local garage.
“So I thought you wanted to go get your special tie.”
“Yeah, I do, but without a current portfolio it won’t do me much good,” Mr. Jones said.
“And you can get this at a Shepley’s?”
“Well, no.  But I know they’ve got a big electronics department there.  I’ll need something high tech.  Something… gadgety.

The woman with more teeth than the average person woke up in the back of an ambulance.  The handsome EMS man rushed over and examined her vital signs.  She tried to smile at him but her face hurt all over. 
The sensation was more than familiar.
“I collected these for you,” the EMS man said, holding up a baggy of small, white, rock-looking items.  “I thought they were yours but you don’t seem to be missing any teeth.”
She touched the man’s thigh and took the bag of teeth from him gingerly.  She would heal.  She would heal and she would bed this man.  Then she would make bullets from her lost teeth and shoot Corporate Man in the face.

“We should find a… container of some sort.  Something a little stronger maybe.  And more opaque,” Mr. Jones said as they walked through the Shepley’s towards the electronics department.
“And why is that?” Tanya asked.
“Well… The Greed.  He’s twitching.”
“I heard that part.  I’m not deaf.  What I didn’t understand was your statement.  I thought we already dealt with The Greed,” Tanya said.  She grabbed Mr. Jones by the shoulder, stopped him in the aisle, and took a good look at his face.  His eyes were dancing back and forth.  He was either hiding something or very embarrassed. 
“Out with it,” she said.
“The Greed,” his said, shoulders slumping.  Then he pulled a zippered freezer bag from beneath his shirt and held it in front of him.
Tanya leaned forward to get a closer look.  “What’s that you got – Ah!”  She jumped about four feet. “Is that what I–”
“Why the hell–”
“Cause, we’ll need it.”
“What for?”
“You’ll see.”
“I know.”
“That, right there, is nasty.”
“I know.”
“There’s food in this place.  It’s part of a grocery store.”
“Yeah.  Got it.”
“You sure do.  And the bag you’ve got it in… is clear.”
“Yep.  And it’s twitching.”
Tanya froze.  Her face was almost completely devoid of expression.  Unless of course the expression was meant to convey that she had, in fact, heard the previous statement but was clearly choosing to ignore it and not believe it at the same time.
“Twitching?” she finally said, her teeth never quite unclenching.
“Yeah, I know.  Nasty,” Mr. Jones said, mocking her tone.
“I think it senses someone really greedy in here.”
“Aw god, not this again,” Tanya said, turning away and putting her hands on her hips.
“No, not like that,” said Mr. Jones poking at the sausage-sized slug-lumps in the freezer bag.  “In this de-powered state it only senses those that are truly connected to all of this.”
“All of what?”
“You know, the big guns.  The corporations and the politicos that pull our economic strings.  We can use these pieces to go on the offensive.  To track the bastards down.”
Tanya sighed and shook her head.
“Yeah, okay, whatever.  Just don’t ask me to hold, or touch, or even look at that bag.”

The tech boy wearing the blazer with the elbow pads held his hand up for silence.  The standard issue tech boys ceased their whooping celebrations and looked to their leader with jubilant faces.
“We’ve come through hell,” said blazered tech boy and a chorus of cheers exploded from the standard techs.  When the commotion settled he continued.
“Never have we faced such a beast as we encountered today.”
More cheers.  This time, blazered tech boy raised his voice to speak over the uproar.  “And never has one of our own confronted such an adversary.  Met it… and triumphed!”
The cheers were deafening.  Standard techs popped cans of soda and dumped them over each other’s heads, slamming the empty cans against the walls and the floors of the break room space.
Blazered tech held his hand aloft and silence, again, gripped the room.  He paused for a long moment and then jerked a pair of black slacks over his head like a barbarian warrior hefting an enemy’s head over a crowd of blood thirsty followers.
The techs screamed and yelled and even managed to break a chair or two.
“Bring forth the conquering hero!” blazered tech boy called out.
A gap split the crowd of frenzied techs and shorty shorts tech boy was brought forward, held aloft by two standard techs.  They set him at the feet of the blazered tech boy who lowered the slacked until they almost touched shorty shorts’s forehead.
The cheers were like thunder.
Tanya and Mr. Jones hadn’t had much luck finding a container for The Greed sausages.  They’d tried kitchen storage, automotive, and even gardening.  Still, nothing.  Nothing that seemed suitable anyway.  As they stood in the toy section, however, things began to look up.  Various spaceships, swords, ray guns, and toy cars could easily house the leftovers of The Greed.
Mr. Jones was favoring the ray gun.
Tanya professed her admiration for a pink unicorn.  Mr. Jones suspected her of putting him on, but on the contrary, Tanya really did like the bejeweled unicorn.  Not because she admired its girly qualities, she simply loved the idea of befouling a stereotypical girl’s toy by cramming it full of nasty greed pieces.  She also liked the idea of forcing Mr. Jones to carry around something so pretty and sparkly.
“That’s not the point, Wendel,” a woman’s voice barked from the next aisle.  “The point is that your crew is slow and needs a little incentive.”
“My crew is not slow.  Management is asking the impossible,” Wendel said.
“According to corporate, they are below the per-hour rate on number of cases thrown.”
“Who says?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Someone, a panel or a group, from corporate researched it and came up with the figure.”
“Those numbers are either generated from asking an experienced freight worker to throw as fast as he can for fifteen minutes and then averaging his time across eight hours or by measuring a quantity of freight that is extremely easy and quick to throw and calling that the average.”
“So.  What does that matter?  It is still the average that corporate demands.”
There was an audible, exhausted sigh from Wendel before he continued.  “Measuring fifteen minutes of work against eight hours is like apples to oranges.  The human body can’t work at sprint speed for eight hours.  It’s too much to ask.”
“Not according to this paperwork.  And going forward everyone will be wearing one of these during their shift.”
Tanya and Mr. Jones shared a confused but intrigued look and then walked around the corner in time to see the black-haired manager slip a little collar over Wendel’s neck. 
“This has to be illegal,” Wendel said.
“Why?” said the black haired manager as she checked the connections on the collar.  “Everyone has given consent.”
“Yeah.  Cause you said they could wear the collars or find another job.”
“Yes, voluntary.  Like I said.”
“Not by my definition.”
“It’s simple.  I see someone dragging their heals, I zap ‘em.  I see someone chatting up a fellow worker.  Zap.  Checking out a hot piece of tail walking by.  Zap, zap, zap.  Just you watch, our productivity numbers will show positive change.”
Wendel shook his head.  “How about you throw freight tonight and see if you can make those numbers and then we–”
Wendel went stiff; his eyes wide and bottom lip quivering.  The sounds that came out of his throat were chortled and thick.
“Still disagree with me?” the black-haired manager asked.
Wendel shook his head, the gesture over exaggerated to leave no uncertainty in his response. 
“Good,” she said.  “But you and the crew better work while I’m zapping you.  None of this freezing up, like you’re enjoying the pain, crap.”
She walked off, passing by Tanya and Mr. Jones without even noticing them.  When she got to the end of the aisle she triggered the switch again and Wendel, who was standing there doing nothing, went rigid and chortley again.  Then, at a noticeably quickened pace, he resumed his work.
“Are we gonna get her?” Tanya asked.
“No,” said Mr. Jones.
“Oh come on.  She’s gotta be the one making your sausage thing twitch.”
Mr. Jones glared at her and said, “How about we make that the last time you phrase it that way?  And no, not even a shudder.  I think that woman’s just a sadist.  All that performance efficiency crap must be a cover, an excuse to inflict pain.”
“You’re saying she’s probably wearing vinyl panties and has a cat-of-nine-tails in her locker?”
“Wouldn’t doubt it,” Mr. Jones said.  “No, someone else is making The Greed remnants jump, but the movements are weakening, now.”

