I wrote this story in 2007 when I was rather depressed, and mostly kept it to myself, but now that Trump is in office I feel it should see the light of day. It depicts the kind of free enterprise that Trump would support, and probably participate in behind closed doors. Remember how he smiled when he talked about Gitmo? “We're going to load it up with bad dudes, … and they're going to tell us everything they know.” Some might say this practice is necessary for the greater good, a position that is at least worthy of debate, but Trump smiles, smiles like Torquemada. It's the same smile that crosses his lips when he incites violence at his rallies. “knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.” That's one of a dozen horrifying character flaws that should disqualify him from any office higher than dog catcher, but all he has to do is invoke fear and patriotism, fueled by a relentless campaign of blue lies, and his supporters are on board. God help us all.
Stop here 🛑 if you are under 18, or sensitive to graphic material.
Tommy balanced his books under one arm as he pushed the front door open with the other hand. He almost didn't have to turn the knob; it practically fell open. They had complained to the landlord, but when you're always two months behind in the rent you don't get first rate service. Still, Tommy was excited for the first time in weeks. He got an A on his final, and an A in the class. His grades were good enough to leave junior college and move to a university if they could garner enough financial aid and student loans. Even if he got his degree here at the community college he would be going places. His Mom would be proud - and perhaps he could get her out of this dump and into a decent apartment - maybe a house of their own.
"Mom." He placed his books on the end table next to the threadbare couch that served as his bed, and looked this way and that. "Mom, I got an A in calculus." He peered into the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, the extent of their meager apartment. Apparently she was still at Janet's house. Well no matter - he'd tell her soon enough. Maybe they'd splurge and buy a pizza.
Tommy stepped into the bathroom and got undressed. The young man in the mirror was handsome, with blue eyes and wavy brown hair. The first 20 years of his life had not been easy, but he was determined to succeed; you could see it in his eyes. Tommy smiled at himself, then turned toward the tub and started the shower. A minute went by, then two, then three, and still the water was ice cold.
"Damnit Mom, why couldn't you pay the gas bill?"
He knew why, and he was glad she wasn't around to hear him complain. It wasn't her fault. Nobody worked harder than her, and nobody got screwed more often. Like the tax bill left over from her X-husband, his dead-beat Dad. No alimony, no child support, and since the IRS couldn't track him down, Mrs. Caren Shanks is "legally responsible for the entire tax liability." Gee, thanks a lot. So she goes to work at County General at 6 A.M., cleans up after sick patients for 8 hours, and loses half her paycheck to the feds. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she cleans other people's houses for cash, just to keep the landlord at bay. Every month is a juggling act. This month it was either Tommy's tuition or Consumer's Gas. He smiled again, knowing she made the right decision. The cold water was tolerable if you got in and out quickly, as his Mom had taught him to do years ago.
When Tommy stepped back into the living room his Mom was sitting quietly on the dilapidated blue couch. She looked exhausted, her long blonde hair matted down with sweat. Still, she broke into a smile when she heard Tommy's news.
"I'm so proud of you. I knew you could do it. And I know you'll succeed. You'll be one of those computer tech guys in no time - making good money too. I'd give you a hug, but I should really get a shower first. I hope you left me some hot water."
"Well, um, Mom, you see…"
"Yeah - they turned off the gas again."
Mrs. Shanks stood up, her arm in the air. "I paid those bastards. I know I did." Her arm fell to her side. "At least I think I did." She shuffled slowly toward the bathroom, her head hanging down. "God I hate my life."
Tommy tried not to listen, but he thought he heard his Mom crying in the shower, and it broke his heart. He lived in the richest country in the world, where kids routinely get iPhones for Christmas, and he couldn't even have a hot shower. It was time to take matters into his own hands.
"Mom," he began, as they sat at the kitchen table eating their macaroni and cheese, "I'm going to the P&P, and that's that."
Caren froze, her fork in mid air. "Oh no you're not. We've had this discussion before, and I won't hear of it. I can live with a cold shower - it's ok."
"It is not ok!" Tommy insisted, raising his fork to his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and continued. "I talked to Alice, who did it last month, and she doesn't remember a thing. It's just like the commercial says. You go in, you come out four hours later, and you get twenty thousand dollars." He looked straight at his Mom from across the table; straight into her eyes. "Twenty thousand dollars!"
