Short Story: “Unplanned Outing”

Richard Bach once wrote, ‘Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world, even if what is said is not true’. (This sequence started in the story, “Logical Conclusion“)

“Unplanned Outing”
Part 7 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
(11/24/07)

The attractive cashier behind the counter flashed a smile as cheery as her uniform was drab. Her key-shaped nametag had ‘Barbara’ scratched into it. The contrast of woman and wardrobe only heightened the disconcerting sense of unreality broadcast by the glowing ball-and-chain sign outside, the big plastic window bars, and the waitstaff’s sunny yellow prison jumpsuits. “Welcome to the FW Diner,” she said. “Table for one, ma’am?”

Claire Fuller didn’t usually frequent chain restaurants, preferring instead to encourage independents, but tonight she was on a mission. On the drive over, she’d debated whether to volunteer her identity, but chose instead to let them treat her as any other patron. And that might have happened if the place weren’t so crowded, or maybe if she hadn’t been distracted by the sight of Fremont-Wayfarer CEO Edward Reese’s perverse idea of a family restaurant. She nodded.

“Probably about ten minutes. Your name?”

The last syllable had scarcely passed her lips when she realized what she’d done.

Barbara studied her briefly, her expression tripping past embarrassment and annoyance before settling on a keen curiosity. “Our corporate parole officer?”

Caught. “Yes. I’ve been meaning to come down and speak with Al off the record.” She meant Alizondo Klee. Besides being the night manager, he was also the newly created union’s representative on the court-appointed Board of Directors. Claire was its chair. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that legal persons be granted full rights of citizenship, the company had been convicted of stealing from the employees’ self-insurance fund, and sentenced to be imprisoned for three-years. Reese, ever the opportunist, had dreamed up a way to capitalize on the severe restrictions the court had imposed. The results spoke for themselves.

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Klee is visiting another store tonight. Is there something I can help you with?”

“Perhaps. Do you have a party room? Someplace where we can talk without disturbing the other customers?

“Sure,” the cashier said dubiously, “but the whole point of how the union reframed Reese’s makeover of the chain is to involve our customers in discussion, both with us and with one another. Is this something you’d rather not let the community we’ve stirred up know about?”

Claire glanced around the dining room. The yellow-clad servers were easy to pick out. One ‘inmate’ was setting out a round of salad, but the rest were engaged in lively chatter with customers, and judging from the fact that none of them was holding a menu, it wasn’t about their next course. She turned back to Barbara. “Maybe you’re right. I guess I’ll wait for a table.”

Stepping out of the way of an approaching customer, Claire managed to bump into someone. She reflexively apologized, even before she’d turned around to see a young man wearing a warm-up jacket over a hoody with his hand extended in greeting. “Um,” she said unsteadily, “have we met?”

“Not yet. I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re this company’s watchdog, though. I’m John Frachetti. I’ve been having a bit of a brush-up with some spooks lately, and was hoping you might be able to shed some light on it for me.”

By this time, Barbara had finished with her customer. “Ms. Fuller?” she called. “It looks like a table just freed up for you.”

“Thanks. It seems I’ll be sharing it.”

“Hi John!” she said happily. “Welcome back. Have you seen any more of those two goons that followed you here the other day?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I’ll fill you in when you have a chance to join us.”

Claire and John followed her to the table, which was already being cleaned by a man wearing the same drab as Barbara. After Claire pulled her chair in, she eyed her companion curiously. “What exactly did you do?”

He shrugged and opened his menu. “Exercising my first amendment right, as far as I can tell. They got bent out of shape over a series of blog entries I wrote about why Bush Junior got us so deeply in debt. Seems the truth’s a state secret or something.”

“The truth?”

“Yeah. Since you work with the courts, you probably have an idea of how much of the population are dangerously in debt. Some of the lucky ones, like Barbara up there, come through the other side, by filing for bankruptcy, and get their lives back. But most of them might as well be in what this place plays at being, for all the freedom they’ve lost. Do you realize how easily people can be controlled when they live in fear like that?”

“I do,” Claire said, scanning the appetizers. “That’s why so many of them do foolish things and end up in front of a judge. But what does President Bush have to do with that?”

“You know about the businesses he’s had, right?”

“Sure. Arbusto Oil and the rest. What about them?”