The bossman leaned against the pharmacy counter of the Shepley’s department store.  His mood was murky, like the bottom of a lake.
Three ribs.
That shorty shorts pansy had broken three of his ribs and the freak’s flailing elbow had severely blackened one of his eyes.  To add insult to injuries, his car had been stolen while he was getting knocked around inside the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore.  Then he had to walk to the hospital.  This was not only due to lack of car, but with the amount of seriously injured Price Killers patrons the paramedics were hauling off, it would have been a long while before they had room for him.  H then had to take a cab to a different medical facility for a similar reason.
“That’s all?” the bossman asked when the pharmacist handed a small, white paper bag over the counter.  “There should be a big bottle of stern painkillers to go along with whatever antibiotic crap they’re making me take.”
“Nope.  None on this prescription,” the pharmacist said.
“You gotta be kidding me.”
“No joke.”
“Is there another order back there for me?”
“Nope.  But the back aisle has some pain relievers.”
“What?  Advil and Tylenol?  I need something hardcore, like Vicodin on steroids.”
“I wouldn’t recommend mixing Vicodin with steroids,” the pharmacist said.
The bossman glared at the pharmacist, grabbed the little baggy of impotent medication, and stormed off.

Tanya and Mr. Jones were in the checkout lane of the Shepley’s electronics department waiting to buy the toy raygun and PDA that Mr. Jones had selected.  He held the baggy of greed-links up to his face and said, “Well, they’ve stopped twitching.”
Tanya reached up and yanked his hands down, then looked about to see if anyone had seen.
“Dude, did you turd in a bag?” a moppy-haired, never-seen-an-actual-ocean surfer guy said.  He brushed his bleached locks out of his eyes, leaned down, and peered into the bag.  After a moment he said, “Dude.  You did.  Oh man.  Totally sick.  And not sick as in man that’s sick.  Just plain sick. Hey, why carry it around with you?  And why walk around a supermarket with it?  Oh, and dude, seriously, as a side note, based on what I’m scoping in that baggy there, something’s seriously wrong with your bowels bro.”
“Would you like to go ahead of us?” Mr. Jones asked, his gesture indicating that the surfer-man should move forward.
“Awesome,” he said, swaggering toward the awaiting checker.  “I’m haulin’ a couple more things than you, though.  You just got that toy gun, the PDA thing, and your poop bag.  But heck, not gonna be one to look at a gift horse you know.”
The surferish guy began a round of pleasantries with the checker.  Tanya and Mr. Jones shared a look, the silent conversation between them being a shared consensus that, perhaps, The Greed pieces should remain tucked away until they took up residency in the toy gun.
“Seriously,” the pseudo surf boy was saying to the checker.  “Nastiest thing I seen all week.  Check it out when he comes through.  Make you wanna hurl.  But hey, be gentle with him.  Dude’s sick, yo.  Needs to see a butt doctor or something.”

He stood in the shadows, his body stoic and rigid, silhouetted against the lights of the city outside the tall triangular window at the end of the expansive room on the top floor of the towering building.  His building.  Dark and ominous.  It wasn’t the tallest of the skyscrapers in the city.  Not officially.  If underground floors were counted, however, it would dwarf all others.
Word of The Greed’s recent encounter with Corporate Man had reached him and, had there been anyone in the room with him at the time, they may have seen a flash of white in the darkness as he smiled.
He moved to a console that jutted from the wall.  It activated in response to his proximity.  All of the buttons and lights and screens glowed a deep, evil red.
It was time.
He fingered a black toggle switch that stood in a red, illuminated circle.  The clacking sound it made was deep and echoed throughout the room.  The amount of money he had paid to get that sound just right was staggering.  Large red letters flashed across a man-sized display screen.
And then smaller letters appeared beneath.
The Crash.  Confirmed.
Mr. Outsource.  Confirmed.
Professor Inflation. Confirmed.
Before long they would all confirm.  He moved away from the console to an imposing, black office-chair.  It looked like some sort gigantic, wicked beetle, mounted not like a hunting trophy, but like an insect specimen skewered on a sharp needle.  He sat, wriggled into the chair’s squishy interior, stroked his luscious moustache, and tugged at the tuft beneath his bottom lip.
The Big Bossman was pleased.

Everything looked grainy, like footage from a cheap camcorder in the early days of video technology.  Harsh shadows dominated the urban landscape and there was a squealing hiss and a hollowness to the air.
A huge, hulking form lurched into view, disturbing the static stillness and a barrage of battle sounds erupted like heavy thunder as the hulking form was surrounded by smaller, scuttling forms.  Bursts of light snapped and popped around the large man-shape as a small man wearing olive green and a black beret flung some sort of small objects.
The other scuttling people wore brightly colored costumes though something dulled the hue, like a set of grade-school watercolor paints mixed with dirty black water.
The hulking man thing knocked the scuttling forms away with a sweep of his giant arm.  Then he pounced, clamping a beefy hand around the small olive green man’s chest.  The beast yanked on one of the small man’s arms until the shoulder dislocated.  The small man screamed and the huge behemoth roared and yanked harder, unrooting the small man’s arm, tearing it from the joint.   The hulking form tossed the broken man aside and bludgeoned the other scuttling man-creatures with the dismembered appendage.
A man wearing a fedora and a black domino mask swung down from a fire escape and called out, “Donkey!  Elephant!  Formation six.  Miss Pension get Two Cents out of there, he’s getting pummeled.  Ben, put a tourniquet on Commander Credit’s arm!”
Donkey and The Elephant took up positions on opposite sides of the behemoth as Miss Pension darted into the fray and grabbed Two Cents before he was struck with the bloody arm again.  The Elephant charge the giant man-thing head on while Donkey rushed the thing’s blindspot and kicked.  The Elephant took a couple of rough shots, but Donkey’s kicked succeeded in unbalancing the hulking creature.
“Bull Market, Fair Wage!  Now!” the man in the fedora called out.
Two more scampering brightly clad men rushed in toward the massive man-beast.  Fair Wage swung a hefty plank of wood, connecting squarely on the big thing’s nose as Bull Market punched its midsection. 
At first the hulking brute seemed stunned, but when Fair Wage pressed for another attack the thing struck out at blinding speed, knocked the smaller man to the ground, and stomped on him.  Bull Market doubled over and bellowed.  His blunted teeth cracked and thick hair sprouted through his skin like deadly grass.  Beneath the hulking beast’s foot came the sounds of grinding bones and Fair Wage’s muffled screams.
 “I’ve got him, John,” a voice rang out as Corporate Man jumped down from a building near the man in the fedora.  “Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner, but whenever The Crash is on the scene, my necktie cape seems to malfunction.”
Corporate Man charged forward and slammed into the massive leg of The Crash, toppling the hulking man-form and freeing a very broken Fair Wage.  The Crash rolled up and slammed a giant fist into Corporate Man.
From the fire escape the man in the fedora called out a few more orders and then spoke into a wrist watch, “John Q Public to Business Woman, do you copy?”  Business Woman, where are you?”
“Right here,” a crackling voice came through the right watch.  In the street a woman with bold slacks and noticeable shoulder pads in her dress jacket round house kicked The Crash in the face.  Before he could shrug off the attack, Business Woman dealt another snap kick to its sternum and then to its knee. 
The Crash fell hard.
Miss Pension distributed a flurry of solid punches to the thing’s face and Ben Buck the Dollar Man leapt on top of The Crash and battered its midsection.
“Let’s wrap it up people,” John Q Public said.  “I want a–”
A hairy bear shaped thing slashed Ben Buck’s side open and turned on Miss Pension, snarling and gnashing.  The Crash rolled up onto its feet and grabbed Corporate Man by the necktie.
“What’s going on down there?  Report!” John Q Public shouted. 
“It’s Bull Market,” Business Woman said, rushing to aid Miss Pension.  “I don’t know what happened to him.  I think he’s gone Bear!”