"Minus the taxes of course."
"Sure, they take out 20%, just like anywhere else, but that leaves sixteen thousand dollars free and clear, and I get most of the rest back in April."
"Some people get injured in the process, or have a heart attack or a stroke."
"I'm young, strong, and healthy. I'll be fine."
"What about that guy on the Late Show, who actually remembered the whole experience?"
"Mom, that's one guy out of thousands. You don't stay in your house afraid to drive because somebody got in an accident. That fellow was on tv because it's extremely rare. Nobody remembers." Tommy got up, put his dish in the sink, then returned to the rickety table. "Like I said, I talked to Alice in my computer class and she did it no problem. She said she was exhausted but she didn't remember a thing. She said she might do it again after the semester is over."
Caren put her head in her hands. "It's just awful. A horrible, horrible thing. Like prostitution, only worse."
"Well not exactly - you can't get aids from this, or any other disease."
"Yeah yeah - I've heard it all before. I don't want to think about it any more. If you do it, don't tell me. Just pretend like your going to class or something, then come home with the check. If I knew it was happening, while it was happening, I think I'd drive my car right through the gates and get you out."
True to his word, Tommy did not tell his mother anything about the appointment he had made with the Pain and Pleasure Center, casually referred to as the P&P, as if this abbreviation could somehow hide the true nature of the activities that took place within. Sam Farnsworth ushered Tommy into a brightly lit office with several comfortable orange chairs surrounding an octagon table with a glass top. "Now then Mr. Shanks, you're interested in making some money."
"Yes sir." Tommy shook Mr. Farnsworth's hand weakly, his heart beating fast.
"Sit down. Right over there." He motioned to a chair. "Now it's natural to be afraid, but thousands of people have done this, and the risks are very low, and well understood." He looked across the table at Tommy through thick glasses beneath thinning gray hair. "Have you ever known anyone who has taken pain before?"
"Yes, my friend Alice."
Sam smiled. The deal was practically closed. "And what did she say about it?"
"She said it was all right."
"Excellent." he replied, rubbing his hands together. "Then you already know quite a bit about it. Why don't you read through the contract, then I'll answer any questions you may have." He pulled a form out of his notebook and slid it across the table to Tommy. "It's all typed up with your name and the date of the session, as we discussed on the phone. We can change the date or any particulars if you wish. You did agree to the video, didn't you?"
"Right. Well I'll be back in twenty minutes and we can talk."
"He sure is a smooth talking salesman." thought Tommy to himself. "And why not? P&P keeps ten thousand dollars for themselves. The sadist pays thirty, and the victim only gets twenty. I wonder what his commission is. How much goes directly into his pocket? Two thousand? Maybe three. Well - I better read this thing through."
I, Tommy Shanks, living at 142 Center Street, apt 17B, do hereby enter into a contractual agreement with the Pain and Pleasure Center LLC, henceforth known as P&P. The nature of this contract is spelled out in the following paragraphs.
1. I certify that I am physically and psychologically healthy, with no preexisting conditions. I have never had a heart attack, heart failure, mitro valve prolapse, … (Tommy skipped past a litany of medical disorders.)
2. I will report to P&P on October 14 at 2:00 PM, and will be released from this facility no later than 6:00 PM. A certified anesthesiologist will administer phizarathol, so that there will be no memory of the events that take place between 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM. I understand than 1 person in 10,000 will retain scattered memories - a scene here and a touch there. I understand that one person in 100,000 will remember the entire session from start to finish. No drug is absolutely safe and predictable. I accept the risks, according to the odds given above. This includes any PTSD or psychological trauma that I might incur as a result of persistent, unintended memories.
3. From 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM, I will be stripped naked, bound, and tortured by another P&P client, who will be referred to as the giver. The torture consists solely of electric shocks, and is not intended to cause any permanent injury. However, I acknowledge that injuries have occurred. These include abrasions to wrists and ankles, and other areas of restraint, pulled muscles, bitten lips and tongue, and other self-inflicted wounds, including one successful suicide. P&P takes all reasonable precautions to prevent such injuries during the session. We monitor the process, and intervene if the giver does anything that might cause permanent harm.
