It was early evening as the grey sedan rolled down the empty street. There were a few clouds glowing with the waning sun, and they tried to make the scene less dingy, but as a backdrop they failed. The warehouses, row after row, block after block, still looked old, dilapidated, and abandoned. The holes in the windows were everywhere, as was the rust and crumbling brick. Nature was doing it’s best to reclaim the area, with sprouts pushing their way through the street and the sidewalk, wherever there was a gap, and there were plenty of them. The potholes in the street were merging with other potholes in an amoeba like fashion. It made driving a slow, bumpy process through a ghost town.

The sedan pulled up to one warehouse and stopped. Two sharp beeps from it’s horn caused a side door to open slightly a moment later. A swarthy, heavily mustached head peered out. It looked left, then right, then motioned the car up to a freight entrance. The gate whined and squealed open as it rolled itself up, the car drove in, and the gate whined and squealed closed, leaving the street to return to it’s abandoned, dilapidated, quiet state.

Inside, there was a single work light in the ceiling that lit the car and not much else. What could be seen showed a docking bay that was as dingy as the building was on the outside. 

The heavily mustached man approached the car as the doors opened. Out from the driver’s side stepped a man in an wrinkled, old, dark blue business suit, which seemed to suit the old man wearing it, or at least he seemed old, for 48. His hair was greying and thinning, and he didn’t quite straighten up to his full height. Years of doing office grunt work took their toll, making him look like he had a hunchback although he didn’t. From the passenger side emerged a younger man in his mid-twenties. He was shorter than the driver, with a full head of black hair and a nervous look about him. His black suit was newer, his tie immaculate, and he even had a pocket square. This wasn’t a place he was familiar with, nor was it a place he would ever visit. His gaze went from the driver to the mustached man and back, not really knowing where it should go.

“Gustav, my friend, how are ya’” said Eric Pointe, trying to elicit a pleasant response from his host. His voice was raspy and tired, just like his suit.

“Who’s he?” he replied, straight to the point. The thick accent betrayed him to be from Romania, or somewhere eastern-european, as he never told. He was slim yet built, wearing a greasy tank top and brown slacks, with heavy shoes on his feet.

“He’s cool, he’s a friend of mine, someone who’ll replace me one day. Meet Justin Archer, Junior Associate at McReedy and Smith”, he said waving Justin over hurriedly. “He’s my protégé. I’m teaching him all of the ins and outs of the business.”

Justin came around the car quickly and stuck out his hand. “Hi, pleasure to meet you” he said in an assured voice. This was his business voice. He practiced it on many evenings to make sure it projected the right amount of confidence and humility. 

Gustav ignored it and turned back to Eric. “I thought I told you this is a private operation. This guy, he’s making me nervous.”

“No need for that, really, he can be trusted. I wouldn’t have brought him here if he couldn’t. I’m teaching him to take over for me. I’m not long for this world, and I want to make sure I’m leaving it in good hands.”

“You’re only 48 years old”, replied Gustav.

“I’m 49. And the company’s new semi-retirement age is 50. Their way of weeding out non-essentials, and deny them full retirement plans too. Bastards.”

“Hmmm”, mused Gustav. “Sucks to be you.” He gave Justin a looking over, who still had his hand out. “If you say he can be trusted, I will trust him.” He looked back at Eric. “For now. Anyway, you have money?”

“Right here” was the reply. Eric reached inside of his suit to produce an envelop as Justin slowly lowered his hand. He wasn’t used to being rebuffed like that and it made him feel awkward. Eric handed the envelop to Gustav who took it and rummaged inside it. Satisfied, he said “You have copy?”

“Justin, give him the copy and the product” Eric instructed. “It’s in the trunk. Here…” and with a push of a button from his key fob the trunk popped open.

“Whoa, whoa, what’s going on…”. Gustav had backed away from the car with one hand out as a shield and his other hand behind his back, ready to pull something out. 

Eric put both of his hands out to Gustav. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s just where we keep our work.” He turned to Justin. “Slowly and carefully, get the briefcase.” 

It was pretty tense as Justin slowly and nervously walked to the back of the car and pulled out the case, keeping both hands as visible as possible. He walked back over to where Eric was standing and held it up for him. Eric popped the latches, opened the case, and turned the contents to Gustav for viewing. “See, no problems here.”

Gustav looked in the case and calmed down. “You have to be careful. You can’t make surprises like that. Bad things could happen to you.”