Mr. Jones started from his sleep.  He massaged a knot in his neck that had formed while sleeping upright against the seatbelt in the moving vehicle. 
“We’re about three miles away,” said Tanya from the driver’s seat.
Mr. Jones nodded and tried to shake off the grogginess and the unpleasant after images of the dream; of the memory.  He pulled his PDA from his pocket, accessed the internet, and checked his newly purchased stocks.
“There’s been a two percent growth in my portfolio already,” he said.  Then he clicked a few buttons, bought some more stocks, and put the PDA away.
Tanya pulled the car off the highway and into a scenic turn out.  They were fifteen miles north of the city.  The countryside was rugged and mountainous.  A river cut between the jagged faces and the road mimicked its path, occasionally crossing from one side to the other via bridge.
“I never understood why you kept your hideout way up here,” Tanya said as they got out of the car.  The steady sound of rushing water echoed between the gorge walls.
“Simple.  Why would anyone look for ‘corporate man’ out in the countryside?  They’d expect a downtown office or something.”
“Would’ve been more convenient,” said Tanya.
“Yeah.  I was a little arrogant and over confident about my abilities back then.  I didn’t think my necktie-cape would falter and assumed I could always fly right into town whenever I needed.”
“Sucked against The Crash as I recall.”
“Which you eagerly pointed out to me back then,” Mr. Jones said.  Then his eyes squinted.  “It’s funny you mention him.  I was just dreaming about 1987.”
“Oh god,” Tanya said.
“Yeah I know.  That was a bad one.  When he tore off–”
“No.  My outfit.  Those shoulder pads.”
Mr. Jones smiled and shook his head.  “Did you ever wear anything that wasn’t embarrassing a decade later?”
“I liked my first outfit, back in the forties.  It had a classic, clean look to it. Or maybe I’m just being nostalgic for that era since it was all so new for me.  With so many women entering the workforce because of the war, it was only natural that a counterpart to the great Corporate Man manifest herself.  The early sixties also had some charm to it, fashion wise.”
They made their way down a narrow dirt path that dropped rapidly through the rocky terrain toward the river.  It culminated at a cluster of jagged slabs about thirty feet above the water.  From their they climbed over the sharp stones to some large boulders near the river’s edge.  Beneath an outcropping, visible only when standing a few yards away, was the opening to an abandoned mine shaft.  Six inches of water obscured the floor of the entrance.  In the spring, during heavy run off, it might be completely submerged.
Tanya and Mr. Jones crept into the mine shaft, forced to duck low as it was only four feet in height at its tallest.  Once inside, the shaft rose sharply and climbed into the darkness.  Tanya pulled out her cell phone and used the illuminated display to light the way.
The corridor eventually leveled off and then bored directly into the mountainside.  Wooden support beams jutted into the path at uneven intervals.  After several hundred feet the corridor stopped at a wooden door with wrought iron hinges and plating.  Absent, though, was anything resembling a door knob.
Mr. Jones felt along the wall until his fingers found a slight lip in the stone.  He pushed forward and the rock depressed.  He then slid the false panel to the side revealing a green, spherical button.  The button flared with a brilliant glow as soon as the rock panel locked into an open position.
Mr. Jones pressed the button.
It blinked off and on and then a loud click sounded deep within the granite followed by a steaming hiss.  The stout wooden door fell away and a series of lights sputtered to life inside the doorway revealing a small room within.
Tanya and Mr. Jones went inside.

He was a small, runty man with a pencil-thin moustache, small bottle-cap glasses, and a very dedicated comb-over.  He walked through the airport with an irritated determination.  It was years since he’d been called back to the States and he wasn’t happy about the urgent summons from the Big Bossman.
What did the USA have to offer?  There was no business here anymore, he’d seen to that.  And what was with that name?  Mr. Outsource?  He hadn’t used that codename since 1990.  He was the Outsourcer now and the Big Bossman knew it.
“Sir, would you please remove your shoes?” a pleasant voice at the security checkpoint asked.
“Not for you or any of the thousands of women I’ve bedded in my time,” he said.
The woman rolled her eyes and stifled a gag and ignored the spreading warmth invading her southern regions.
“I’m sorry.  It’s policy,” she said.
“Well, I’m sorry.  I refuse,” said the Outsourcer.
“I’ll have to alert security,” she said, squeezing her thighs together.
“Go for it,” said the Outsourcer.  “I’ll tell them the same thing.”
The woman pressed an alert button then fanned herself with a clipboard and said, “They’ll be with you shortly.”
The Outsourcer cringed at the use of the word shortly.  Then his eyes narrowed and he asked, “Aren’t you security?”
The woman ignored the question and pretended to sort some papers.  Soon, two large men sporting muscles that strained the stitching of their uniforms approached the Outsourcer.
“You need to remove your shoes.  Sir,” one of them said.
“Not going to happen.  Not for you or any of the thousands of women I’ve bedded in my time,” the Outsourcer repeated.
The two men shook their heads, stifled laughter, and ignored the spreading warmth invading their southern regions.
“You’ll have to come with us then,” they said and each took a hold of one of the Outsourcers wrists as they escorted him to a secure room.
Forty minutes later the door opened and the Outsourcer stumbled out.  His mood had worsened.  Sweat covered his brow and his steadfast comb-over was now a wispy tangle of stray plumage.  His shirt was untucked, his glasses askew, and his shoes were in his hands.
Someone would pay dearly for this.

Mr. Jones stood unmoving.  This time, though, he had not slipped into another trance.  Instead, he was both surveying the state and inventory of his secret hideout and basking in a warm nostalgia of fond experiences.
In the small room was a desk console featuring an old computer screen sunken into a slanted panel with dozens of glowing, blinking, or otherwise brightly colored buttons arranged on a vertical strip alongside the monitor.  A round speaker was embedded below, its black metal cover popping upward like a bowl sized tea strainer.
Mr. Jones reached forward, turned a small whirring crank for a few moments to charge the computer battery, and slid open a panel at the bottom of the slanted console revealing an odd keyboard with chunky, tan-colored keys.  He touched the escape button and a loud ratcheting sound purred beneath the contraption.  After a minute or two a blinking green square appeared in the upper left corner of the black screen.
After a brief pause Mr. Jones typed: CLOCK IN
A scroll of green characters, a mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, rolled up the screen.  Then a series of prompts appeared, each displaying a code and a percentage that began with one percent and climbed steadily to one hundred.
Tanya shook her head and muttered, “God, Jonesy, how about an upgrade?”
“Hey, this stuff was state of the art,” he said.
“Yeah, in nineteen-eighty whatever.  That outdated PDA thing you bought is lightyears ahead of this technology.”  She slumped against the wall and then sat on the floor.
Twenty minutes later the computer program was up and running.  Mr. Jones typed c: and pressed enter.  The flashing prompt moved down a couple of lines and resumed blinking at the end of a list of characters.
Mr. Jones keyed in opening procedures at the prompt and the screen displayed a few lines of code and another prompt.
He typed d:security and the prompt changed again.
Then he typed unlock doors.  This sort of computer work went on for a long while with Mr. Jones eventually powering up the generator, turning on the lights, opening the water pipes, testing the plumbing that fed the sink, toilet, and showers, and conducting power to various electrical appliances housed within the secret base.
Tanya was more than forthright with her opinions about his antiquated system during this time.
Mr. Jones ignored the snide remarks, focusing on his keystrokes.  Eventually he opened a small door at the back of the security/entrance room.  It led into a narrow hallway with one door at the far end, another centered on the left, and two more on the right.
“The toilets should be working,” Mr. Jones said as he walked toward the door at the end of the hallway.  Eager to relieve her strained bladder, Tanya jumped up, raced into the hallway, and went to the door on the left.

