By Joshua Ryan
I woke up pretty slowly the next afternoon. Mike wasn’t there. He must have seen how passed out I was and figured it wasn’t safe to get me up. He was probably at his office. Maria had left some coffee and a tray of croissants and fruit and little slices of ham—very tasty, despite her being a bitch. I gradually recalled what had happened the night before. I was just as mad as I was then, thinking about those mean things Jerry had said, and how he’d taunted me. And what I’d agreed to do. I’d agreed to become a workie! How did that happen? How could that possibly have happened? I was confused . . . . And at that moment, my phone went off. Jerry, of course. Why not?
“Carson? Mike’s not there–I guess I can talk to you. You remember what we talked about last night? Vaguely? OK. I called the guy at WORC that I mentioned last night, and he was free for lunch—actually, I think he always is. Some people are. So I fed him some drinks and he said sure, you can be a workie. Just like we planned.”
“Uh . . . ” I said.
“I left him a couple minutes ago. It’s all fixed up. All you quote need to do unquote is write something on social media about how great the WORC program is–great, but demanding. I know you won’t do that, and he knows that too. But it’s all set up. You’ll have your two days as a workie.”
“I . . . uh . . . .” Long pause.
“I see. Well, that’s OK, Carson. I knew you weren’t really up for it. But no problem. I’ll just let him know. And I’ll still buy you that spring outfit. Just send me the bill.”
He sounded happy. Happy to put me down. He’d pay anything to do that.
“Of course I’m up for it!” I told him. “Just tell me when and where.”
Now the long pause was on his side. Which was great! I’d called his bluff.
“No problem, Carson,” he said. “I arranged for you to be taken into the program on Friday. Sorry about the delay, but it seems that right now, they do volunteer intake only once a week. I gave them all your information . . . . ”
“Your personal data. You know, name and address and driver’s license number and Social Security number and all that other stuff you gave me last night. Remember?”
“Of course I remember.” Like I did.
“OK,” he said. “All you need to do is show up at the WORC Recruitment Center on Friday at 4 p.m. Bring your driver’s license to show who you are.”
“You’ll need a ride to the Recruitment Center. Can’t leave your car there—it’s in a two-hour zone. I’ll be happy to drive you.”
“Uh . . . I’m sure Mike will do it.”
“Too bad! I was looking forward to seeing you go through that door.” He was laughing at me again.
“Yeah, too bad. I . . . uh . . . Should I bring any . . . supplies? I mean clothes, toothbrush . . . shaver . . . . ?” I was half asleep and totally hung over and I was still in my shorts and I hadn’t finished my breakfast and I definitely needed a shave and I hadn’t brushed my teeth. There must be some other questions I should ask, but that’s what came to me.
“Like I said, just your driver’s license. They’ll take care of your hygiene and wardrobe.” He was chuckling. “And make sure you’re sober.”
“Listen. You know you’re gonna lose this bet.”
“Yeah, and you’re gonna win, either way. It will be interesting to see which way. But you’ll be a better person for it.” He meant that to be funny, but it was just his usual kind of sarcasm. “I gotta go—goodbye, Carson.”
Fuck! I thought. HOW did this happen? I was gonna spend my weekend being a workie?! What a bore! Just to show Jerry that I could do it. Which wasn’t even the thing it was really about. It was really about who was on top, who could talk down to who. In fact, who had possession of Mike. So when you put it like that, it might be interesting to see what happened. Maybe after this, Jerry would start getting his own drinks, without complaining to me about it. Right now, he treated me like I actually was a workie. But not for long!
When Mike got home, I was feeling pretty happy, although he kept saying things like, “You sure you want to do this?” and “I don’t think you’re really prepared for this, Carson,” and threatening to stay around the house “just to be with” me until I started my “ordeal” on Friday. Finally I had to scream at him, “I’m not a baby! I don’t need your help!” Then he was all apologetic. Next day I made him leave for his office so I could get some peace and quiet and enjoy a drink or two by myself. It was fun thinking about how in just a few more days I would turn out to be the man of the house. Maybe I could even keep Jerry out of it!