“Sorry about that Gustav, it’ll never happen again.” He reached inside the case for a folder and a small object, handing both over to him. “This is the copy and here’s the product. Now we need full pictures of that in the presentation, you know, front, back, side and oblique.”

“Hey, we are professionals, we know the drill.” He turned and shouted to the back of the dock. “Hey, Duncan!” A moment later a tall, barrel chested man emerged through the plastic slats of the doorway to the interior, in identical clothing as Gustav. “Here, full mark up and pictures.” Duncan took the folder and the product, looked it over, turned it upside down and back. Said a few words to Gustav in that eastern-european language, Gustav yelled back at him in the same language. Duncan shrugged, gave a short reply, and then turned away and walked back through the doorway, the plastic slats rustling behind him. 

“Come, you wait in office”, said Gustav, and he motioned for them to follow him. It was up a short flight of stairs to the right of the dock, to another door next to a large window with the blinds closed. This gave them both an opportunity to see in the dim light the gun tucked in Gustav’s back as he led the way. Eric took it in stride while Justin was made a little more nervous. He tripped on the top step, bumping into Eric, who caught him on his back. Eric turned to straighten him out. “Watch it”, he half whispered. “These guys are nervous enough, don’t give them a reason.” This only served to make Justin even more nervous. “R…right, sorry.” Gustav looked back at them and huffed. Then he opened the door to the office.

Light poured out of the door, illuminating the dock more than the work light. They both had to shield their eyes for a second to let them adjust. Inside it was a typical loading dock office; a desk with a chair, a calendar on the wall, an empty bookshelf, cheap wood paneling on the walls. The ceiling lights made everything more real, or surreal, depending on your perspective. It was the complete opposite of the dirty exterior, clean, bright and looking almost as inviting as an actual operating business. 

Gustav motioned to the only other chairs in the room, sitting by the wall. Eric and Justin took them and sat quietly. Gustav sat behind his desk, opened a drawer, pulled out what could only be a bowl of beef stew with a wooden spoon, put his feet on the desk and started eating. They sat like that for a while, no one wishing to break the silence. Gustav opened another drawer and pulled out a small TV. He tuned it to a soccer game and watched it, still eating his stew.

It was Justin who broke the silence first. He leaned towards Eric and whispered, “Uh, Mr. Pointe, umm, what are we doing here?”

“What?” Eric said loudly. Not loud enough to scare anyone, but it was enough to make Justin jump.

“Sir”, Justin whispered back, “I’m trying to figure out why we’re here.”

Eric looked at him and shrugged. “We’re getting the presentation done.”

At this Justin blinked. And blink again. “Uh, sir, we can do this at the office. Why here?”

Eric turned to look at him. “Do you know how much that would cost? Oh wait, you wouldn’t ‘cause you’re a junior associate. Well let me tell you, it’s more than I’m paying here.”

“I…I…I don’t understand. Doesn’t the company pay for that? Don’t we have software we can use?”

Eric dropped his head and chuckled. “You really are new. I keep forgetting that. You kids come and think everything is handed to you, and all you have to do is a good job.” Eric looked at him again. “Listen up. The company won’t pay for the lease on the software anymore, no company will, so any presentations come out of your pocket. Understand?”

Justin did, and didn’t. “Ok, well, isn’t that just the cost of doing business? I mean we just handed over our work for the past three weeks to a stranger, we don’t know what they’re doing.”

Gustav spoke up. “Hey, me and Eric go back many years, we know what we’re doing, trust me.”

Justin was surprised that Gustav was listening. He figured he was talking quietly enough and Gustav was too busy eating and watching TV. “Oh, uh sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that”, hoping that would ease any tension. Gustav simply grunted and went back to his TV.

“Ok, let me break it down for you.” Eric put his hand on Justin’s shoulder in a sign of confidentiality. “Companies these days don’t like paying for these leases, and in a way I don’t blame them. I mean leasing a glorified typewriter? These software companies think that just because it’s their tools that they created that you have to pay and pay and pay to use them. It’s ridiculous. But the company still want their presentations, and they want them to look professional, all companies do. Which means the cost gets pushed to us working stiffs. And that cost is fifteen hundred dollars a quarter.”

“Fifteen hundred dollars?” Justin exclaimed louder than he was prepared for. He looked at Gustav, who never took his eyes off of the TV.  He looked back at Eric, who sat there with a smirk on his face. He leaned in closer and took a more conspiratorial tone. “Fifteen hundred? A quarter? For one presentation?”