It was called The Office and it served as the secret headquarters for Corporate Man, as well as frequent meeting place/weekend getaway of The Union, for a number of decades.   
As previously mentioned, there were four doors off the main hallway, five if you counted the door coming from the entranceway.  All the doors were swing hinge instead of the much desired, and space efficient, pocket doors.  There was a practical reason for this.  An open door provided a simple but effective way to hide a secret access to an escape tunnel and there were two such passageways in The Office.  To the immediate left of the entrance door, obscured dim light, dull wall color, and left inswing was a square panel affixed with magnets for easy entry and speedy replacement.  The other escape tunnel was tucked behind the door leading into the walk in closet off the master suite.
These tunnels were employed on numerous occasions during financial downturns, economic instability, and interoffice romance terminations.
The first door on the right side of the hallway led into a spare room complete with bed, nightstand, and closet for the occasional guest.  A slim door in the far corner accessed the utility room where, among other things, the generator, furnace, and massive computer data bank were housed. 
Door number two in the main hall went into a large storage area of Union supplies.  Spare costumes, gadgets, and various paper products consumed the bulk of the space.
At the very end of the hall was the door to the master suite.  Corporate Man’s bedroom away from home.  His bed and aforementioned walk in closet were to one side and the master bath, complete with deep soaker tub, on the other.
The final door of the main hallway, the one centered along the left hand wall, led to The Breakroom.  A kitchenette sat along the far wall with tables and chairs to one side.  On the other was a spiral staircase a small bathroom with shower stall.  The staircase climbed up to the tower where the telescope and infamous copy machine awaited.  The plumbing in the bathroom suffered terribly during The Elephant’s tenure as did those trying to eat their lunch in the next room.  This begs the question: Why are toilets always installed in spaces adjacent to those designated for employee rest and food consumption?

Should he wear the cape he wondered as he looked himself over in the wardrobe mirror, should he wear a costume at all?  Did anyone wear costumes anymore?
Professor Inflation had been too busy this past decade to consider a change in his attire.  In the seventies he’d worn a stuffy sweater, thick glasses, beard, and corduroy pants.  The palette of which he kept warm and natural.  In the eighties he’d donned a white lab jacket, safety goggles, and a host of neon undershirts.  This failed to portray the sort of professor he was, but it was the eighties and accuracy and depth were not in fashion.  Back in the sixties he’d gotten away with a cape and tight, form fitting clothes.  He had even managed to pull off wearing pinks and purples and mauves. 
Retro was back in wasn’t it?
Perhaps he should break out the cape.  For nearly two decades he’d been in expensive suits.  Wasn’t it time for a change?  Shouldn’t he try to bring some of the flash, some of the fun, back to inflation?
Professor Inflation picked up a white suit jacket and considered a pink undershirt, but just for a moment.  He quickly cast them aside and continued rummaging through his closet for something perfect to wear.

Tanya sat at the table in the corner of the room designated: The Breakroom.  It had been decades since she’d been inside the secret hideout of Corporate Man.  She’d stayed many nights at The Office during the sixties and seventies and not in the guest room exclusively.
She reminisced on all the wild Christmas parties they’d held in this place and she smiled as she looked across the room to the staircase that climbed to the lookout tower.  John Q Public and some unexpected photocopies crept into her mind.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Corporate Man said as he walked into the room. 
He was in uniform now; collared shirt, black suit jacket, slacks, and expensive, polished shoes.  Around his neck hung his special necktie/cape and concealing his face was a pair of black, thick rimmed glasses.  He also carried a briefcase, essential to any man of business.
“Can’t buy anything with a penny anymore, Jonesy,” she said.
“Ah ah,” he said, “You promised to call me Corporate Man once I was properly attired.”
Tanya looked him up and down and smiled.  He was Corporate Man now, there was no doubt, and she found that the sight of him filled her full of hope and eagerness for enterprise.
“You’re right.  Corporate Man.  So what’s our next move?”
“Well, I though we’d put out a call to all of our old Union allies and then make every attempt to reclaim market share for the good guys.”
Tanya retained her smile though a bleak sadness tugged away inside her.  Not many of their former teammates were in a position to answer the call.  Most were immobilized.  More than a few were dead.
Corporate Man, as if reading this in her face, said, “I know that in my absence there are some positions that have become… vacant.  So I think I’ll endeavor to make a few promotions if I’m able.  In the meantime, you have full reign of The Office.  If you need me, I’ll be in the tower.”
He nodded and then turned to the staircase and went up.
Tanya bit her lip and tapped her foot, the movements rapid and impatient.  She stood and then sat back down with a muttering sigh.  A moment later her fingers were drumming on the table, her head shaking back and forth, trying to rid herself of the idea.  Finally, she let her shoulders slump and stood again.  She walked out into the hallway, turned toward the master bedroom, and walked to the second door on the right.
The Union store room.
She looked herself over, ran her hands over her bust and hips, and took a deep breath before she walked inside.
A red light blinked on the vibrating mobile device attached to his hip.  He knew without looking, that the Big Bossman was summoning.  After enjoying the motion of the device for a few heartbeats he turned it off and went about his business.
Currently, he was in a sweatshop, but not one on foreign soil.  There were many like it all across the country, taking advantage of a willing, immigrant workforce.  No one seemed to care about the working condition of these “illegals.”  In fact, the “Made in the USA” brand which adorned the products they slaved over, was seen as something of renown; a great good.
And should his workforce be discovered by some pious organization or individual, little protest will be made of the substandard working conditions of his employees, so great will the uproar be over their non-citizen status.
In the old days he was a strong presence in the business community.  Out in the open and even lauded.  Recently, with all the outcry for human rights in this nation, his persona found the underground better suited to his business.
They called him Apathy.  Able to exploit employees caring not for their health or insignificant lives.  He’d been a captain of industry and they’d titled him appropriately.  Captain Apathy.  Though not as outwardly prevalent these days, his method and moniker had become more general, and of higher rank.
Perhaps now, with this summons from the Big Bossman, a man he not only knew quite well but had played a part in his rise to power, Apathy would once more find himself in the public eye. 

The spiral staircase terminated at the door to the lookout tower which sat several hundred feet above the main floor of The Office.  Flanking both sides of the entrance were bench seats, a nice respite for those whose physical condition was not suited to the long climb.
Opposite the entrance was a large curving glass window that overlooked the valley and the city below.  The exterior of the glass had been camouflaged by various means throughout the years.  Most recently was a see-through screen with granite texture printed on the outside which made the hillside look like an uninterrupted slope of stone boulders and craggy rock if seen from the road below.
Near the window sat a large telescope which had been employed for all manner of purposes from science to surveillance to juvenile curiosity.
A massive computer console dominated much of the space serving in communications, basic research, and business strategizing.  In the corner opposite this electronic beast lived the infamous copy machine which was sometimes tasked with the chore of duplicating necessary paperwork.  A half-moon couch and coffee table occupied the center of the area.
Corporate Man sat at the console.  He’d just finished sending out the last of his work requests when the tower door opened. 
“How’s it going up here?” Tanya said.  But, when Corporate Man turned it wasn’t Tanya that he saw. 
It was Business Woman.
She was dressed in dark blue slacks and a matching jacket with a white collared shirt.  Her shoes were black and dressy, but flat heeled and practical.  Her black belt had a chunky silver buckle.
She held a black domino mask in her hands.
“I don’t think I can wear this,” she said, casting the mask onto the coffee table.  “I’ll have to alter this suit jacket, too.  It’s from the late eighties or early nineties.  Can you say shoulder pads?  Uggh.  What were we thinking wearing shoulder pads?  I ripped them out.”
“It’s… You look…” Corporate Man stammered.  He cleared his throat and said, “It’s good to have you back onboard, Business Woman.”

