Terms and Conditions
by Bob Beach
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
As he entered, a wall of noise hit him. People yammering, babies crying. It was a small waiting room with far too many people jammed together... well, waiting. They sat squeezed into tiny chairs crammed together around the walls, and those who didn’t have seats milled about, nearly shoulder to shoulder, jabbering at each other or muttering to themselves. Harvey put his hands to his ears.
Amanda closed the door behind him. “Mr. Abbadon will be with you in a minute, Harvey. He’s got a pretty full plate today.”
“All these people are waiting for him?”
“Don’t worry, I’ve moved you up the list. It’ll just be a minute.”
“Wait... can I get a coffee?”
“Oh, how thoughtless of me,” said Amanda. “Of course.” She turned, and suddenly a cup of dark liquid was in her hand. “Just have a seat, Harvey.”
A seat? Where in hell was he going to find a seat? He shoved his way through the crush of sweaty bodies, cringing at every touch. Finally a middle-aged woman near the back got up to corral some kid having a screaming fit on the floor. Harvey lurched toward the empty chair and wedged himself in. Jesus, these were smaller than airline economy! How was he ever going to get out?
An old geezer to his left was snoring loudly, a line of drool running down his chin. The woman on the other side gave Harvey a dark look as he folded his bulk over the armrest and into her space. His arms pressed solidly against the bodies on each side, and his skin crawled.
He managed to work one arm free, and raised the coffee to his lips. Jesus! Bitter and cold; it must have been sitting for a week. It was thick and mealy in his mouth. He wanted to spit it out, but if he got up he’d lose his seat. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed. “Eeeaaghhh!” His body shuddered.
The woman on his right glared. He yanked his handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it into his mouth to trap any leftover solids. Holy crap. What kind of place was Abbadon running?
A couple of the overhead fluorescents began flickering in a nauseating rhythm, and Harvey could feel the beginnings of a headache. The room was oppressively warm from the packed mass of human flesh, and he scanned the room for a window to open. Damn, no windows. Wasn’t that against building code or something? His shirt now stuck to his body with sweat.
He realized he was still holding the cup of... stuff. He waited until the woman next to him drowsed, then poured it into the bulky purse hanging from her armrest. He crumpled the cup and pitched it under the geezer’s chair.
Where was Amanda? He got a glimpse of her through the crowd, seated in the center of the room in a straight-backed wooden chair. Bent over a coffee table. Coffee table? That was insane. How could anybody work like that?
Wait... no real office furniture. That might mean this wasn’t a real office. The whole thing could still be a setup, the miserable crowd just a distraction. With a mighty twist, he shook himself loose from the chair and stood. Even if this was the real deal, he didn’t want a job this bad.
He shoved and jostled his way through the mob to the door. A firm hand grabbed his elbow and turned him around.
“Harvey. You can’t leave now!” said Amanda. “Mr. Abbadon is ready to see you.”
“Come on.” She tugged him back into the room. Her scent enveloped him: Eternity, the fragrance his mother wore. His resistance melted.
“We’re all so excited to get you.” She put her hand on his back and pushed him though the milling crowd toward a door in the rear. They passed Amanda’s work station. That wasn’t a computer on the table, it was a... typewriter. An old electric typewriter with one of those little metal balls that did something. “Here’s his office, Harvey, right through that door.”
He stood before a solid wood door with a small black plaque: Manager. This was it. Job or jail? He hesitated.
“Go on in,” whispered Amanda’s voice in his ear.
He opened the door and stepped in. The office was smaller than the waiting room and paneled with rich wood, one long wall solid with sleek black file cabinets. A short, dark man in a black suit and tie was sitting behind a glass desktop. An air conditioner was purring softly in the background, and Harvey felt thick carpet beneath his feet. On the desk was a Mac iView. Harvey’s heart missed a beat. This was more like it.
“Mr. Abbadon?” said Harvey, his eyes never leaving the computer.
The man stood up. “Mr. Madder, how nice you could make it.” He waved an arm at the seat opposite. “Please, sit.”
Harvey slid into the chrome and black leather Eames chair.
“We’re all so pleased you’ve decided to take the position,” said Abbadon.
“Well, first I need to know a little more about it. Like what I’d be writing.”
“Didn’t you google our website? It’s all there. Terms and Conditions. That’s what you’ll be writing.”
“That long, boring crap? I thought ads, brochures, stuff like that.”
“No, no. Here it’s all T&C. He gestured to the file cabinets. This is it: a couple of hundred thousand in this first batch, I’d guess.”
