Short Story: “Going Down”

Surround yourself with the kind of people you wouldn’t mind being locked up with. (This sequence started in the story, “Logical Conclusion“)

“Going Down”
Part 6 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
(11/16/2007)

Barbara Woods felt freer than she had in years. Her discharge papers had come yesterday, an official release from the lengthy confinement she had suffered as a result of a seemingly innocent act while still in college. Sitting there in her drab uniform, staring out at the morning mist through barred windows, she thought back to the day it had all started, alone with her memories for the moment or two it took for her customer to dig out her credit card. ‘It’s funny’, she mused as she watched the woman draw it through the reader, ‘how much power a little bit of plastic can wield.’

While she handed the customer a receipt and thanked her for coming in, a man wearing a warm-up jacket over a hoodie, who looked no older than she had been that fateful day in college, opened the door and froze, mid-step. He was still holding the door open when Barbara’s customer sidled past him to leave.

“Excuse me, sir?” she said, stepping from behind the counter. “Are you all right?”

He finished his stride and let the door swing shut behind him. “Sure. I’d heard about this place, but I never imagined…” He raised a hand limply to indicate one of the people serving, a grey-haired man in a sunny yellow jumpsuit. Looking again at Barbara, he said, “How does it feel? Aren’t you all embarrassed about being in this place?”

“Actually,” she said, scanning the noisy dining room, “I was more embarrassed at my own hearing. This is like being in some kind of live-action role-playing game. I have more of an opportunity to chat with customers here now than I did before they made the place over.”

An older couple had put on their coats and was heading towards the door, so Barbara excused herself and went back to the register. The young man waited patiently until they had paid, and then stepped closer.

“So all this – the new ball-and-chain logo, plastic window bars, the prison uniforms and everything — is because of the corporate conviction, huh?”

She nodded. “Fremont-Wayfarer may be serving three years for theft, but all Edward Reese, our CEO, sees is a new angle to milk for profit. What he hadn’t counted on was how our new union would turn the whole scheme against him.”

“Yeah. I heard you folks were using the novelty as a conversation-starter.”

“And it’s been great. The other day, for instance, a couple came in just to ream the manager over it, and ended up giving us a way to spread the discussion into real prisons. But what I like most is how it turned the FW Diner from a handy place to eat into the meeting hall for a growing community of activists. Speaking of which, is there some cause that gets you fired up?”

“Yeah. Deadbeats. The sort that run up a tab and then skip out on you.” He stepped back when another customer reached the counter, a woman toting a laptop case. She paid cash, and then, while she was tucking the change away, he said, “You don’t have to answer, but I’m curious about your choice of payment. Most people use plastic anymore.”

She laughed privately. “It’s the banks that are ruining everything. If you buy something with a credit card, they create money on a balance sheet. So I’m not helping them get even richer. Call it a one-woman consumer revolt.”

Barbara nodded in agreement. “I’m right behind you, but for a slightly different reason.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I’ve just been through a personal bankruptcy. Mostly credit card debt, but it started out with a trip I took back in college. The card was supposed to be a convenience, but it turned out to be more of a trap. When I booked the trip I had a part-time job, so I figured I could easily pay it off. After I got back, though, I needed an MRI, and my insurance balked at covering it, so I went deeper in the hole. From there it was just a matter of compound interest. I couldn’t catch up, much less pay it down.”

The man slipped his warm-up jacket off and draped it over his arm. “Here I am talking to you like we’re old friends, and you don’t even know my name. It’s John. I’d imagine that being that deep in debt must have felt a lot like living behind bars.”

She chuckled. “It did, especially after I missed that first payment. I was afraid to answer the phone. Like they were my warden or something. Look, you must have come in for a reason. Can I get you a table?”

“That can wait. I’d rather chat.”

The customer slipped her gloves on. “I’d love to stay, too, but I’ve got somewhere to be. I’ll be back, though. With friends.”

Barbara wished her well, and got comfortable behind the counter. “So what’s on your mind, John?”

“Debt, but way on the other end of the scale. The kind countries get into, and what happens when they can’t pay them down.”

“They get socked with interest, just like I did, I suppose.”

“And then what happens?” He waited a bit before continuing. “For people, there’s bankruptcy, like you went through.”

She nodded. “Sure. Either you get it written off like I did, or the court imposes some kind of payment plan on a portion of it.”

“Either way, whoever fronted the money takes a loss on it. And if the debtor is a company?”

“Same thing, except sometimes the government bails them out.”

He tapped the table. “For the big prize, then, what happens if it’s a country that’s bankrupt?”

Barbara shrugged. “What happens?”

“More than you want to know. When it does, the IMF gives them an out. Turn over your natural resources, and we’ll forgive a portion of the debt. There was a book out recently by a guy who was part of the manipulation machine. He called himself an economic hit man. The way he told it, the US was the big winner. But I’m not so sure. I think they’ve set things up to do the same job on the US.”