Franklin Buck sat at a desk in the study of his five bedroom, two and a half bath, three car garage home, of which he was the sole occupant, and gazed out upon the bubbling water feature perched in the center of his richly green, obsessively manicured lawn.  In front of him was a laptop.  The screen displayed a document which was almost entirely white with the exception of one typed sentence.
My father was a business superhero named Ben Buck.
Franklin had rewritten the first line of his father’s biography many many times and after three years of grievous effort he had yet to attempt a second sentence.  He seemed to go catatonic whenever he tried to write about his father.
It was Franklin who had found the body.
A sudden beep and a clicking whir sounded from his belt buckle, snapping Franklin from his fugue.  He pushed himself away from his desk and examined the dollar bill shaped accessory.  A small green light was blinking from behind the serial number.  He looked closer and noticed that the number was positioned above a small window and that they green light was actually coming from text that scrolled across a miniature screen inside this window.
Franklin took off his belt and set it on the desk.  He watched the text display and began typing, transcribing the letters from the belt buckle screen onto his laptop.  Finally, after all this time, he had written more than one sentence.

Our economy is in ruins and our nation stands upon the brink of financial collapse.  It is time we stand up to those responsible.  I ask that you join me as I take up this task.  All members of The Union who are willing, please report to The Office immediately.  I understand that not all of us are alive or able so I extend this offer, this plea, to the descendants of our lost members or to anyone reading this transmission who is willing to assume the mantle and fight against The Great Recession that not only burdens our country but endangers the global economy.  Please answer the call. 
- Corporate Man

Franklin stood up, tall and proud.  He closed the laptop and went upstairs to his enormous walk in closet.  At the very back, that’s where it was.  The emerald-green suit of his father; the costume of Ben Buck The Dollar Man.
He would answer the call.

The Elephant sat in a well cushioned chair in his office, eating his third pint of peanut caramel triple chocolate cluster ice-cream.  He sipped a diet cola from a crystal flute and watched pro-wrestling on the enormous flatscreen mounted on the wall.
His Union Belt buckle had, long ago, collapsed under the strain of his ever growing girth.  It now lay resting in a storage unit that rivaled The Elephant’s house in square footage.
He would not be answering the call.

Donkey’s hands were shaking, even before the belt buckle had sounded.  He was always sick with nervous tremors theses days.  How had he come to this?  He used to be so strong, so cocksure.  Now he sat in cramped offices, feverishly tracking the movements of his opposition, always trying to anticipate their next scheme yet always taken off guard by the seemingly inept brilliance of their public forays and the utter incompetence of their constituents.
He had no time for the Union, did he?
The Elephant’s people were trying to shift blame for the economy onto his leader.  For eight years they ran this country into financial ruin and now they asserted that the new administration was not only at fault for failing to reverse the damage in a fraction of the time, but was actually to blame for the monumental deficit. 
And that red state, tea-bagging crowd was buying it.
No, he couldn’t abandon his post now.  He must wait and fend off whatever attacks the opposition launched.  Unless…
Perhaps Corporate Man could aid him in his endeavors.  Shouldn’t he at least read the alert?  Maybe The Union were assembling against The Elephant’s people. 
Yes, he should answer. 
Could this be The Elephant’s latest ruse?  A trick to divert Donkey’s attention?
It would be just like that big bastard.
Donkey would not be answering the call.
Would he?

She was tall and strong.
He was short and feeble.
For now at least.
“Hey, guess what?” she said, not really asking a question and not waiting for a reply.  “Our belt buckles have activated.  You know, our Union belt buckles.”
He looked up, his eyes sallow and tired though an ember of hope twinkled deep within them, and said, “Really?  After all this time?”
“Yep.  I think he’s finally come back.  In fact, I’m more than fairly certain because… Well because the message is from him.”
He turned away, a smile spreading across his face, and relaxed into his chair.
“Well then,” he said.  “We’ll have to get dressed up, won’t we?”
She clasped her hands and made excited, girlish noises.
“Yes, yes, yes,” she said.  Then she paused, a look of concern suddenly arresting her face.  “Do you remember how to get there?  The Office I mean.”
He nodded.
She relaxed.
The twins, Supply and Demand, would answer the call.

Corporate Man sat at the console in The Office tower lost in thought and reminiscence.  Business Woman had gone back downstairs to arrange things before the others started showing up.  He stood and went to the half moon couch, sat, and stared at the wall of photographs nestled between the computer console and the bench seating.  There was FDR after his recovery and a rare snap shot of Jimmy Carter, barefoot, in overalls, wearing a straw hat.
A buzz from the console brought him back to the present, and back in front of the computer screen.  A green button flashed, signaling the incoming video transmission.
Corporate Man pressed the button.
“Hey!  See there?  I told you it was him.  Hey Corporate Man, it’s me.  Bill,” said Bill Clinton.  He wore a dark red, satiny robe.  It was open in the front and an ample amount of chest protruded, adorned with a heavy, gold chained necklace. 
“Gosh, you’re right,” said a man stepping into frame.  Corporate Man could not understand the man’s attire.
“Al, how’s it going?  And what are you wearing?” Corporate Man asked.
“Oh, it’s going alright,” Al Gore said.  “And this is an Earth friendly suit made of unbleached bamboo fibers with solar panel inlays.”
The off-white suit had dark shoulder pads made of tiny rectangles.  A chest-plate of the same material draped his upper torso.  He wore a pair of thick, white-rimmed glasses that seemed a little too large.  Light emanated from the frame, illuminating the lenses.
“The paneling powers these state of the art iGlasses.  I can access the internet and make calls and take pictures and face–”
“Al,” came another voice from off camera.
“Oh, sorry,” Al said.  “We got your alert and wanted to wish you luck.  Also, we though you’d like to meet the new Commander in Chief.  He’s a big fan of yours by the way.  This is President Obama.”
A man dressed in red white and blue basketball uniform, circa 1976, complete with headband and shorts that were far too short, walked into view on the screen.
“Call me Barack,” he said.  “I just want you to know that we support your efforts.  Any assistance you can offer the country at this point would be a big help.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.”
“Barack.  I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all any of us can do,” said the President.
Corporate Man spoke with the three men for a few more minutes, accepted Al Gore’s offer to update the computer equipment at The Office, and then signed off.
There was another beep from the console, this time the signal came from the rest stop vending machine.  He checked a number of security cameras to verify that no one else was within sight of the machine and then flipped the toggle to activate the vending machine’s intercom.
“Do you require some assistance with your snack purchase?” Corporate Man asked.
“Only that I wish for verification that no worker was exploited during the manufacturing of this product, the ingredients are–”
“Junior?  Is that you?” Corporate Man said, interrupting the sequence of the password verification.
“Affirmative.  But it’s Senior Executive now.  I’m reporting for my shift and ready to clock in sir.”

The bossman was sweating.  His side ached and the over-the-counter pain killers were doing nothing to dampen the pain from his broken ribs even after he’d exceeded the daily limit by more than a few dosages.  Still, nothing.  He should have been at home in bed, recovering, but he knew that that East Side bitch never took days off, never slept, so he was determined to push through the pain and find a way to best her.
The sweat, however, was not a result of his physical discomfort.  Perspiration came because of the alert he’d received from the Big Bossman.  On a normal day he would have been unnerved by correspondence from the big guy, but contact so soon after his failure at the Price Killers Wholesale Superstore seemed far too coincidental.  He needed to be careful.  He was, most assuredly, being monitored.
There was a buzz from his intercom.  This had a three fold effect.  One, a yelp burst forth from the bossman’s lips.  Two, a close call as some pee tried to escape into his pants.  Three, a lurching jump that shifted his ribs and sent a fresh surge of pain through him. 
Also, there was an increase of sweat, but since he was already sweating, this did not count as four.
“Yes,” he spat into the machine.
“Emily from Human Resources is on line one.”
“Tell her I’ll have to call her back,” he said.  The bossman reached for some papers to shuffle in order to provide the illusion of industrious activity, but this was not his desk and so nothing was where he thought it ought to be.  This was not even his office.  His was still under repair due to his last rampage. 
The bossman scowled and considered damaging this office.  The effort would require a great deal of movement so he thought better of the idea.  And the receptionist on this floor seemed competent enough.
He wiped sweat from his brow then rose, gingerly, and shuffled into the private bathroom all upper level executives enjoyed.  He washed his hands and face and took another handful of pain pills.