4. As compensation, I will receive a check for 20 thousand dollars, $20,000, minus any applicable taxes, after the session. There will be no additional compensation for any injuries, as described in section 3, or any memories, as described in section 2. I understand the risks, and will not hold P&P responsible for any damages, be they physical or psychological.
5. I agree to have the session recorded for the benefit of the giver, and only the giver. He may replay the event in the privacy of his home as often as he likes, but he may not copy or redistribute the video, and he may not play it for anyone else. As compensation for this video recording I will receive an additional ten thousand dollars, $10,000, minus any applicable taxes. If the giver violates this copyright agreement, I may seek damages in a court of law under the civil code of justice.
Tommy looked across the table at Mr. Farnsworth, who had reentered the room.
"Any questions?" Sam asked.
"Do you personally monitor the event?"
"I do. I am the manager of this franchise, and the buck stops here. We've never had an injury here, physical or psychological. The shock wand is not battery powered; it runs off of electricity from the wall, which I can interrupt at any time with my little red button."
"And if he starts hitting me with his fists?"
"I have a taser. He'll be on the floor in seconds, and in court the next day, and you'll make even more money from the civil suit." He smiled his salesman smile. "You'll be fine."
Tommy frowned, signed the form, and slid it back across the table. "See you Thursday."
When Tommy stepped through the door of their small apartment his mother could tell. A mother always knows. He was just too quiet - too pensive. Mrs. Shanks knew, but she didn't say a word. His mind was made up, and that was that.
Thursday finally arrived, and Tommy fidgeted in his computer class, unable to concentrate. Alice leaned over and whispered in his ear. "Is it today?"
"Really, it's ok. I don't remember a thing. You're going to be fine."
Tommy skipped lunch, as he was instructed to do. The pain would make you vomit, so why bother. He could still hear Sam's slick voice in his head. "It's just like an operation. You don't eat beforehand, because the anesthetic makes you throw up. No big deal really. And remember," he said pointing to a clause in the contract, "you mustn't drink anything either, not even water." So Tommy's stomach gurgled a bit from hunger and trepidation as he entered the imposing building made of bray brick and no windows. Sam Farnsworth greeted him just inside the door.
"Tommy - I'm glad you came. Some people back out at the last minute, but I knew you would come." His suit looked like the one he wore on Monday. The jacket was the same, and one white shirt looks very much like another. The tie was different, blakc with thin blue stripes. "Your giver is already here, and he's practicing right now on a dummy. We'll make sure he knows exactly what to do and what not to do. And I'll be monitoring the entire session. You'll be fine."
"He understands that he cannot divulge my identity?"
"Of course. Nor can he reveal any details of the session, nor show the video to anyone else." They stepped into a waiting room and Sam motioned Tommy towards a light green couch. "Please, sit down over there. Dr. Snow will give you the shot, and then we'll just relax for a while. It takes about 20 minutes for the phizarathol to take effect."
Tommy sat down on the couch, and as if on cue, Dr. Snow came in carrying a medical bag. They shook hands all around, as though this were a casual business meeting. The pleasantries seemed surreal. Tommy almost expected the doctor to say, "Nice day for torture, don't you think? The sky is blue, and the sun is shining." Tommy rolled up his sleeve, and the doctor administered the shot. It was quick and painless.
"Well that's it." said Dr. Snow with a wave of his hand. "Good luck Tommy, and come see us again."
The doctor left, leaving Sam and Tommy alone in an awkward silence. What was there to say? Sam was waiting for Tommy to rush out the door, as other clients had done in the past. He would be stopped of course. After all, a driver on phizarathol is a dangerous thing. If he wanted to back out of the session that was his right, but he would have to sit in the waiting room until the drug wore off. No matter, Tommy was not about to back out. He needed the money, and that was that.
After twenty five minutes of silence Sam stood up, books and papers under one arm, and walked over to Tommy. He sat down on the long green couch, which could easily accommodate two large adults, maybe three. "How do you feel?"
"I feel fine."
"Do you know why you are here?"
"Sure." Tommy Chuckled. "To make money."