“No no, calm down, you’re gonna make me look bad in front of Gustav,” who had just raised an eyebrow towards the pair before going back to his game. “Listen, yes it’s $1500 a quarter.”

“A quarter? For three months? But isn’t that a bit much for one person? I…I mean why, what…?”

“Look, look, this is how it works.” Eric leaned in close and looked Justin right in the eyes. “You see, since the company won’t pay for Panes(trademark) we management guys have to. So there’s a fund that everyone chips in to, but not everyone needs it, especially those that don’t need the slides. Then there are those that don’t chip in, but still use it. Always cryin’ poverty, ‘Oh, I’ll put in on pay day’, or ‘that’s due today? I must have gotten my dates wrong, I’ve got the money at home’, or my personal fav, ‘I don’t even use it, why should I have to pay?’ The next day you see these guys, these same guys, all in Panes(trademark) doing spreadsheets, writing reports. 

“Because of all this, the fund isn’t as big as it should be. A lot of times someone pays the whole fee, but then they keep it to themselves and then charge folks to use it. Some folks are fair, most aren’t.

“Me, because we’re in R&D Management, I do one, maybe two presentations a year. Not enough to justify leasing the program out right. And I’m not going to pay those office crooks a dime just to see them sneer about another sucker paying them for anything. So we’re here, getting it done on the cheap.”

Eric, feeling as if he said enough, leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and took a pose as if to nap. Justin looked at him, not believing what he just heard. He looked at Gustav, who just sat there watching his TV and eating his stew, one big slurp at a time.

“So,” he ventured, “they have Panes(trademark) here?”

“Umm, no, they have something similar”, came the answer.

“Similar? What do you mean?”

Eric turned an eye toward Justin, a sudden wariness coming over him. “I mean it’s something similar.”

Justin thought for a moment. “You don’t mean third-party software, do you?” It was both a question and a plea.

Gustav answered in a low drawl. “Maybe. What do you care? You get presentation, you show presentation, no one know difference.”

“WHAT!?” That was all he could say before he became speechless. He looked at Eric with the steady glow of panic.

Eric tried calming him down. “Justin, it’s ok, no one will ever know. It’ll be our secret. Don’t panic, not here!”

“Hey Eric, you tell me no problem. This looks like problem.” Gustav’s concern was well justified. Justin had the look of a deer caught in headlights. 

“It’s ok, I just have to explain a few things to the new guy.” Eric’s attempts to ameliorate the situation was going badly, especially as Justin was about to lose his mind. “Look, Justin, catch your breath and I’ll explain everything to you.”

Justin took a few deep breaths, and said “But this is illegal! We could go to jail! I could go to jail! I got to get out of here!”

Eric grabbed his shoulder before he could move. “No, no, you stay right there,” Eric said firmly, “and calm down, you’re making Gustav nervous.”

Justin looked at Gustav, who had put his feet down and was staring at him with great focus. He had moved his stew to one side of the desk and placed the elbow of his left arm on the other side, while his right hand gripped the edge. The sounds from the TV continued, made all the more obvious by the sudden silence of the three men, and Justin’s heavy breathing. The commentators of the game were in as much of a frenzy as Justin felt, only they were happy.

It was Eric who broke the silence first. “Everybody, let’s calm down. Gustav, I just have to explain to my friend here what’s happening. I thought he understood when I told him we were coming here. Obviously, I was wrong. Just let me talk to him, there’s no need for anyone to get upset. We’ll talk, he’ll see how lucky he is to be here, nobody gets hurt. I promise, it’ll be ok, really, trust me. Have I ever made trouble before? This guy, he’s so new, he doesn’t understand how things work, that’s why he’s my protégé. Don’t worry, everything will be…”

“You not problem”, Gustav interrupted. “Him problem”. His gaze never left Justin. 

“I know, I know”, replied Eric, still trying to be the peacemaker. “I’ll talk to him, right now, it’ll be ok.” He then turned to Justin. “Listen, if you don’t want bad things to happen I’m going to need you to calm down, now!”

“But…but…but…” was all Justin could manage.

“All right, just listen”, Eric spoke with the urgency of a man on the edge of a cliff. “Calm down, slow your breathing. Everything’s going to be ok, but not if you continue like this. It’s making Gustav nervous, and you saw earlier how he reacts to nervous.” Justin looked at Gustav and didn’t like what he saw. “So bring it down a notch”, continued Eric, “and I’ll explain everything.”