Senior Executive was still walking through the corridor that led from the entrance inside the rest stop vending machine to the stairwell at The Office.  The trek was over two miles.  In the old days there were bicycles for Union members or their guests.  In the eighties those bikes were replaced by a set of go-karts.  Unfortunately, the batteries of the karts had not survived the passage of the last decade and the bicycles had been removed from the corridor to make room for the go-karts.
And so he walked.
Perhaps he should’ve purchased a few snacks from the machine before climbing into it.

All was clear and vivid, but it seemed dark just the same.  It was as though the shadows were black ink and everything was outlined with the heavy weight of a broken quill pen or a thick brush.
The light behaved in strange way, refracting into small circles or prismatic stripes, and colors glowed and shimmered for no reason at all.
John Q Public’s face was sallow and hard.  He complained of feeling weary and anxious; that hope was failing.
“It’s Apathy,” Corporate Man told him.  “His presence is like a poison.”
“Is it just him?” John Q Public asked.  “I was out of action for awhile and it’s not just our enemies that seem more ruthless and harsh, but our country.  Today’s music is dark and depressing and people are so cynical.”
“Part of it is Apathy.  He’s been unleashed and his ideology has run rampant through Corporate America and popular culture.  We can take him though.  We’ve exposed Mr. Outsource thanks to you and have both The Greed and Professor Inflation in custody.  The country has turned around under the current administration.  We’ve just got to keep after our enemies and the new millennium will be a bright and prosperous place to live.”
John Q Public smiled and placed his hand on Corporate Man’s shoulder.
“Where would we be without you,” he said.  Then he stiffened and a stern look drew across his face.  “How long has he had Junior Executive?”
“About four months.  This is the third location we’ve tracked him to, Emperius Inc.  Home of DownLow Records.  Apparently, Captain Apathy owns this media giant and that could account for the darker trends in today’s music.”
John Q Public nodded and said, “How do we get in?”
“You could just call for an appointment.  Or knock perhaps,” a voice shouted down at them.  Standing behind a railing on the second floor of the imposing high rise was Junior Executive.  His hair was long and shaggy, his clothes looked deliberately threadbare and stained; sheik from a life of begging in the street.
“Junior, did you escape?  Are you alright?” Corporate Man shouted back his reply.  Junior Executive threw his head back and laughed.
“You stupid old has-been.  Can’t you see what’s going on?  I’m not a junior executive anymore.  I’m not even part of the job market.  I’m unemployed!”
“No!” Corporate Man yelled, his face losing all color.
“Why work?  Why do anything? What’s the point?”
“That’s not you talking, Junior.  That’s Captain Apathy,” said John Q Public.
“You may be right on that point,” a man said, moving out of the shadows to stand by the former Junior Executive.  “But I’m not longer a captain.  I’ve been promoted.  I’m a general now.”

They were all gathered together in the Break Room. 
It was called The Office, but did not actually contain an office, much less a proper conference room.  Corporate Man lamented this fact, but what could he do?  He was not about to hold the meeting in his bedroom.  And the lookout tower always derailed productivity due to the presence of that damnable copy machine.
He had hoped for a better turn out, but those who had come would work well together.  Donkey and The Elephant might have been appreciated, but their constant bickering would be just as counter productive as the copier upstairs.  Miss Pension responded but cited reasons of health for her non-appearance.  Commander Credit was always a pay-to-play member, a freelancer, and he’d phoned in with his current rates which were far too steep.
Fair Wage had come, shriveled and old, but wearing his signature brown-corduroy suit.  Ben Buck’s son, Franklin was a welcome surprise as was Senior Executive.
“Thank you all for coming,” said Corporate Man as they finished up with the prepared snacks and refilled their coffees.  “I know I’ve been out of commission for a long time and I know this past decade has been a trial for all of you, but if we work together I think we can set everything right and get this country back on track.”
There was a murmur of approval.  When it quieted down, Corporate Man continued.  He spoke little of specifics, the majority of his short speech outlining the business philosophies they should undertake and the opposition they were most likely to encounter.  Then he turned the floor over to Business Woman.
“We’ve already turned Dale Breaker the Deal Breaker and, more importantly, we met and bested The Greed managing to secure a sample of his mass which, Corporate Man assures me, will help us track down the roots of the economic evil.  I spent some time as an undercover secretary at a company called Incorporated Business Corporation Incorporated.  My investigation was still in the primary stages when Corporate Man was located and I had to break cover.  This is where we will begin our search.  In front of you is a packet detailing the business plan Corporate Man and I have developed.  We’ll go over it point by point, make any necessary revisions, and then we’ll head out into the market place.”

Donkey was in his cramped office.  Sweating.  How pathetic.  Over the years he’d developed several nervous ticks, all of which were employed at present.  He was obsessed with the movements of The Elephant and tracked them incessantly, keeping tabs on many of The Elephant’s upper party members as well. 
Over the years Donkey had found himself on the losing end of more than one of their schemes.  This had shattered his self confidence.  Sadly, he had yet to understand that The Elephant blundered into success more often than not and that second guessing his own actions, and failing to act when necessary, had contributed to a large portion of the opposition’s victories as well.
And so here he was, huddled in this embarrassing office space, so consumed with his pachyderm nemesis that he’d failed to notice the figure in the doorway.
The Big Bossman was watching him, had been watching him for several minutes, allowing his disgust and contempt for the nervous ass to build.
He fingered the obsidian cufflink on his white suit jacket and then adjusted his black tie with his black gloved hands.
He should strangle Donkey.  Punch him in the face a couple of times, except that might get blood on his pristine white slacks.  He stroked his luscious moustache and considered all the sinister options.

“So we’re going to just walk right in?” Franklin Buck asked.
“Yep,” said Business Woman.
“In through the front door?”
“Uh huh.”
“Of this building?” he said, gesturing toward the grey, nondescript building.  “Doesn’t look like much.”
“This is the Northside Branch of Incorporated Business Corporation Incorporated.  The company that, we suspect, runs it all.  I’ve managed to locate all four branches of the main corporate structure, but there’s a head office somewhere.  I was working here, trying to discover its location.”
“Yes and then you abandoned the operation to rescue Corporate Man,” Franklin Buck said.  “Wait, won’t they recognize you?”
Business Woman shrugged and motioned Franklin Buck toward the entrance and said, “Doubt it.  I was wearing a wig.”
“A wig?”
“It’s a corporation.  That’s about all it takes.  Speaking of which,” she said as they walked into the lobby and approached the front desk, “watch and learn.”
Business Woman’s stride lengthened and her hips took on a swagger.  She tapped her fingers on the reception desk and when she spoke it was with a slight southern accent.
“Hi, we’re from out of town, just flew in to this fair city of yours.  We’re here about the merger.”
The receptionist nodded as though she was well aware of Business Woman’s needs. “Oh sure,” she said, “I’ll get you where you need to go. Which company are you with?”
Business Woman didn’t hesitate, “Well sweety, how many companies are finalizing mergers today?”
“Twelve?  Really?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a slow day.  Who are you with?”
Business Woman leaned against the counter and said, “Well, since it’s slow, let’s play a little game.  Which outfit would you guess I was with?”
The receptionist shrugged.  “Well… I detect a slight accent and three of the companies are headquartered in the South.  From Alabama there’s Big Co. and Bigger Co.  Then from Kentucky we’ve got Impress Inc..  I’m gonna go with Bigger Co.”
“Oh, sorry dear.  I’m a Kentucky girl.  Better luck next time.”
“Fourth floor.  Conference room C.  Don’t forget your visitor’s badges,” the receptionist said, gesturing to a basket of plastic, clip-on cards on the edge of her desk.
Business Woman clipped a badge on her suit and then attached one to Franklin Buck.
“Oh.  Which way to the elevator?”
The receptionist pointed.
Business Woman thanked her for all the help.
“I assume you knew where the elevators were?” Franklin asked once they were out of earshot.
“Of course.  But little touches like that help avoid suspicion.  Asking for recommendations of good restaurants in the area is a good one too.”
“And how’d you know there would be a merger going on?”
“Weren’t you listening?  This is the corporation of corporations.  There’s always some sort of acquisition in the works meaning there’s always a merger going on.”