Then, sooner than I thought, it was Friday at 1, and Mike was waking me up and reminding me that this was the day. OK, OK, I thought. It’s not like I’ve never pulled outta bed for an athletic event! I mean, I did it all those times in college. I was a little nervous, of course, but come on. It’s just for 48 hours. It irritated me that Mike kept saying things like, “This will be the first time we’ve been apart for that long!” There were all kinds of things I wanted to say back to him, like, “Yeah, maybe that’s why I’m doing it!” But I just said, “It’s OK, big guy. I’ll be back real soon.”
So we were getting along pretty well when we pulled up to the WORC recruitment place.
The building was a lot like what I thought it would be when I heard it was out on Overland. You could tell what kind of a neighborhood it was when you saw that every warehouse or office or cheap apartment building had its backside completely fenced off and razorwired. The WORC facility looked like the combination of a warehouse and a DMV—a brick sort of office building in front, with glass doors (bullet proof, no doubt!) and two or three windows, and another part behind it, much bigger and built out of brownish concrete. Maybe it looked more like a post office than anything else. You know, they always have a lobby in front and a thing like a warehouse in back. Then there’s the place in back of that, where they park their trucks or whatever, with a big fence around it. Something like that was attached to the rear of the WORC office too.
The building had the same kind of cheap signage that those things always have. I mean, God forbid they should pay for some graphic design! Instead it’s just big ugly letters—plastic, of course!
WORK OPTIONS FOR RECOVERY AND CORRECTION
Gruesome! I was glad I didn’t have to work in a place like that! Or even see it more than once.
And guess what? Jerry was there, waiting for us. Standing all nonchalant next to his new sports car, like he was posing for an ad. But all right, how long can this last? It’s almost four o’clock.
“Just thought I’d come by to see if you had any questions,” he said to Mike. As usual, he was talking as if I wasn’t there. Well, let him enjoy being the big man for a little while longer. Mike and he had a conversation about how everything was totally arranged, and all Carson needed to do was to sign some routine papers and make sure not to mention that he was there as a visitor. Just let “the help,” as Jerry called them, think he was a normal volunteer. Then he looked at me to make sure I understood.
“Like any of them are normal,” I said.
“Maybe not,” he said. “But don’t give yourself away. Nobody on the ground, so to speak, will believe you. They’ll think you’re crazy, and you might get hurt. OK?”
“OK, OK. Let’s go inside.”
On the other side of the glass doors was one of those dingy official lobbies– linoleum (I HATE linoleum!) and some chairs and a table with old magazines on it, in case you have to wait there forever. Also a desk with a man behind it. This one was wearing a uniform like a cop, only not that impressive, just sort of gray. It was the kind of uniform that I knew only WORC cops wear. Jerry walked up to the desk and said who he was and the guy said, “Welcome, Mr. Hamilton, very glad to see you,” and Jerry said he had arranged the voluntary commitment of “my young friend here,” meaning me, who was supposed to report to the Center at 4 o’clock. “Let me see your identification, please,” the cop said to me, and I gave him my driver’s license and he went on his computer and said, “Yes. Please be seated. Mr. Lyons will be with you in a moment.”
We sat down on these lame chairs they have, and I was glad it didn’t seem like the sort of atmosphere where Mike and Jerry would start one of their chats. Neither of them seemed to have anything to say, for a change. I spent my time looking at the cheesy art that was up on the walls. It was all posters telling you how you should want to be a workie. One showed a guy standing with his back to the camera, but you could tell he was a workie because he was wearing that horrible workie suit that you can recognize a mile off. He was holding something that might have been a rake or a shovel in one hand, and he was facing what must have been a sunrise, because the words next to him were HAVE A GREAT DAY! Another one showed a well-dressed man resting his hand on a young workie’s shoulder, while they gazed into each other’s eyes. This one said YOUR FUTURE IS SECURE. There was even one that showed two workies with their arms around each others’ shoulders, and underneath it said WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER! Tell me this shit ain’t gay! They must be gettin desperate for volunteers, I thought.
But it didn’t take long to hear “Mr. Lyons will see you now.” Then Mike and Jerry stood up and started walking toward where the cop was pointing, which was a little wood-paneled office over on one side of the lobby, like you see in a bank when you aren’t just cashing a check but you need to talk to someone. “I’m sorry,” the guy at the desk said, “only the volunteer is allowed beyond this point. I would suggest that you say your goodbyes now.”