Justin looked back to Eric, realizing exactly the situation they were in, and began to calm down. “Ok, I’m calm” he said, and on the outside he was getting there. Inside was another matter. He would give anything for his heart to stop racing. He knew at the first chance he had to get out of there.  

“Good, good”, said Eric. “Just breath, in and out, in and out.” Justin did as instructed, at least giving the image of calming down. Eric saw that the breathing was working, always a good sign. “Good, you’re doing good Justin. just keep breathing and I’ll tell you what’s going on. I didn’t tell you everything before because I didn’t think you were ready for it. But now it looks like I don’t have a choice. So listen carefully to what I tell you, and save your questions for after. Ready?” Justin nodded half-heartedly, not really wanting to know more, because the more he knew the more they could use against him. But there was no other option. He was sure that if he tried to make a break for it Gustav would put a bullet in his back before he made the door. 

“Ok, here it is. Remember when I said those jackasses at work like to lease the software and charge you to use it? Well it’s a lot more serious than that. Some of those guys also work for Panes(trademark) and distribute the software as they see fit. And their rates are hefty, we’re talking six, maybe seven hundred dollars, as a minimum for a half a year’s use. And they monitor who’s using it. If they find out you’re using it without their license you could be fined, fired, and even jailed. That’s right, jailed for using a glorified typewriter, and they can make it happen. That’s why we’re here. We can get the presentation done and it won’t cost you a month’s rent.”

“My rent’s actually higher than that”, replied Justin dazedly.

“That’s not the point” replied Eric sternly. “The point is Panes(trademark) costs too much. That’s why we’re here. For $250 we can get the whole thing done, no fuss, no muss. Get it?”

Justin remained dubious. “But you just said they monitor who’s using the program. Won’t they know we’re using third-party software? Oh, and what’s a typewriter?” 

Eric shook his head at that. “You kids, you don’t know nothin’. Ok, first, yes, they monitor who’s using the program, but they don’t check the finished work, unless they see something so obvious it can’t be overlooked. That’s why I come to Gustav. He and his men do quality work.” He winked at Gustav, who nodded back. “And we’re not the only ones who come here. And he’s not the only one who does this. There are shops all over the place, if you know where to look. Everyone does it, because the price of Panes(trademark) is too high. 

“And seeing as they set themselves up as the ‘only professional office software’, people bought into it. So did Bricks(trademark), Granny Smith(trademark), Linus(trademark), and a few others I can’t remember. They call it ‘proprietary software’, which means they own it and everyone else can borrow it. What it really means is they can charge you for months at a time and make more money for a tool, ‘cause that’s what it really is. A tool. Think about that for a second.”

Justin did, and it did nothing to reduce the amount of confusion or anxiety he was feeling. “But if it’s theirs, doesn’t it make sense that we lease it? I mean, like they say, we use it and display it in public settings, they should get a cut, like it was on TV or up on a billboard.” 

“But it’s not on TV, is it?” Came the sharp reply. “We use it for meetings and boardrooms, all private settings. Which means they’re not shown to the public. And even if we did, it’s not like every page has a logo on it, nor are we making money from it. Who would know? Nobody, that’s who. They’re just using it as an excuse to make more money from it. Used to be you could just buy the program out right, put it in your computer, and that was that. No leasing, no renewals. You owned it. Now, it’s a lease. And the worst part is they made people believe that it was not only fair, but it’s the right thing to do, when actually they got tired of people copying the program for their friends. What, they weren’t rich enough? They weren’t making enough money? Somebody had to go without a yacht this year, or couldn’t vacation in Italy for the month? Freakin’ rich people, always tryin’ to be richer.”

Justin listened to this, and was still not feeling any better. Gustav had at some point sat back in his chair, arms crossed, but still focused on them. Justin said, “But if it’s their program, don’t they have a right to it?”

“Is it though?” was the reply. “Try this on: a typewriter, to answer your other question, is a device you would use instead of a computer. You would load it with a sheet of paper and type away, as much as you want, for as long as you want. This of course goes back to the early days of office work. It was a machine that you would use manually. In fact, the keyboard you use now is laid out just like a typewriter would be. The biggest difference is when you bought a typewriter, you owned it. It was yours, to do with whatever you wanted. But if you use the same logic these software companies use, then every time you finished writing a report, you would have to buy a new typewriter to write the next one. These things are tools, just like software is tools, right Gustav?”