Sam couldn't help but smile at this concise and accurate response. Tommy was not the typical client. After a minute of silence Sam fumbled through his papers, pulled out a ruler, and slapped Tommy hard across the face. This was not without risk. Just last month a client responded by slugging him hard in the mouth. With this lesson learned, Sam always backed away immediately after the strike. There was no need for this evasive maneuver today, since Tommy harbored no violent tendencies. Even violent thoughts were foreign to him. He merely reached up and rubbed his cheek. "What was that for?"
"Oh I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking. What did you say your mother's name was again?" He pulled out a pen and held it over a piece of paper as though he were filling out a form. Tommy put his hand back in his lap.
"Yes of course. And your birthdate?"
"Didn't I already give this to you on Monday when we filled out all those forms?"
"Yes - I just want to make sure the drug is not having any unforeseen side effects."
"Ok, that makes sense." Tommy recited his birthdate, and answered two more questions; then Sam slid his papers back in his notebook and pulled out his ruler, moving it swiftly towards Tommy's face.
"It's a ruler." said Tommy, staring at it in surprise. "Do you want me to measure something, or read the numbers on it?"
"No." replied Sam. "Just wanted to make sure you knew what it was." Sam was satisfied. Classical conditioning had failed, because Tommy's hippocampus was unable to form long term memories, even in the context of pain. He stood up, pulled out his keys, and opened the door to the lounge. "Follow me please."
Tommy stepped through the door and Sam locked it behind them. The left side of the lounge had plush blue carpeting with two brown recliners bracketing a coffee table. The right side presented gleaming white tile on the floor and the walls, with a toilet, a sink, and a large bathtub. Sam motioned them over to the chairs, and Tommy sat down. The silence was awkward, but it only lasted a couple minutes. The far door opened and a beautiful young lady came in. She was in her mid twenties with long black hair, and she could have been in one of Tommy's classes.
"My name's Ann." she said as she shook Tommy's hand. "I'm sure Sam has told you about me."
"Yes. You're going to help me, before and after."
Sam stood up and walked towards the far door. "I'm going to get the chamber ready now. Ann will take good care of you."
Sam left the room, and Ann helped Tommy out of the chair. Best to get the process started right away. "Take off all your clothes and put them on the table next to you. Fold them neatly, and you'll be able to put them back on as soon as we're finished."
Tommy did as he was told; then he tried once again to go to the bathroom. "When you're in session, you will lose all control over your bodily functions. That's normal. It's not a sign of weakness; it's a natural phisiological reaction to intense pain. We put a diaper on you, but there will be less to clean up if you can go beforehand." Tommy stood in front of the toilet, released a small stream of urine into the bowl, then turned towards the sink.
"That's it?" Ann asked politely. "Do you want to try sitting down?"
"No. I had a bowel movement this morning, and I really don't think there's anything left."
"Fair enough." Ann said as she folded the diaper snugly around Tommy's waist and legs with practiced ease. His well-formed limbs did not escape her notice. This was no ordinary client, and she thought about peeking inside his file to get his address and phone number. But she couldn't - not while she was working for this sick and twisted company. "Hi. My name is Ann. You don't remember me, but I helped torture you the other day. I'm the one who tied you down so you could go through hell. Would you like to go out with me?" No - that just wouldn't fly. Everything about this job sickened her, and she had to get another one as soon as possible. Lord knows they didn't pay her much. No great loss there. Money flowed through Sam's hands like water while she barely got minimum wage. No - she would find another job, and when she did, maybe she would look him up.
Ann took Tommy by the arm and led him through the far door, down the hall, and into the chamber. The walls were covered in a light pink foam insulation, designed to muffle the sound and keep it inside the room. White tiles covered the floor in a perfect checkerboard pattern. "Easy to maintain." Tommy thought. "I'm sure they have to clean up after every session." The only furniture in the room was a bed of sorts, about waist high. Ann helped him lie down, placing his head in the padded indentation that was designed for this purpose. "Last chance to change your mind." she stated as she began to restrain his arms and legs. Tommy didn't say a word. More straps went across his shoulders, hips, and chest, and she pulled them all tight. "The risk of injury is less if you can't thrash about."
