Prose Header

Terms and Conditions

by Bob Beach

part 1

Harvey finished his post and hit “Submit.” One more liberal egghead sliced into bloody ribbons by TheSwordofTruth. University types were the worst; they thought a couple of letters after their name gave them an inside line to God. He hated that. Well, if those dimbulbs wanted to spew their left-wingnut agenda on the Internet, they were fair game. TheSwordofTruth would make sure they got what was coming to them.

He pried himself out of his chair and padded to the mini-fridge, kicking a path through the pizza boxes and old newspapers. He pulled out a beer and popped it. A loose dart lay on the table and Harvey winged it at the photo of Hillary taped to the far wall. Although the photo was now more holes than Hillary.

He couldn’t believe he was still running Windows NT on this ancient box. Slower than the checkout line at FoodMart. Couldn’t run any game sexier than PacMan. Couldn’t run anything developed since Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot JFK.

What he wouldn’t give for one of those new MacIntosh iViews. Wide, curved screen, speed up the wazoo. He could double his Internet kills, easy. Play any game anybody could throw at him. But a fancy new system wasn’t in the cards on a Burger Barn paycheck.

Of course, if he had a fatter bank account, he wouldn’t be sharing a one-room basement apartment with a couple of turd-dropping mice and a platoon of cockroaches. But better roaches and mice than humans. Animals didn’t talk, and they didn’t touch.

He noticed a little daylight sifting in from one of the windows where the newspaper had peeled back, and retaped it. He didn’t like people peeping in on him. Never knew when it might be the government. They’d love to put TheSwordofTruth out of business. He had quite the reputation on the Internet; it would mean a gold star on the file of some lucky junior agent.

He eased himself back into the chair and opened his Facebook page. Maybe rework his post on gun control. Crap. Another new ad. He hated that. This one blinked. He hated that even more. Couldn’t write with that damn thing going on and off in the corner of his eye.

Copywriters Needed

Steady Employment. Guaranteed Retirement Plan
Learn on the Job! Your own office!
Take our test. See if you have the potential to become a copywriter!
The last job you’ll ever need!

T&C Communications

Get paid for writing? That would be cool. Show all those pointy-head jerks you didn’t need a degree to be somebody. Show those cows at the Barn that Harvey Madder was a lot more than a burger-flopper and floor-mopper. Steady employment sounded good, too, with his own office! They’d wet their panties to see him in his own office, behind his own brand-new computer. His mother might even approve.

It was a hustle, for sure. Promise him a career, then sell him pricey lessons until he was tapped out. Maybe worth a look, though; at his age, anything was worth a look.

He clicked on “Apply” and typed in his name. The first question popped up:

Do you have previous experience in copywriting? Y/N.

Duh. Yes. Maybe Internet posting wasn’t exactly copywriting, but who gave a crap? Everybody puffed their resumes. He hit “next.”

Are you a perfectionist in your work? Y/N.

Damn right. There’s one right way to do anything, and the others are all wrong. Why couldn’t everybody see that? Yes.

Do you enjoy writing for long periods of time? Y/N.

Sometimes he posted all night, surprised when the dorky couple upstairs started banging around in their ridiculous morning breakfast ritual. So many idiots to flame. Yes.

Do you have empathy for other people? Y/N.

Nobody gave a rat’s ass about Harvey, why should he give a crap about them? But that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. And they couldn’t prove otherwise. Yes.

Do you enjoy practical jokes? Y/N.

What the hell? This must be some kind of psychological test. See if he had a sense of humor. Well, hell, didn’t we all enjoy seeing somebody else look stupid? Yes.

When someone doesn’t follow the rules, how do you feel?
1) Amused
2) Tolerant
3) Angry.

Pissed as hell. Too bad that wasn’t one of the answers. Rules were black and white, not shades of gray like those gasbag liberals were always whining. Angry.

If someone makes a mistake, should he:
1) Be rewarded
2) Be forgiven
3) Get what’s coming to him.

That was a pretty weird question. But easy. Get what’s coming to him. That was the whole idea behind the natural selection thing: the idiots got weeded out, the smart ones moved on up the ladder.

He hit “Finish,” and the last screen came up:

To proceed, you must read and accept the Terms and Conditions.

He hated these damn things. Contracts from hell. He clicked on the link and scrolled down a couple of pages. Solid paragraphs in about four-point type. He could hardly make it out. Jesus, who do they think they’re kidding? Nobody read this garbage. He hit “Accept.”

Thank you for your interest in our agency.
We will respond to your application promptly.
Sincerely, T&C Communications.

Huh. Weird questionnaire. Nothing about education, even. Good, maybe these jokers knew talent when they saw it and didn’t just look for how many years you wasted in school. But it was odd, now that he thought about it. Could the government have found him? Were NSA hackers phishing him? He had a pretty good firewall; probably all he’d get was a flood of ads selling books and lessons and writing software.

He glanced at his watch. Some time yet before work. Maybe check out the Twitverse. Those jerks were always good for a couple hours.

* * *

The ringing woke him. He lifted his head from the couch where he’d passed out the night before and squinted around the room. The door? No, it didn’t have a bell. The phone. But he never got phone calls. He yanked the receiver from its base on the coffee table. Who—

“Mr. Madder?”

“Yeah. Who in hell is this?”

“This is Mr. Abaddon.”


“From T&C Communications. You applied for employment with us.”