Mike, at least, looked surprised about that, but it was fine with me. I certainly didn’t have a lot of sentiments to share. We all shook hands, and when Mike wanted to hug me, I let him. Then I went past the little swinging door in the barrier between the lobby and the offices and into the room where Mr. Lyons was waiting. He was wearing a tie and a blazer and looked exactly like the kind of guy that sits in a bank office.
“Mr. Robertson, isn’t it?” He extended his hand. “I am Jeremy Lyons. I’m chief recruiter for this location, and as such, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to WORC. I need to tell you that this conversation is being recorded, to ensure our high quality of service. I hope you understand.”
“I do.” How many times had I listened to some robot tell me that on the phone?
He turned toward his computer screen. “I’ve looked over your record, and I must say I believe you’ve made the right decision. I know you haven’t worked for . . . five years.”
“Four, I think.” Like somebody cared.
“I’ll amend the record. Well, I’m here to complete the arrangements by getting your signature on WORC’s Contract and Commitment form. It’s your agreement to commit yourself to the program, and it has all the normal provisions about this being a contract freely entered into and therefore not subject to appeal or revision of any kind, unless of course both parties agree to such revisions. It outlines the legally enforceable penalties for violation, which are pretty much as you’d expect them to be. It also identifies the person or persons who will act as your designee in disposing of any property or conducting any business that may be remaining during your life as a WORC participant. In this case, we have been told it is . . . . Mr. Michael Thomasen, 643 Druid Lane . . . . ”
“Right. That’s him.” This was starting off a lot more boring than I’d thought it would.
“Very well. I think everything is in order. Since you’re an acquaintance of Mr. Hamilton, I’m sure you know all about our program. You do understand that while we welcome you as a volunteer, once you enter the program there will be no distinction between you and anyone who was assigned to the program by the correctional system, and that the same regulations and procedures apply to all?”
“I do.” Yadda yadda yadda.
“And you do understand that the contract is permanent and irrevocable?”
“Of course.” Big fuckin joke!
“Do you have any final questions?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Excellent. Here is the document,” he said. He laid a pile of papers on the desk. They were stapled together, but they looked about 15 pages long. “Would you care to read it?”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“And I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that very few people do! So, cutting to the chase, as they say, please enter your signature in the space provided. For your convenience, I’ve marked it with an X.”
He opened the document to the last page, turned it around, and pushed it across the desk. I saw about a million words, and at the bottom there was a tiny X written next to a line that said “Client Signature.”
“I’m the client?” I asked.
“Right,” he said.
I signed my name, and he took the document and signed it too. “And now,” he said, “this would be the appropriate moment for you to, uh, surrender all your personal items—you know, wallet, phone, keys, whatever. Just place them all on the desk.”
I should have been expecting that, but it felt pretty sudden. And it feels really strange, leaving all your stuff like that on somebody else’s desk, somebody you never met until maybe five minutes ago. But you’re always doing that, right? You’re always giving somebody your credit card or your driver’s license, but you eventually get them back. And after all, this was a government office. So I searched in my pockets and dropped all that stuff onto his desk.
“Anything else in there?” he said.
“That’s it,” I said.
“And we already have your driver’s license.”
“Yes, he’s ready,” he said to his phone. Then he stood up.
“Nice meeting you, Mr. . . . . ”
“Robertson,” I said.
“Robertson.” He shook my hand. “The officers will escort you into the facility.”
Right then, two guys in gray uniforms appeared in my field of vision. “Stand up,” one of them said. “Hands behind your back,” the other one said. As soon as my hands got there, somebody grabbed them, and I felt cold steel clamping down. I heard a click—I was handcuffed!
“This way,” one of them said, and they began walking me out of the office. Walking very quickly. As I passed the little gate in the barrier, I saw Mike and Jerry hanging out in the lobby, watching. It was like they’d taken me to the airport, and they wanted to wave farewell to me. They actually did wave. I’m not sure if they realized that my own hands were useless. Then one of the gray guys unlocked a door, and I went through it.
To be continued …
Metal would like to thank the author, Joshua Ryan, for sharing this story, which is being be serialized here with new installments appearing every few days.