“They’re in,” Corporate Man whispered. 
He, Senior Executive, and Fair Wage had been in the building for nearly thirty minutes.  They’d swept into the lobby leading a group of Japanese businessmen, acting as if they’d courted the foreign tradesmen and were bringing them into the building for an important meeting.  They breezed right past the reception desk and into the elevators where they quickly separated themselves from the confused Asian entrepreneurs.
Their next step had been to gather at a water cooler.  This was most advantageous to their purpose as water coolers are out of bounds zones in the corporate world.  Milling about is expected here and almost always allowed, taking on an almost religious air.  A company dare not interfere with this important American institution. 
Especially since they could write it off on their taxes.
Supply and Demand were also inside.  To gain entrance they’d shown up as job applicants and were instructed to head over to Personnel.  No one noticed when they did not show up in that department.
Corporate Man checked his greed-filled ray gun.
“This thing is freaking out.  We’re definitely in the right place,” he said.  He loosened his grip on it, trying to decipher the dominant thrust of its movements.  “I think it’s trying to go up.”
“That’s where Business Woman is heading,” said Senior Executive.  “The twenty second floor.”
“Right.  Yeah, her cover job.  We should make our way there up there,” Corporate Man said, checking his tie and slipping the vibrating ray gun into his suit pocket.  Senior Executive smoothed the sleeves of his dark grey suit and adjusted Fair Wage’s collar before they strode into a nearby elevator.
Going up.
I don’t understand,” said Business Woman, “this was his office.  I worked at the desk right out there.  He rarely left this wing of the building.  He should be here.”
Out in the reception area the entrance door opened. 
Business Woman shot Franklin Buck a glance and whispered a reminder to him about their cover story.  There was an uncomfortably long pause before a voice finally spoke from the front desk.
“Excuse me, is anybody in here?” asked Corporate Man.
Business Woman’s shoulders dropped and she breathed a relieved sigh.  Then she walked out into the reception area where Corporate Man, Senior Executive, and Fair Wage were standing. 
“He’s not here.  It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “What about the greed-pieces?  What do they indicate?”
Corporate Man pulled the greed-loaded space gun from his jacket, held it for a moment and then said, “Up.  I mean, they’re really bouncing around in this room, but the general direction is still upward.  How about we take the stairs and climb until these things start moving sideways?”
The five of them moved out into the hallway and found the stairs.  They left Fair Wage in the lobby, insisting that someone needed to wait for Supply and Demand.  Truthfully, they didn’t think the old man should climb so many steps. 
After three flights, the movement inside the greed-gun abruptly changed.
“This is the floor,” said Corporate Man.

The bossman finally relented and asked the receptionist to show Emily from Human Resources in.
He’d kept her waiting for over twenty-five minutes already.
Emily was a slim woman with short, pixie-like hair.  He distrusted slim corporate types.  Their physique conveyed a lack of greed and a surplus of principles that typically made them an irritant.  This stereotype was wholly untrue as he’d met a great deal of trim, narcissistic money-grubbers in his time, as well as some annoyingly honest, chubby angels, but the bossman still maintained his ill conceived wariness.
“You never called me back so I though an in person–”
“Yes, what is it, I’m very busy,” the bossman said.
“I’ve come across a payroll issue in regards to an employee’s salary,” she said.
“No what?”
“No raises.  Our hours-based, incremental wage increases are fair enough.  Too generous if you want my opinion,” the bossman said and then turned away as though the matter had been dealt with sufficiently.
“That’s not the issue at all,” said Emily, her voice betraying a certain level of frustration she would rather keep concealed from her boss.
“Explain,” said the bossman.
“I’m trying.”
“Then continue.”
Emily’s head shook of its own accord and her eyes threatened to roll.  She gritted her teeth and then said, “I was at an employee’s desk getting the incremental paperwork signed and he questioned me about the amount.”
“Tell him it’s a fair–”
Emily held up her hand and the bossman stopped talking.  He seemed a little surprised by his own compliance.
Emily continued, “According to the paperwork he had earned a level two status, but the wage increase put him at a level five.  He pointed this out to me and asked if the raise should be for a lower amount.  I looked into it.  He was a transfer from a different division and his previously logged hours were, for some reason, not factored in when he started here.  He was, therefore, given the entry level wage and the incremental status of level one.  He worked under the assumption that because he had entered a different division, his wage level started over.  But, since level one in our division had a higher wage than the level three of his former position, he hadn’t questioned the apparent loss of hours worked.  But his status should not have restarted and not only should he be given the incremental status of level five, he should also receive retro pay dating back to his transfer date.  I have all the paperwork here.  I just need your signature.”
The bossman narrowed his eyes.  This was just the sort of thing he didn’t want the Big Bossman seeing.  Approving large raises and forking over back pay.  He shook his head.
“No.  We keep him at level two and decrease the raise accordingly.”
“What?  That’s unethical.”
“That’s business.  The employee in question believes that his wage should be level two.  In fact, it’s what he was expecting so it’s not like he’ll miss those extra dollars that may or may not belong to him.”
“They do belong–”
This time it was the bossman who held up his hand and Emily exhibiting the compliant silence.  After allowing the pain in his ribs to subside he said, “Always pay your employees as little as they are willing to accept.  There is no reason to give them more money if they are willing to work for less.”
He waved Emily toward the door and, as soon as she was gone, he began calculating how much money he’d just saved the company and how much that savings would increase his next bonus.

“That one there,” said Business Woman.  “That’s his office.”
The four of them were scouting the area from the relative safe zone of the water cooler.
“How can you tell?” asked Senior Executive.
“I used to work for him.  Did you see how that woman came storming out just now?”
“Yeah,” said Franklin Buck.  “She looked pissed.”
Business Woman nodded.  “I saw that look on more than one person every single day I worked here.”
“Let’s pay him a visit, shall we,” said Corporate Man, striding into the reception area.  Seated behind the desk was a plump woman with hair like steel wool.  Her eyes lifted from her work as Corporate Man approached.
“I assume you have an appointment,” she said.
“Of course.”
“Uh… Jones.  Smithy Jones,” said Corporate Man.
“Yes, he’s expecting you,” she said. 
Her voice sounded like a duck.
“Oh,” said Corporate Man, his posture of confidence fracturing as a bolt of panic streaked through him.  “Really?”
“Oh yeah.  We let random people with really lame fake names in to see our corporate executives all the time.”
Corporate Man leaned forward and spoke in a softer, more humble tone.  “So I take it, and let me know if I’m mistaken, that you aren’t going to let us in to see him.”
“You can always sit and wait for him to come out,” the receptionist said.
Corporate Man smiled and returned to the others.  They seemed eager for information even though they had all heard the conversation.
“Did we have a plan for getting past the receptionist?” asked Franklin Buck. 
Everyone glanced around at everyone else.
Finally, Corporate Man’s grin widened and he said, “I think I know how to get inside.  He reached into his suit jacket and removed his PDA.
“Let’s hope my stocks are up,” he said.