“He ran them all into the ground – put them deep in the red, but his daddy made sure he was always bailed out. He’s a lousy businessman. Thing is, he never had to suffer the consequences of running up that debt. For him, it was just some rich-kid game. And I wrote that this was exactly why he was installed in the White House by the banking interests that run the world.”

“Hold on. Back up. The banking interests?”

A sunny yellow waitress came to take their order before he could reply, which gave Claire a chance to sample the discussions flaring at nearby tables. One group was having a heated debate over the impossibility of the official explanation for what happened to the World Trade Center. Another was discussing why the TSA has been stopping travelers in hallways for twenty minutes at a time with no explanation. And a third was hashing out the problems of media consolidation. Free speech was certainly rampant here, she mused, but then these were private chats, and blogs were public rants.

When they were finished ordering, John laid both hands on the table and looked squarely at Claire. “Yes, the banking interests,” he said somberly. “The same ones behind the WTO’s scheme to trick debtor nations into turning over their natural resources in exchange for a bit of debt relief. They’ve fished out all the small countries, and now they’ve got their sights set on hauling in the one that thought it was king of the hill – the good old U.S of A. But to do that, they needed a way to put it so far in debt that there was no possible way for it to climb out of the pit, by installing the sadistic son of one of the ringleaders as the so-called ‘unitary executive’. And he’s done a helluva job of it, too.”

The room was strangely silent. Claire glanced around at the other customers, most of whom had suspended their own discussions and had turned their attention to John. He hadn’t been speaking loudly, or even especially forcefully, but something about him sucked the air right out of the room.

“So…” someone from a nearby table said into the awkward pause, “do you mean to say that this entire war on terror… the false flag attack on 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the desecration of the Bill of Rights… all of that was done in order to scare us into letting some cabal push this country into insolvency?”

Several people had gotten to their feet, and were drawing closer. Claire had a momentary flash of an angry group of customers and jump-suited restaurant workers suddenly beset by a squad of riot police, with her in the center, along with the instigator, and shuddered. This wasn’t the kind of an evening she’d anticipated. If this got out of hand, word of her involvement could derail the nascent movement to quell corporate greed. Breathing sharply, she rose half out of her seat. “Please,” she said unsteadily, “let’s not get too worked up over this. It’s a possibility, only a possibility. There’s no proof.”

“Proof?” a woman to Claire’s right shouted. “What do you mean, ‘there’s no proof’? There’s plenty of it. It’s just that the corporate media kept us from seeing it, from thinking clearly about what was happening to us.”

“Yeah,” a man across the room concurred. “And the worst of it went down along with the World Trade towers. Steel frame buildings don’t just disappear into a cloud of smoke like that. They had help, and it wasn’t from some hijacked airliner. Look, even if there had been jets involved, they can’t fly that low at 500 miles an hour without breaking up.”

Someone else snorted derisively. “What kind of fools do they take us for, anyway?”

Claire sank down heavily. “I think I know,” she told John, “why you’ve been getting flak. They’re afraid of this sort of thing.”

He laughed. “They should be! Jefferson and his gang of rabble were right. They set up a government, and told us what to do if it didn’t work for the good of the people.” He stood up and whistled for attention. “I’d like you all to meet the woman who made tonight’s unscheduled rally possible. This is Claire Fuller, the court-appointed chair of this company’s board, and its parole officer. Say hello to your fans, Ms. Fuller.”

She stared icily at him. “What are you trying to do?”

“Defuse a tense crowd. What did you think? Come on. Loosen up. Meet some of the people who’ve been empowered by your able stewardship of what may be the most important court case of the next fifty years. If it weren’t for you acceding to Reese’s screwy idea, it wouldn’t have been possible to ignite what you just saw. And that’s just the beginning.”

Claire looked nervously around at the excited camaraderie. Barbara was standing by the door, applauding. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

THE END

[Afterword: the story continues in “Unvarnished Siding“.]

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack

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4 thoughts on “Short Story: “Unplanned Outing”

  1. Thanks, Nelly. It’s hard to know whether anyone likes the stories unless they comment or tell their friends. It was a fun series to write, too. I didn’t return to the idea to make it into a series until some time after writing the first one, but once I started, it started picking up steam on its own.

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