Ann stepped back and surveyed her work. Everything looked secure. She was almost done. "Ok Tommy, I'm going to put your mouthguard in now." She gently pulled his mouth open, and continued her explanation, which was pointless, because he wouldn't remember anything she said two minutes from now. But the smalltalk kept him calm. "This is uniquely designed for our operational needs. In fact we have a patent on it. It covers your teeth, but you can still talk. The speech sounds a bit slurred, but it is easily understood. The giver wants to hear you beg and plead, but of course we don't want you to bite your tongue and lips, or break your teeth as you go through the experience. This will do the trick." The guard wrapped neatly around Tommy's upper and lower teeth, but still allowed some movement for the tongue and lips. "Ok, let's see if you can talk."
"I sthink I cah talk all right."
"That's great." agreed a voice from the ceiling. Tommy turned to wards the unexpected sound. "Hi Tommy. This is Sam, and I'm monitoring you from the next room. I can see everything that is going on, and I can talk to you, or your giver, any time. We're just about ready to begin."
Ann left the room with tears in her eyes. She had become somewhat hardened to the process over the past few weeks, and that frightened her. Somehow this young man was different. He shouldn't be in this position at all, and she helped put him there. With just one look, Tommy had reset her moral compass, which had started to drift under the relentless influence of Sam Farnsworth and his libertarian pals.
At 2:59 a short man entered, wearing jeans and a blue T-shirt. He was noticeably overweight, the inevitable result of junk food and no exercise. His hair was balding slightly in the front, and his eyes shifted nervously, refusing to focus on Tommy's face. Sam performed the introduction from above.
"Fred, meet Tommy. He will be your victim for the next hour. Your time starts now."
In high school, Fred was the kid who was always bullied - the butt of everyone's practical jokes. But his poor grades and his social incompetence belied a keen intelligence. In four years he graduated from college with honors, then went on to law school. His thriving practice brought him plenty of money, but little satisfaction. He became addicted to violent video games and cyber porn - especially the S&M sites. Subscription fees climbed to $435 a month, which he paid through a separate bank account, hidden from his wife. She knew of course. The entire story could be read through the browser's history, which he did not bother to erase. Beyond this, they hadn't had sex in months, and he hadn't shown her any kind of real affection in years. All his sexual energy was wasted on pictures and fantasies. And still he was not satisfied. He wanted to watch the agony himself, and hear the screams, and smell the fear; the P&P made it possible.
Fred stood still for two minutes, wand in hand. A small dial in the handle regulated the voltage in gradations from 1 to 10. It was set at level 1. A standard electrical cord connected the wand to an outlet in the wall which Sam could disable with his little red button. Fred looked at the wand, then at Tommy, and then at the clock on the wall. He wasn't sure how to begin. This was a real person, someone who did not deserve an hour of torment. Then again, he did sign up for it, right? and he will be paid for his troubles. "Paid with my money." he thought as he looked again at the clock on the wall. He had already squandered 3 minutes, having spent nearly $670 per minute. This fiscal reality shook him out of his moral indecision. He began by tapping Tommy lightly on the leg. Tommy jerked, almost as a reflex. "Not bad for level 1." Fred thought as he tapped the other leg. He moved the dial up to 3 and touched Tommy on the chest. Tommy yelped in response, and Fred smiled. "Only level 3, and he's crying out in pain." His pulse quickened as he turned the dial to 5, then 6, then 7, administering shocks about the face and neck. By 3:20 he could smell Tommy's sweat, and it excited him all the more. This wasn't a locker room smell, it was the smell of fear. He had read about it, but that was no substitute for the real thing.
"Remember," Sam warned from above, "stay away from the eyes, nose, and mouth, or any other area that might be wet. You could burn the skin, and there must be no injuries."
"I know, God Damnit!" Fred shouted back, irritated by the interruption. Sam had spoiled the mood, and he had to get it back right away. He turned the dial to 8 and continued his work. In between shocks, Tommy was begging for mercy.
"Please, I'll do anything. I'll pay you back twice the money you spent if you'll just stop."