The bossman felt great, despite his aching ribs.  Nothing beat the high one got from leveraging another human being and profiting from it so quickly.  The bonus numbers were looking good.  He was almost giddy.  In fact, he hadn’t felt this elated since the whole Corporate Man affair had started.
He should fire someone.
He opened a program on his desk top. 
Seedy lounge music seeped from his speakers as a title screen for Subordinate Roulette popped up on his monitor.  The bossman selected “Continue Saved Game” from the options and a roulette wheel appeared, dominating most of the screen.  Ugly, sad looking people squat in the outer pockets where the red and black numbers should have been.  A heaving chested blonde in minimal attire smiled cheerfully next to the wheel, gesturing toward it like a game-show-prize model.
The bossman clicked a drop down menu and selected “Update Employee Directory.”  This imported a list of current employees into the game and avatars of randomly selected workers materialized on the roulette wheel.  He clicked another button and the cheerful blonde bent over the wheel revealing her every asset as she rolled a chrome ball into the spinning apparatus.
There was a pleasant clacking sound as the ball bounced around.  The employee avatars shrieked and shuddered when it struck nearby.  And then, with a satisfying plunking splut, the ball crushed a man with short, banker hair and glasses.
The bossman fingered the intercom and said, “Bring me employee #8008, Mr. Stanley Curtsfield.  And have security escort him up here so he’ll suspect what’s going on.”
“That’s reprehensible,” a booming voice sounded from somewhere in the room.  The bossman jumped up from his desk, winced, and clutched his side, stymieing a whimper.
Corporate Man dropped into the room from a vague upward direction.  The bossman looked around, confused and slightly panicked.  Before he could speak, Corporate Man surged forward, grabbed the bossman by the shirt collar and said, “No.  I don’t have an appointment.”

Merlton had trouble understanding most city folk.  Their patterns of speech and clipped accents always required extra attention on his part.  Understanding the woman in his shop right now was worse than normal.  Maybe it was because she had more teeth than the average person.  It was also quite possible that she had a case of mumps.  Did people still get mumps these days?
There she went again, saying something.  What was that?
She’d come in before with a bag full of teeth and a note asking him to make the things into bullets.  Mighty strange.  In seventeen years of running this gun shop, Merlton had never heard that particular request.  Sure, he’d been asked to make all kinds of custom crap for hot headed militia types, but teeth?
He told her that he could encase a tooth in the lead of each bullet, but that she would need a large enough caliber weapon – he pointed to the Chiappa Rhino .357 magnums and the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .454 caliber – to accommodate them.  She liked the idea, but wrote down a strange request.  She wanted to be able to see the teeth in the final product.  Sort of a tooth capped bullet or something.  He warned that an irregular tooth shape could screw up the aim and damage her gun barrel.  She wrote that she didn’t care.
Now, here she was again, chewing her words with all them teeth, eager to pick up her merchandise.  Along with the custom bullets, she’d gone with a pair of the chrome plated Rugers with the 2½ inch barrels. 
Merlton threw his hands up, confused at her muttered speech.  The woman with more teeth than the average person scribbled a note on her receipt.  It read: Thank you for the quick turn around time.  And the necessary discretion.
Merlton nodded.  All the words after “thank you” were unnecessary.  He always got things done quick and he never spoke of one’s business to another.

“Ah, Miss Adams.  I was hoping to see you again,” the bossman said, glaring at Business Woman.  His chest was pinned against his desk and his arm was barred behind his back by Corporate Man.  “So I could have the pleasure of firing you myself.”
He gave a low, almost inaudible, chuckle and held his stare for a long moment.  Then, with an air of smug righteousness, he said, “You’re fired.  Now get out of my office.  I’ve got business to attend to.”
Senior Executive took a step forward, leaned toward the bossman and whispered, “Yes, that’s all well and good, but Miss Adams is actually Business Woman, and she’s with us.”
Showing no sign of shock or revelation or even embarrassment, the bossman said, “Business Woman, huh.  In the future, Miss Adams, it would serve you well to include such information on your personnel sheet.”
“Would it?” said Business Woman, not really fighting off the urge to grin.
“I know I would have avoided much inconvenience had you been forthright,” he replied.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said. “Now, shall we get down to business?”
“Let’s,” said the bossman, retaining his overconfident glare.
Corporate Man released the arm bar and shoved the bossman into the office chair.  The bossman winced but did not clutch his side.  Corporate Man held the vibrating, greed-filled ray gun to the bossman’s chin and said, “This little device, which we’ll call our corporate analyst, has reported that you are the top executive of this establishment.  We know, however, that you are not the head of the empire.  Our reports indicate that you are one or four limbs in the Incorporated Business Corporation Incorporated enterprise, merely an arm or a leg.  Where’s the head?”
The bossman shrugged, “Your information is not only incorrect, it is confidential.”
“If it’s incorrect, there would be no reason to assert that it is, likewise, confidential,” said Senior Executive.
“Yes,” said the bossman.  Then he sat, motionless.
Business Woman slapped him and, almost as an afterthought, she said, “I personally scouted the west and south side branches and, as you know, I infiltrated this north side location whereby I ascertained the location of the east side facility.  We’ve pinpointed the four corners.  All signs indicate a central office.  Where is it?”
“I would assume that your ‘corporate analyst’ would be able to advise you of the central office location,” said the bossman, gesturing flippantly to the greed-filled ray gun.  “Provided that the assumption of the existence of a central office is conceded to.”
“This is pointless,” said Business Woman.  “We’ll never get anything out of him.  I once listened to this prick pull crap like this on a conference call for an entire afternoon.”
“Then why can’t we use that corporate analyst gun thing to find it?” Franklin Buck asked.
“We could, but the process would take a long time and lead us through an endless succession of greedy companies and people until we were close enough to the central figure head for it to lock on to that signal through all the greedy corporate interference,” said Corporate Man.
Senior Executive tapped Corporate Man on the shoulder and signaled him into a huddle with himself and Business Woman.  In a hushed tone he said, “We need to get some financial records.  There’s going to be an ass-load of paperwork flowing from this place to that.  Invoices, expenses, shipping records, something will point us there.”
“But won’t we need data from all the other branches to find the intersecting location?” Business Woman asked.
“Yeah, we’ll have to go break into one of the other three, access their files, and from there–”
“Uh guys,” said Franklin Buck, “this may seem stupid, but what about this?”  He was pointing to a framed, poster-sized map, hanging on the wall. “Here’s us, right?” he said, tapping the map.  Then he grabbed a black marker from the bossman’s desk and circled the location.
“Hey!  You can’t vandalize company property!” the bossman shouted.
They all ignored his protests.
“Now,” said Franklin Buck, “circle the locations of the other branches.”
He handed the marker to Business Woman and while she circled the locations on the map, Franklin Buck removed an oversized calendar from the wall.  He returned to the map and used the calendar like a straight edge, drawing a black line connecting the north and south locations.  Then he did the same for the east and west branches.
“There.  The lines intersect at… Jacob Center.  I bet that’s the central office,” Franklin said and turned to face the others.  No one said anything.  Then, after a painfully long moment, they all turned toward the bossman as if his expression might reveal something.
Finally, the bossman spoke, “Are you currently seeking gainful employment?  Because we could always use a good man.  Of course we’ll have to garnish your first paycheck to pay for the map vandalism, but the–”
“No freaking way,” Business Woman said.  “Can’t be that simple.”
“Yeah, how stupid can these corporate types really be?” asked Senior Executive.
They all paused again and looked at each other, and then at the bossman.  He was busy digging out a form from a set of files in his desk drawer.
“Of course, you’ll need to fill out this application.  Is your resume up to date? Oh, and references.  We’ll need references,” said the bossman.  He glanced back and forth between the others in the room, eyeing them with suspicion.  “It would probably be best if your references did not include the names of those in our company at present.”