“I thought lawyers wrote those.”
“They just provide you with the applicable laws and regulations. You have to pull it all together yourself.”
Sweet Jesus. “And the writers you hire are all doing this?”
“Oh, no, Harvey. Each of our employees has a unique position tailored to specific parameters. This writing position was created especially for you.”
What the hell was going on? “My, uh, secretary...”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The girl in the other room...“
“Amanda? Oh, my. I’m afraid I have some bad news. She’s been transferred to another branch.”
Harvey swallowed a large lump. “But just a minute ago—”
Abbadon stood and came around to the front of the desk. “We’re in the computer age now, Harvey. Things change so rapidly.” He shrugged.
“I don’t understand.”
Mr. Abbadon seemed to have gotten taller. He now towered over Harvey. “Nothing much to understand, Harvey. You applied for a job. You got it. Here it is.”
Harvey’s voice quavered. “Would this be my office?”
Abbadon smiled. “I think you’ve misunderstood, Harvey. This is my office. I’m the manager. You’re the employee. Your work station is out there.” He pointed at the door.
The waiting room? Was he joking? Harvey’s throat had gone dry. “And the salary...?”
“Oh, no salary. But then, you won’t need one.”
The room had become unbearably warm, and sweat was trickling down Harvey’s face and neck. His eyes were playing tricks: Abbadon’s skin seemed to be turning darker, a fire burning behind his eyes, deep in his skull.
Harvey stood up, his legs a little shaky. “That’s bullcrap! Nobody could work like that. Find some other idiot to write your T&Cs.” He pulled the door open and stumbled out.
He burrowed roughly through the crowd, angry shouts following in his wake. But the door wasn’t where he thought it was. He followed the wall to his right until he reached Abbadon’s door. He’d turned the wrong way.
Retracing his steps, he followed the wall around the room until he reached... Abbadon’s door! Where was the other door? He grabbed the nearest bystander by the arm. “Where’s the exit? I need to get out!”
The man gave him a wicked shove. “Back off, jerk! Wait your turn like everybody else.”
Harvey stumbled backwards, finding himself in Abbadon’s office again. He turned to Abbadon. “This is a sting, isn’t it?” It had to be. What else could it be? “What are you, FBI? NSA? CIA? What do you want?”
Abbadon grinned, revealing a gaping mouth of huge, yellow teeth. “I have everything I want, Harv. I have you.”
“Who are you?” Harvey gasped.
“Surely you can guess by now, Harv.”
It couldn’t be. He was still alive. “You can’t do this. I’m not dead yet! I have to be dead.”
Abbadon chuckled. “That’s so last century. We have the Internet, now, Harv. It’s simply revolutionized the way everybody does business.” The gaping yellow smile creased his face again. “It’s so much more efficient in, shall we say, harvesting our employees.
“In the old days it took positively forever to find them, not to mention waiting until they actually expired. All we really need today is a contract. And, of course, for you to cross our threshold of your own free will.”
“But we don’t have a contract!” Harvey screamed. “This is all null and void!”
“Oh, but we do. I believe that article 314.72 covers the Terms and Conditions of your employment. The application, if you recall.”
Crap. The form.
“As they say, the devil’s in the details.” Abbadon giggled.
“You’re lying! It’s a sting, I know it is!” shouted Harvey. He leaned against the wall, his legs melting, and slid slowly to the floor. Jesus. Writing page after page of incomprehensible gobbledygook for the rest of his days and nights. In that madhouse out there; people yelling at him, touching him. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. He didn’t deserve this. He was on the side of truth, wasn’t he...?
“Look at the bright side, Harv. All your life you’ve spawned hatred and loathing and disgust, which was straightforward evil, as far as it went. But now you can do it twenty-four seven. With a little practice, I know you’ll be writing truly diabolical Terms and Conditions. And if anybody screws up? Software perdition and legal hell! After all, if they sign it without reading it, they’re breaking the rules, right? They should get what’s coming to them!”
Crap. A million lifetimes in that hellhole, and for what? Just to inflict endless frustration and agony on his unsuspecting fellow humans? Well... but on a typewriter? Please. It would take him a month, at least, to do even one. And a typewriter couldn’t connect to the web. With an iView, though...
He peeked up at Abbadon. “You thought TheSwordofTruth was cool?”
“It was clever, Harv, but you’re still just a talented amateur. Here we’re professionals!”
“Professionals.” Harvey sat up and straightened his tie. He cleared his throat. “So, would you be open to a couple of suggestions for enhanced efficiency?”
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Beach