By Joshua Ryan
Boss Web put a leash on my collar and led me to the office. Mr. Williams was waiting outside, and so was a truck with a cage on it.
Boss said, “This is the workie they want at the House, right? Name is Butch.”
“Right. Butch,” Mr. Williams said. “Ethan will take him up.”
Boss walked away. I stowed my gear in the back of the truck and scrambled into the cage, still wearing the leash. Ethan locked me inside. Fifteen minutes after all this started, I was saying goodbye to the world of coffles.
I guess it was about a mile to the House on the dirt farm road. I was craning my neck, trying to see ahead, especially when the truck went around a curve. I wished I’d taken some of Jerry’s invitations to see the House, back when I was free. But I never wanted to spend any time with Jerry. Maybe if I’d been a little nicer to him … Before we got to the House we had to get through a concrete wall with a steel fence on top, and rolls of razor wire on top of that. OK, that’s the way it was, all around the Farms. Everything was secured. But then we were through the gate, and there it was, rising above a grove of trees — an elegant colonial house with red brick walls and white columns and white window frames and four huge chimneys. Yes! That’s it! That’s the House!
But we didn’t get there. The truck turned left, along a line of white wooden shacks with the dirt road in front of them. The first of them actually wasn’t a shack; it was a five-car garage, newly painted, very nice. The next thing wasn’t even a building; it was just a concrete corral where the dumpsters were. The shacks started afterwards. I’m calling them shacks. What they were was a line of wooden houses, with BARRACKS NO. 1, BARRACKS NO. 2, etc., painted over the doors. They weren’t fixed up like the garage, but they weren’t leaning on their sides or anything. They were just there. Then I noticed the bars. There were bars on all the windows. Shit! I thought. What’s goin on?
The truck stopped in front of the last one, and a workie came out. He was a dude in his forties, I guess. He wasn’t totally fat, but he had the kind of body that plumbers get. “OK,” Ethan said. “Here’s your new boy.”
“Thank you, sir,” the workie said, while Ethan unlocked the cage and pulled me out by my leash. “Like you been told, Mr. Hamilton wants this workie on Grounds Service,” he said. “Nothin special.”
He took off my leash and drove away. I wasn’t at the House. I was standing on the little dirt driveway, holding my box of gear and looking at the workie that was apparently my new boss.
“OK, Butch,” the guy said. “I’m Boss Fredo. I boss the Grounds Service. Mr. Hamilton’s got a few different Services. One of em’s us. We take care a the grounds.” Duh! “Then there’s the House Service. Just cuz you’re workin round the House don’t mean you’re in the House Service. Understand?”
“Yes boss.” What the hell!
“Grounds Service, we don’t go past the fence. The fence by the pool. We do the pool, but we don’t do the stuff on the other side of the pool. We don’t do the terrace. We don’t do the House. House Service does the House, House Service does the terrace. Understood?”
“So you don’t go past the pool. You don’t go on the terrace. You don’t try to go on the terrace. You don’t try to go into the House. Very important. You don’t go near the House.”
“No boss.” I’m fucked.
“You don’t even look into the House. Best you don’t even look AT the House.”
“Yes boss.” Totally fucked. I’m just here to be more of a servant. So I won’t forget that I’m NEAR the House but I’m never allowed IN the House. Mike and Jerry were smarter about this shit than I could have predicted. But if I could have predicted …
“OK. So, this is different from how you been livin, down in the barns. Up here you still get rousted at sunup — that’s the same. Only up here, you get your chow in the barracks. It comes from the House. So it’s better. Then you go on your labor detail. Which is lawn boy. You’re a lawn boy now. Other lawn guys, they’ll tell you what to do. You look like you got the muscle.”
“Just do what you’re told, you’ll be all right.”
“OK, I’ll go ahead and show you your quarters.”
Quarters! For fuck sake! Exactly what fuckin Jerry would call it. Like it’s a fuckin army of workies, reporting to His Grace the Master of Hamilton Farms. But when Fredo opened the door of the barracks, I might as well have been back at the barn, because the first thing I saw was six or seven workies sittin around a wooden table, playin cards. “Hey boss,” one of them said. “When’s chow?”
“It’s comin,” he said. “This here’s Butch. He’s the new workie on the job. Nother lawn boy.”
“Hey dude.” “Gladda meetcha.” Stuff like that. Then: “Dude, you got somethin to add around here?”
The guy that said it was mad about something. I didn’t know what. Office politics.
“Just dumb muscle,” I said. And thought — how weird is that? When did I ever say a thing like that? But it was true. That’s all I had. Dumb muscle. I didn’t have it before, but I had it now.
“At least you’re honest, dude. I’m Skippy. Gladda know ya. Now when’s our chow comin?”
The boss didn’t answer. He just turned to me and said he would show me my stall. Stall? But that’s what it was. When you got out of the room where you could sit and play cards, you were in a little corridor that had little rooms on each side, although “room” wasn’t the right word for them. Each one had a bunk and a blanket and a pillow and even a broken down chair, like it was a room in an attic that was furnished with stuff that got stored up there and forgotten. But it wasn’t a room; it was a stall. The walls went up about four feet, and above that there were steel bars. Same with the door, which was standing open. Wood up to four feet, then bars.
“Usually,” the boss was saying, “you ain’t locked in. But you stay in your stall unless you got a good reason to go someplace else. I mean at night. Like goin to the crap holes. The crap holes and sinks are at the end of the hallway. Behave yourself, I won’t lock you up at night. Start fuckin around, and I will. Really fuck up, you see that thing hangin by the door?”
“No, I don’t think …”
“It’s a paddle. I don’t mind paddlin you.”
The idea of this fat son of a bitch giving me the paddle was a lot worse than getting the paddle. I looked in his eyes and saw that he realized that.
“You do your job,” he muttered, “and you’ll get along all right.”
“Hey boss,” somebody yelled. “Grub’s here.”
“Stow your gear,” the boss said. “Follow me.”
The dinner was totally weird. Part of it was Hastings’ Best Workie Biscuits, and part of it was the remains of today’s or yesterday’s meal of the people “at the House” — Jerry and Mike and, as I heard, “that faggot PA of theirs, Mr. Meyers.” “PA” stood for “personal assistant” — so maybe, I thought, there were already three in that bed. Escargot doesn’t warm up well, but at least it was escargot, and the coq au vin held up fairly well. It was hard to believe that I was sitting with a bunch of other workies, eating French food. The only thing that would’ve been missing was wine, but whoever was working the kitchen didn’t let anything be wasted, so a couple tail-ends of bottles got down to us too.
“The misters had guests tonight,” one of the workies said.
“Yeah,” said another one. “Guests that don’t like to drink. But I do.”
I remembered when it was Mike and me, and we had guests. There was always something left over. We threw it out. But now the workies got it. That was good, since I was a workie. These days, it didn’t take much wine to send me stumbling to the latrine.
I knew the night was over when I heard a thunk in the lock of the barracks door and one of the workies said, “That’s Mr. Meyers, locking us in.” So that was it. That was always it. I was always gonna be a workie, and I was always gonna be locked up someplace. That night in my bunk, my hand kept going up to my collar, the collar that Mike and Jerry put on my neck. I was a fool. That’s why they collared me — fools wear collars. And I was a fool to think they would ever want to take it off. But … maybe I was an even bigger fool for thinking that. Maybe I was wrong again! Maybe that’s what they did want to do. Or would want to do. Maybe, really, they weren’t TOTAL sadists …
To be continued …