“He’s right, little man”, replied Gustav. “Check this”, and he pulled out his gun to show them, to their surprise. “See this? Now, if I were to shoot you,” and he aimed the gun right at Justin, who gasped, “if I wanted to shoot someone else, I would have to buy a new gun. That’s what the Panes(trademark) people want you to think. It is highway robbery. Only they have their own corporate cops to make it legal.” At this he put the gun on the desk, which allowed Justin a chance to exhale.

Justin wasn’t sure what was going on. He was still trying to figure out how a typewriter worked, tried imagining where the paper went, and how the letters got on the paper. And that little demonstration by Gustav didn’t help. “So you’re telling me that people used to own the software. That doesn’t make sense.”

“Of course it doesn’t, to you”, exclaimed Eric. “You grew up believing all these companies had rights too, and their software is their software, and leasing is good. I remember in the early days Panes(trademark) would come on a CD, and you just installed it in your computer. But now, ugh…” 

At this Eric turned fully in his seat to face Justin. “Listen, don’t believe what they tell you. It’s just a tool, one we use every day. Think for yourself, man. If we used their logic on every tool out there, then if I used a hammer to build a house, I would have to buy a new hammer to build a new house! A new chair to sit in! A new car to get to work! A new pot to piss in! Is any of this sinking in? Does it make any sense? Of course it doesn’t. But they get away with it because they made everyone think their programs were being stolen, or used in public settings, that their rights were being infringed upon. Meanwhile everybody uses it. There’s no loss in revenue for them because they have became the standard. But it wasn’t enough. They have a monopoly on office software, and no one can stop them because they made it legal to police their software.

“I’m sorry”, Eric recanted, leaning back in resignation. “They didn’t make it legal, people made it legal. By believing what they were saying, by falling for the lie. And by corporations allowing that program to become the standard.” Eric ran a hand through his hair, then dropped it in his lap. “It’s…it’s enough to drive you crazy. We are the architects of our own demise. You may have heard that before, when they talk about the environment. But it doesn’t stop there. Between the media and corporations and political groups all trying to shape what you think, it’s no wonder you didn’t see it coming, didn’t see it at all. Just, trust me. We’ll finish here, and then go home, like it never happened. Ok?” 

This was a lot for Justin to take in. He looked at Eric, wondering what he should say next. The only thing that came to him was, “What’s a CD?”

This made Eric say “Wha…?” Gustav went “Ho!” And then both men laughed, heartily too. They laughed long and hard, which seemed to relieve a lot of the tension that was filling the room. Justin didn’t know what to do, his question seemingly innocuous, at least to him. He started half-heartedly laughing along too, as it continued. Eric began turning red, while Gustav almost fell off his chair. 

Eventually, the laughter began to wind down. Eric pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes, Gustav used his shirt. Justin waited patiently, looking from one to the other. Finally Eric came around enough, although he was still chuckling.

“Listen,” he began, “I know what they taught you in training. Forget all of it. If you want to go far in the company this is what you do. And remember, we’re not the only ones that do it. You think Gustav here is getting rich just from me?” Justin glanced at Gustav, who was still chuckling as he shook his head. “And don’t worry about the legalities of it. What they don’t know won’t hurt us. We’ll just get our presentation then act like this never happened. You’ll see, it’ll be fine. And you have to trust me. I’m your mentor. Do you think I would get us in trouble with anyone? This is how it’s done. This, or blowing all of your hard-earned cash. And looking at that suit, I think you’re going to need all the cash you got. Understand?”

“I…I think so.”

“Look, it’s like this.” This time Eric’s tone wasn’t as friendly. “You’re already complicit, just by being here. So you can either work with us, or…” and he nodded his head in Gustav’s direction. 

Justin got the implication, and decided that perhaps he should just be quiet for now. “Ok, if you say this is how it is, then I’ll go along. But we have to talk more on this.”

Eric gave Justin’s leg a reassuring squeeze, then sat back, content that he got his point across. Even Gustav looked more relaxed as he went back to his stew. “What’s a CD” he said, which threatened to bring about another round of laughter. Eric said “Don’t start that again”, chuckling even more. 

The amusement wound down, and they were left to their thoughts again. Gustav went back to watching TV, and Eric looked as if he were napping, with his arms crossed against his chest. Justin sat pensively, wondering what to do next. He looked at Eric, then at Gustav, then back to Eric. A clock on the wall ticked, the announcer on TV got excited for a moment, time passed. 

