14)  Monday, January 27th – “Free Enterprise – it’s Never Free!”


The blizzard that had paralyzed the Midwest, causing that historic postponement of Sunday’s Packers - Redskins Divisional Playoffs, blew into Washington overnight, blanketing the metroplex with blowing, drifting snow by Monday morning; snow which briefly… as afternoon temperatures rose into the mid-30s… changed over into biting sheets of sleet and ice, laying down a crusty, glittering, crystalline carpet before more snow arrived, burdening trees, buildings and souls; snapping power lines and tempers.  David Lee had affixed chains to the wheels of his Dodge Dakota, veering and swerving five miles in to work, only to find himself alone on the ninth floor of the FCC compound.

          Well, almost alone.  No sooner had he entered the empty maze of cubicles on the ninth floor and begun sloughing off wet, winter clothing than Quentin Sills, Elaine Ford’s replacement, thrust a finger at him.

          “Miz Chaine – she want you, pronto…”

“I haven’t even got my reports together…” David waved him off.

          “Now!  Chop, chop!” Sills added, fingers lifting his eyelids in a grotesque parody of a cartoon Chinaman.

          Nose in the air, Quentin departed cubicle alley as if departing an unwholesome, underdeveloped nation and David swore, tossed a wet boot out into the corridor… his socks after… then marched to the Manager’s office in bare feet.

          “You needed something…”

          “Don’t sit down,” Kristi recoiled.  The overthrow of Goblin had had a consequent effect of the removal of Jack’s venerable naugahyde furniture to the sidewalk.  In its place reposed French… stuff… flimsy-looking assemblages of silk and sticks David wouldn’t have sat in even if he was dry.  “You’re a disgrace,” the boss seconded his own self–loathing, “I ought to send you home but, then, there is this…”

          And she held up a thin folder.

          “Nice to know you finally got around to it…” David said.

“I’m taking it into account that your immediate supervisor was that poor, sick troll, so that containment was not necessarily a priority at the time that you submitted… this…”

          “Containment?” David asked, speaking of a policy, and not a physical entity…

“Exactly what is your agenda, Mr. Lee?” the Manager waved David’s document back at him.  “Frightening the public?  Shilling for the goddamn liberal media, or the defeated President and his Vice President of color.  Or the former Commissioenrs... God rest their souls?  You seem intelligent enough to understand that the Commission has been committed to a seamless and graceful interim transition process, even under the auspices of the late, unlamented Messrs. Meyers and Gobelman, so I am at a loss to comprehend your motive, unless you are one of those sad, little obsolete people who stir up trouble for its own sake…”

          “You haven’t even considered the implications… excuse me,” he sneezed, “… of fifty million Americans going cold turkey from their plug-in drug?”

          Kristi Chaine sat back in her own executive throne, a formidable edifice of maroon leather, black oak and brass tacks reposing on thousands of dollars worth of new carpeting hastily commissioned… if not quite as imposing as Miz Lottie’s regal perch in Purley, all the more robust in comparison to the flighty vanities on the other side of her desk… and sneered: “Forgive me for not saying ‘God bless’, as it might imply an endorsement of your findings.  By the way, are you recording us?  One of those cellphone augmentations, perhaps, an earphone jack or fountain pen like the one somebody used to post our removal of Mr. Gobelman on the Internet?  Cufflinks?”

          “Wasn’t me.  Hey, I’m clean,” David spread his arms, dripping on the ice queen’s new Berber carpet, “…search me, if you must.  Strip-search me, even… I’d like nothing better than to get out of these wet clothes…”

          “No thank you.  I’ll take my chances,” the Manager replied with all the gusto of a tired housewife removing a dead mouse from its trap.  “But wouldn’t you consider your estimate of fifty million to be rather excessive, compared to the Transition Partnership’s concurrence with the Nielsen findings that only fourteen to an outside extreme of thirty million persons in less than eight million households will face cutoff after, of course, the inevitable transition process?  Alarmist, even…”

          “No,” David replied, flatly.  “I presume, also, that you have read our findings that refute the industry’s rosy scenario… the escalating rate of satellite and cable disconnects, the retailers’ excessive markups on cheap Chinese-made televisions, not to mention the converters…”

          “Attributable to fuel costs, and excise taxes imposed with the support of both political parties…” Kristi slapped her desk with David’s report.

          “…which account for less than twenty percent of the price hikes.”

          Kristi slammed the report on her desk again, as if determined to murder a murder of the flies that had somehow defied the season by finding safe, warm hiding places during Gobelman’s siege and still penetrated the hermetically sealed Research complex.  “You even go so far as to heap disrespect all over our voucher program…

          Disdaining the flimsy French chairs, David leaned over, resting his elbows on Kristi’s desk.  “Maybe forty dollars off when all the experts were swearing on Bibles that those converter boxes would start selling at eighty bucks… with other informed sources even saying they’d go down to sixty… made sense.  Then they started hitting the market a couple of weeks before Christmas, I remember seeing Samsung asking a hundred seventy nine…”

Kristi shook her head.  “We have a free enterprise system,” she admonished.  “Even the Russians no longer capitulate to Communism and the Chinese are too busy selling their crap to care... why, even Osama bin Laden’s family supports free enterprise.  I read it on the Internet, the Don Jones Index... they know almost everything.  Do you even pay attention to what is going on in the world?

“...until they started catching fire,” David continued, electing to ignore anything political spewing out of the supervisor’s mouth.  “Last I checked, Giga-Plex wanted two-nineteen for a basic box.  Some other transition partners were asking even more’n that, up to four freakin’ hundred for converters full of all these useless accessories that don’t work on most old analog sets.  To ask people living from paycheck to paycheck… if they even have paychecks… to shell out four hundred or, even, two hundred bucks to salvage a set worth, what… twenty?  I know, like the President’s guy said, Americans are stupid,” he sighed, “but not that stupid.   Not to mention that the voucher program could’ve been handled by FEMA…”

          “It was outsourced to a reputable private firm…” the Manager pointed out…

          “Which tossed coupons hither and thither the way we flooded Baghdad with cash for services that never got performed, or stuff that got blown up by criminals knowing we’d pay for roads and bridges that’d get blown up again, so we’d pay to build again.  Last spring, down in the hood, those coupons were being traded for a six-pack or two for a rock of crack… so we run out in September, way before legitimate parties get around to asking for theirs.  And then, well, I’m not even going to go into the Russian counterfeiting scandal…”

          Belarussian, not Russian.  Our new President and Mister Putin are in accord on the necessity of protecting intellectual property…”

“Intellectual property?” David shook his head.  Coupons?  Russian, Prussian, Belarussian… Bela friggin’ Lugosi,” he chortled, “speakin’ of those funky giant Transylvanian turds at Giga-Plex… we blew it, C-lady, alright?  Can there be any other interpretation?  Transition day’s a big wall of crap, ready to fall all over us… and the Mexicans ain’t payin’ for this, either.”

          “Well, I guess you just are one of those troublemakers,” the Research Manager sniffed, “…you and that bunch of socialist greenie-weenies who probably would’ve litigated against the automobile on behalf of the horse and buggy lobby…”

          “My weenie ain’t green…” David protested.

          And Kristi rewarded him with a wicked, unexpected smile.  “You been porkin’ Boris Malone and that nutcase Reverend in the ghetto?” she pointed across the desk.  “Sounds so…”

          And the first fourteen notes of “Satisfaction” silenced the both of them…

          “In fact… hold it, I’ve got a call… just an ordinary call on an ordinary cell,” he held up the device for the boss to see.  “I’ll even point it out the window…”



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