“You mean because of all the debt we’ve racked up with the war on terror and everything?”

A few more customers had drifted over to pay their bills, so she had to wait for an answer. When the last of them had left, John stepped back over. “What’s the CEO’s name again?”

“Edward Reese. Why?”

“You said he came up with this theme-park restaurant scheme to make a profit off the conviction.”

“Sure. Corporations are chartered to make a profit, after all.”

“They are,” John agreed. “And that’s one thing that sets them apart from nations. What are nations chartered to do?”

Barbara looked at him quizzically. “Well, in the case of this one, to secure our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Happiness was in the Declaration of Independence, but by the time the Constitution was drafted it became property. So, in a way, this country is all about the money.”

“No surprise there. After all, the first thing Bush told people to do after the World Trade Center was destroyed was to go shopping. Where are you going with this?”

“That statement of his puzzled me for a long time. It didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. I mean, sure, telling people to go about their lives is a good idea after a shock like that, but that’s not what he said. It’s not what his speechwriters had him say, what his handlers wanted him to say. It wasn’t normalcy they were after… it was profit. Go shopping. Pay tax on all of it, too. And this from someone who’s trashed every single business he’s ever been associated with. And had his butt saved every time, too. So, why would they have had him say that?”

Two men in dark suits swept in and flanked John like prison guards. The one on the left glanced at him, and then fixed a gaze on Barbara. “Do you know this gentleman, ma’am?”

She looked around unsteadily for the manager briefly, but then caught a few fragments of excited discussions from several nearby tables, and suddenly straightened. “Yes I do. He’s a friend of mine. Do you have a problem with that?”

John nodded his thanks before turning to face the man. “Did you two goons want something?”

“Mr. Wyndt, I’d suggest that in the future, you refrain from posting incendiary rants on your web log. Considering the number of hits you have been getting from overseas, we could treat them as a conduit for, shall we say, sensitive information. That puts it in our ballpark, if you know what I’m saying.”

John shook his head derisively. “If what I’ve figured out is that important to keep quiet, maybe I ought to hire a publicist. Who do you two work for, anyway? Homeland Security?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, sir. But if you don’t refrain from distributing lies that threaten the national security, we will turn this over to them. They’re a good bit less friendly than we are.”

A small crowd had started to gather, as patrons and servers drifted towards the door. The mix of casual and bright yellow faux-prison jumpsuits gave the crowd an unsettling appearance. One of the customers, an overweight man with a goatee, strode to the counter. “Are these two bothering you, Barb?”

Barbara glanced first at one, and then the other. “Depends, Jason. If they came in for dinner, I’ll get them a table, and you can keep an eye on them. Otherwise, yes, they’re interrupting our conversation.”

Jason smiled at the two men. “Table for two, gents?”

“I don’t think so.” And with that, they turned and left.

A restrained cheer went up among the crowd that had gathered. Jason rejoined his group, and the room was again filled with chatter.

Barbara looked at John with raised eyebrows. “What was all that about?”

“I’d take it as confirmation. Before this, I was just guessing. Now I’m sure.”

“Of what?”

“Remember what I said about Bush? That every business he touched went south? I wrote in my blog that being a miserable business failure was the man’s critical qualification for having been placed in power by the folks who stole the 2000 election for him. They ran a false-flag hit on New York to set the stage, and then sat back while he ran up such a huge debt with his wars and such that the taxpayers could never hope to pay it down. They put him in power to bring this nation to the state you were in when you finally filed for bankruptcy. But because countries don’t get that chance to write off their debt, they have no choice but to hand over their assets – their natural resources – to the international banking cartel that really runs the show. Bush told everyone to go shopping. So did he. And now we’re all screwed.”

“And that’s why they followed you in here? To shut you up?”

“Well, yeah. They’ve been throwing up all sorts of diversions to keep people off the track. It’s all about WMD! No, it’s about regime change! No, it’s about the oil! But once you clear away all that, what it’s really all about is the money. To be specific: the dollar. Once upon a time, there used to be gold backing it up. Then it was the stability of the government. But now even that sham’s been shed. The money’s worthless. But if that gets out, if people realize that this monstrous debt we’ve been saddled with can’t ever be paid off because the money itself is worthless, all bets are off. The government, and everything it does, is a joke. And the only thing they’ll have left to use against us is the threat of force. They can’t win. There’s nothing they can do to win. Once the government turns against the people like that, everyone will do what you’re doing here, what I just watched happen. Open revolt.”

Barbara let the ideas settle for a moment. Then she stood up and walked around the counter. “John,” she said finally, “I think you’re going to need a place to hide. Looks like you’re in good company. Let me introduce you around.”

THE END

[Afterword: the story continues in”Unplanned Outing“.]

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack

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