This stopped Fred in his tracks, because the offer was laughably preposterous. "You don't have any money. You don't have a pot to piss in. That's why you're here. Listen you little dumbshit. I pulled myself out of poverty; I worked hard to get where I am." Through some sort of egotistical self-delusion Fred had conveniently forgotten the dozens of lucky breaks he had received throughout his life, the numerous favors that others had done for him along the way, and the many government grants and programs that made it all possible. No - he had done it all himself, and anyone else who was not successful was obviously stupid, weak-willed, or lazy. Fred concluded his tirade by putting his face directly into Tommy's. "Get a job!"
The rest of the hour was spent at level 10. The screams were horrific, as Tommy thrashed pitifully against his restraints. He would have killed himself, but there was no way to do it. Around 3:36 he made the same fiduciary offer he made before, since he had no memory of it. But Fred remembered it, and the repetition made him angry. He called Tommy every name in the book, and ended it the same way he did before, screaming in Tommy's face. "Get a job!" The moral superiority he created for himself was exhilarating, and it only served to heightn the pleasure.
Between incoherent screams, Tommy continued to repeat himself, begging, pleading, and promising anything at all, if Fred would just stop. He looked at the clock and saw that there were only 7 minutes left. He didn't remember the previous 53, but he knew they were horrible, because the current minute was horrible. But there were only 6 minutes left, and now 5. At 3:58 he made one more attempt at bribery, and Fred laughed again. He pressed the wand into the side of Tommy's neck and listened for the now familiar snap of electricity as the capacitor discharged its agonizing voltage. Tommy tried to squirm away, but Fred held the tip in place as the unit discharged again and again. One more time, as the hour drew to a close, "You're a lazy worthless scum. Get a job!"
An electronic bell rang as the clock reached the top of the hour. The wand had no power, like a lifeless snake. Ann stepped into the room, snatched the wand from Fred's hand, glared at him with disgust, and motioned him out the door.
"Next time I'm going to zap a nigger." chuckled Fred as he turned to leave. "They're all criminals anyways." He was clearly high on violence.
"Your time is done here." said Ann coldly.
"Careful bitch, or you'll be next! I've got the money, and I've got the power, and I might just run for Congress next year. Then we won't need your consent, and we won't pay you a dime." he declared, motioning his hand towards the bed. "Idiots like you are going to learn your place."
Ann bristled, as she evaluated the nasty human being who stood before her. He was short and out of shape; if she swung first she might just take him down. Sam ran into the room, taser in hand, trying to avert a disaster. "Fred, I'm afraid your time is up; why don't you come with me." In the future he would make sure the giver left the chamber before Ann reentered.
After they left, Ann turned to Tommy and began to loosen the straps. "You don't have to say anything; just relax. It's all over." She removed the mouth guard and helped him sit up. "Your throat will be hoarse from screaming; here's some water." Tommy reached for the glass and was surprised to see that his arm was shaking. This was not unusual, and Ann knew what to do. "Put your arm down; I'll hold it up to your lips." Tommy took a few sips, then drank the entire cup. "When we're back in the lounge you can have some orange juice. You'll feel much better. Now - let me help you up." She pulled Tommy to his feet as he leaned on her for support. Together they stumbled out of the chamber, down the hall, and back into the lounge. He moved toward the right, but Ann redirected him to the left, towards the tub. This was not your typical bathtub. A plastic coated metal chair stood in the middle of the tub, its back reclined at an angle. Ann removed the diaper, which was slightly soiled, helped Tommy into the chair, took the detachable showerhead off the wall, and turned on the water. When the temperature was right, she ran the warm water over him from top to bottom. "I'm going to start at the top and work down." she said, rubbing a big blob of shampoo into his hair. His arms were still shaky; he wouldn't be able to wash himself, nor should he be standing on rubbery legs in the shower. Over the past two years P&P had learned that this was the best way to clean people up and send them on their way.
While she was scrubbing his head he noticed the clock on the wall, which was installed to help the victim maintain his bearings. "It's after 4. I must be done, and this is the cleanup phase."
"How'd I do?" His voice was a bit raspy.
"You tell me?"
"Well I feel like I've run a marathon, but I'm ok."
"Yes - I think you did just fine." She lathered up a wash cloth and began soaping up his arms and chest.