“Excuse me,” he ventured. “Do you have a bathroom?”

Gustav turned his gaze to Justin, not willing to miss another moment of the game. “Through the slats, turn left, third door on the right”, he said off-handedly. He was even more focused on the events on the screen than before, like he had money on it.

“Right then, excuse me” he replied. He rose and approached the door, but before he could touch the knob Gustav spoke up again. 

“Hey, don’t go wondering. Straight to bathroom and right back, understand?”

“Yes, right, of course, I’ll just be a moment”. Justin hoped he didn’t sound too nervous. He grabbed the knob and with a twist he was out the door. 

A moment later he was back, true to his word. He sat down quickly, not wanting to draw attention. Gustav never took his eyes off of the screen, and Eric seemed relaxed in his semi-nap. He waited another minute, then stretched his arms out, yawning as he did it, like he didn’t have a care in the world. No one noticed.

Justin leaned in close to Eric, and very carefully whispered, “We should go.”

Eric half snorted, then opened his eyes a crack. He turned his head slightly towards Justin, and said “Eh, what?” At that moment the door burst open. It was Duncan, holding the copy, the product, and a thumb drive. He walked over to the desk and set them on it, and said “It’s finished”. He then turned around and left the same way he came, closing the door firmly behind him. 

Gustav put down his spoon and motioned them over. As they approached the desk Gustav had opened another drawer and pulled out a laptop. He opened it up and popped the thumb drive in the slot on the side. “Should only take a few seconds” he said. They waited patiently, one eager to see the results, the other eager to leave.

After the program loaded, Gustav turned the laptop around so that they could examine it. Eric studied it carefully, while Justin waited. “Good, yeah, uh huh…” was all you could hear from Eric as he went over every slide. Gustav had by then finished his stew and put the empty bowl back into the desk. Justin just waited anxiously for it to be over. A few minutes later it was.

“Good work as always Gustav” remarked Eric. 

“Of course it is” he replied. “That’s what you pay for.” He then ejected the thumb drive from the laptop and handed it over. Eric took it with a smile. 

“That’s why I like you guys. You’re quick, efficient, and you do a hell of a job. Thanks for everything.” Eric held out his hand and Gustav took it in a firm grip. He turned to Justin and said “Go on, shake his hand”.

“Oh, right”, Justin responded a little nervously. By then the two men had gotten used to him being nervous. Justin held out his hand and said “Thank you.”

Gustav reached out and took it in another firm grip, but he didn’t let go. Instead he pulled Justin in closer and gave him a hard look. “You listen to Eric”, he began. “He’s been doing this a long time, long before you were out of diapers. This is world we live in now. You either float like the rest of us, or you sink like rock. You understand?” 

“Y…yes…yes, I get it”, Justin managed to get out. Gustav held on for another moment, looking at Justin deeply, then he let him go.

“Ok, we’re done here” Gustav stated. His change of mood from deadly force to friendly associate was instantaneous. “Come, I let you out.” 

“Great”, Justin exhaled that more than said. Neither men noticed. 

They left the office with it’s bright light and re-entered the gloom of the dock. Justin was eager to be in the car and gone, while Eric chatted with Gustav. 

“Hey, how’s the missus? Still giving you grief?” asked Eric.

“You know how women are”, replied Gustav. “First they want one thing, next it’s not enough. The other day she asked me for a new sofa. I get her new sofa. Now she wants new drapes to match the new sofa. Next she’ll want new arm chairs and new rugs. It’d be fine if we got it all in one shot. But she does it one thing at a time. Ugh, she’s driving me crazy.”

“Well you know what they say, ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’”.

“Yes but why does that mean I have to be un-happy?”

“You know what? I think that’s the plan. They’re not happy unless you’re un-happy.”

“Bah, who cares? As long as she cooks for me I’m ok.” 

“Did she make that stew for you?”

“Yes, and she always has something waiting for me in the desk. Perhaps I’m not so un-lucky.”

“Perhaps. It did smell good. Hey Justin, don’t forget the trunk.”

Justin had moved purposely toward the car and had opened the door when Eric spoke up. He looked back to see that the trunk was still open from when he got the briefcase. He walked back and closed it, then returned to his door and into his seat, buckling up as Eric said his goodbyes.