Jesus. The copywriting job. He bolted upright, straightening his shirt and combing his fingers through his ragged hair. “Oh. Yeah. Yes. I remember.”

“Is this a good time to talk?” asked Abbadon.

“Yeah... Sure, Mr. Abbadon.” He shook his head and rubbed his eyes.

“Excellent. When can you start?”


“Yes. Start work. On the basis of the application, we think you’re a perfect candidate for us. How soon can you start work?”

“Don’t you want me to interview or take classes or something first?”

“Oh, no, you’re quite qualified, Mr. Madder. Could you come in this afternoon?”

“But... I don’t know anything about the job yet. What I’d write, what the pay is. Benefits and all that.”

“We have complete coverage for our employees, Mr. Madder. It’s a full-time job. I don’t want to go over the details on the phone, of course, but let me assure you you’ll never have to worry about having enough money to pay your bills. And your retirement is one hundred percent guaranteed.”

“You’re here? In town?”

“We maintain branches all over the country, Mr. Madder. Your paperwork was referred to us by National. It makes things so much more efficient. One o’clock, shall we say?”

“Wait! Where?”

“Quite close to you, actually. In the State Building on South Elm. Thirteenth floor. You can’t miss us.” The phone went dead.

Holy crap. His heart was racing and he had a little trouble sucking air. It was really going to happen. His life was going to change big time. No more Lardass Loony jokes.

He looked around the room. Bye-bye to this toilet; a real job deserved a real place. He marched into the bathroom, flinging his t-shirt and sweat pants into the air. He thought he had a clean shirt somewhere, but he’d have to dig to find it. He might even have a tie. The pipes squealed as he started drawing a bath. Yessir, a real place with a real shower.

* * *

Harvey stood on the sidewalk and stared up at the State Building. Ordinary grey stone block with normal, everyday windows. Standard recessed double glass doors. Stodgy and functional, like a thousand other office buildings.

Like government buildings.

He’d been thinking on the walk over. Things didn’t add up. Nobody hired you sight unseen. They wanted references, transcripts, tests, that kind of crap. And his phone number hadn’t been on the application. Of course, with the Internet, anything was possible.

He smelled government. Was it a trap? He’d heard about FBI stings that lured small-time creeps with fake Lotto jackpots. When the idiots waltzed through the door expecting a payday, they found themselves reading Miranda. And he’d be a real prize. He was sweating, but that could have been from the walk. He didn’t get a lot of exercise.

He pulled the door open and slid in. The interior was just as dull as the outside: institutional beige walls with fake wood trim and worn brown tile floors. Cheap suspended ceilings hid recessed fluorescent lighting. He heard a chime, and a pair of elevator doors opened. Two men in dark ties and white shirts emerged and scuttled off down the hall. He leaned into a corner and waited.

There was plenty of activity, but the workers all looked alike: bureaucratic types with dark ties and white shirts. He’d either stumbled onto a Mormon mission or the building was filled with government agencies.

His watch read five after one. He was late. He edged up to the directory and looked for Abbadon’s office. What the hell? No thirteenth floor, no T&C Communications. He’d heard of that: skipping the thirteenth floor out of superstition. But in a government building? Never. He began to breathe a bit easier.

He stepped inside the elevator and eyed the panel. There it was, the button for thirteen, right where it was supposed to be. The doors slid closed behind him. He pushed the button and waited as the elevator creaked and groaned its way up the shaft.

He stepped out. There was only one door off the lobby on this floor, a plain wooden frame with a frosted glass panel. “T&C Communications” was lettered on the glass in flaking red paint. Ten minutes after one.

A trickle of sweat ran down his neck and he loosened his tie. He crept over and pressed his ear to the glass. There was a soft buzzing, like dozens of people muttering. No radio, no rattling of computer keyboards. No secretaries chattering. Something wasn’t right.

He waited, listening. Then it was one-fifteen. Then twenty after. He was very late. Wouldn’t do to be late on the first day. But he was already late, probably already screwed. Maybe he’d better just go back home. He didn’t know crap about stings, but this smelled bad.

He pushed the elevator button and the doors parted. Suddenly the office door opened behind him. He turned. A chick was standing there, her back to him, talking to somebody inside the office. From Harvey’s side, she was a bombshell. Long blonde hair, slim body. There was something familiar about the way she shifted her weight back and forth, like she was moving to music. It reminded him of...

He slid his foot against the elevator door to keep it open.

She turned toward him and smiled. A broad, toothy, dimply smile that he knew by heart. But she had clothes on, regular office clothes.

“Mr. Madder? Harvey? Is that you? We’ve been expecting you! Come in!”

She danced and did other things for him on the Internet. Her name was—

“Amanda. That’s me. I’ll be your secretary.”

Could it be? Could they have traced him through her? No... impossible. He was too well protected. Could this be her day job? He slipped his foot out and let the elevator doors close behind him.

“We’ll be working together on this project. I’m so excited to finally meet you!”

What? Did she recognize him? How could she...

“Oh, come on in.” She gave a flurry of tiny waves. He noticed she had no bra, her breasts swinging with her movements. “Mr. Abbadon tells me you’re a really talented writer.”

Harvey shuffled across to the door, still numb with disbelief.

“Come in, come in, don’t stand out there teasing me!”

It was too much. Harvey stepped in.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2017 by Bob Beach

Home Page