"It's a shame I won't remember this part of the experience. This is wonderful!" He looked into her dark brown eyes, and the attraction was mutual.
"I'm afraid you won't remember me at all." Ann feigned sadness, but inside she was glad. She didn't want anyone to think of her as a cog in this monstrous machine. The words of Sweet Charity came to mind: "There's gotta be something better than this. There's gotta be some life cleaner than this." Someday she would be far away from the P&P, and she would find some excuse to run into him again. In the meantime, she gave him special attention, more than she gave any other client. She soaped and scrubbed and rinsed, and did it all over again. Tommy looked up at the clock and said, "It's 4:35, I guess I'm done."
"Did I do all right?"
Ann was use to the repetitions. "You did just fine." She helped him out of the chair, and he was noticeably stronger. "Dry off, and put your clothes back on." she instructed, handing him a towel. Tommy dried himself, then looked at Ann, unsure of his next move. She had forgotten the futility of giving sequential instructions. "You can put your clothes back on." she said gently, as she motioned towards the coffee table. Her smile was captivating, and Tommy was instantly attracted to her, again, for the first time.
Tommy got dressed and sat down in one of the brown recliners. He looked over at the clock on the wall and exclaimed, "4:43. Thank God it's over."
"Yes, you did just fine, but somebody else will need this lounge in a few minutes. We need to go back to the waiting room." She escorted Tommy out of the lounge and into the waiting room where Sam sat patiently on the familiar light green couch.
Tommy sat next to Sam, and they made small talk for another half hour, until the drug wore off. Sam could tell by the long term continuity of the conversation that Tommy's faculties had returned. "I think we're all done. I'll write you a check, and you can be on your way." He pulled out his notebook of forms and papers, and then asked, almost as an afterthought, "Do you know anyone else who could use our services?"
"As victim, or sadist?" Tommy refused to use the term "giver", any more than he would call a nuclear missile a peacekeeper.
"Victim." chuckled Sam. "We have a long line of givers. And if you know any minorities, we pay extra for them."
"Black, jewish, Muslim, Mexican, Oriental - even women. It's just supply and demand. People pay extra to redirect their hatred towards certain racial groups, and we, naturally, respond to the invisible hand."
Tommy winced at the thought. The extent of racism in our local community now has an objective measure in the marketplace. This surely merits a new chapter in the next edition of Freekonomics. "No." he replied. "I don't know anyone else who," he paused for a moment, "needs your services."
"Well if you think of anybody, there's a $200 finders fee." Sam started writing the check, and then turned to Tommy. "Remember, we withhold 20% for taxes. It makes you sick, doesn't it? The way the government interferes with our daily lives, and then steals our money to fund its intrusive efforts. I vote libertarian every time, and you should too." Sam knew that Congress was on the verge of outlawing his business altogether, and he could see his cash cow drying up over night.
Tommy took the check in silence, wisely avoiding a protracted political debate with this man whom he hoped never to see again.
Caren held her son tightly, as though he had just come back from overseas. "Thank you for doing this, but please don't ever do it again." She backed away and looked into his eyes. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes Mom. Just a few abrasions on my wrists and ankles, and those should go away in a couple days."
"And you don't remember any of it?"
"Not a thing." Tommy paused for a moment, and then added a disclaimer. "You know, there is one image I have, and I don't know if it really happened or not. A face, inches from mine, screaming, and telling me to get a job. It's like a dream that I had years ago."
"I read in the paper the other day, Senator Carlson is introducing a bill that would make this practice illegal."
"That's a good idea. The people at the center think no harm is done, and everyone comes out ahead, but I think harm has been done nonetheless. Not to me; I'm fine. But the person who administers the pain, I think, well I don't know, but I think the process must surely turn him into a monster. How could it not? What does he do the next day, and the next? How does he vote when he views certain groups of people as worthless? If he and people like him run the government, what happens then? A microcosm of evil, no matter how well managed and contained, will surely spill out somewhere and undermine the fabric of a civilized society."
"You're right, but I don't want to think about it any more. Let's put the check in the bank and have a nice dinner out - if you're up for it."
"Definitely." replied Tommy, reaching for his jacket. "I'm going to take you to the nicest place in town."