“Until next time”, he said. 

“You too”, came the reply. They shook hands again and Eric turned to get into the car while Gustav went to look out the side door to make sure it was clear.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Eric asked Justin as he buckled in.

Justin only nodded. Gustav had finished looking through the door and hit the switch that opened the gate. It was louder in the close space of the dock, with the motor trying and failing to be as loud. Once it was open, Eric backed out and turned back in the direction they had come from as the gate squealed closed. 

Justin looked around and said “We should hurry.”

Eric gave him a side look, not wanting to be distracted from the many potholes. “What’s the rush? It’s not too late. We can even stop for dinner if you’re hungry…”

“No, we have to go” Justin replied with urgency. “They’re coming.”

Now he had Eric’s full attention. “Who’s coming?”

“While I was in the bathroom I called the office. I wanted to know if what we were doing was ok, and they said…”

“You Did WHAT?!” Eric hit the gas and the car lurched forward. The potholes that were tolerable at low speed were now desperately trying to rip the undercarriage out from under them. Eric tried swerving around them, but he couldn’t miss them all. He turned left at the next corner, but not before he noticed the red and blue lights in his rear view mirror. He tore down the street with Justin hanging on for dear life. 

“Do you know what you’ve DONE?” he yelled at Justin. “Oh God, we are so done.” He focused on putting as much distance between them and the warehouse, although he knew it was no use.

“But they’re criminals” exclaimed Justin as he held desperately to the car strap. “They were bootlegging Panes(trademark). You know that’s wrong, that’s what they told us in training! I can’t be a party to this, that’s why I called the office. They said they would look into it.”

“You idiot! Their way of looking into it is to bust everyone involved!” That’s when they heard, from a distance and through the sound of the car trying to break itself in half, the sound of machine gun fire, and not just one gun. “Oh crap. You’d better hope Gustav doesn’t survive this!” 

Justin tried to reason with Eric through the heavy jostling of the car. “It’s ok, I gave them our names, we won’t get in trouble as long as we tell them what we know!”

“Wrong again little man!” came Eric’s angry retort. “These aren’t the police. These are the Panes(trademark) police, and they have the authority to protect their software in any way they want. No lawyers, no trials, no forgiveness. You’ve just thrown your life away!” He turned right at the next corner and floored it again. Lamp posts and empty warehouses flew by, each empty window looking like a scream, each lamp post pointing a guilty finger at them. But before he could make it to the next corner their escape was cut off by four white cars pulling out of the cross street, their flashing lights blinding them. Eric hit the brakes hard, making the car bump up and down until it settled in a pothole. Men poured out of the cars and rushed them, guns drawn and yelling for them to give up. They all wore black slacks with white dress shirts and black ties, with the letter P inside of a circle over their left breast pocket.

Eric raised his hands and stared out of the windshield. He seemed to shrivel up, as if the world was ending and he got to watch. His voice took the tone of a man defeated as he spoke. “Don’t you see, it’s all over. This is what happens when you mess with their trademark. Now we are going to disappear, never to be heard from again. Me, because I brought you here, you because now you’re tainted. You know other software exists, and because of that you can’t be left to talk about it to your friends, your family. You’re actually doing them a favor, because then they would have to disappear too.” The men had surrounded the car, all them shouting for them to not move, all of them aiming their guns.  “This is the world now”, Eric continued. “And it’s gonna hurt. Because this isn’t rational. This isn’t real. It’s Panes(trademark).”

“Just let me talk to them”, began Justin. “I’ll get us out of…” That’s when two of the men had smashed there windows, broken glass spraying both men making them jump, Justin more than Eric. They were quick and efficient as they reached in to release the doors, then reached in to simultaneously release the seat belts and yank them out of the car, slamming them down on the street hard. Eric grunted but did not fight back. He knew it was over. Justin, being a naive young man, tried to talk to them. “Listen, I’m the one who made the phone call.” He struggled to get up as they were being handcuffed. “No wait, listen, I called you, I can tell you everything.” As he was hauled to his feet one of the men cracked him in the head with the same club they used for the windows. “Shut up!” he told him, then dragged them to the cars. Justin’s head rolled on his shoulders as he tried to talk again, but by then they were both thrown into different cars with the doors slamming shut behind them. The cars pulled away, and the only sound that was left was the distant gun fire. Fifteen minutes later that ended, leaving the area to return to it’s quiet state. Like nothing had ever happened. 

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