Dope: It’s What’s for Dinner
Jim’s one indulgence (if you could call it that) in his normally tidy and sedate life was his library. Throughout his easy climb up the Corporate Ladder, which his pedigree virtually assured, he had gradually amassed what was considered by many bibliophiles to be, “A [AHEM] very respectable collection.” His library was his sanctuary. When his brother brought his kids over, he bolted the doors tight and wore the key around his neck.
For hours at a time Jim would sit at home, alone, perusing his varied collection. The term “print” nowadays was largely a quaint anachronism; most information was held electronically. Even the Constitution of the Incorporated States of America was filed away on an SD card at the Pay-Library of Congress. Waste not, want not. Jim, however, loved the smell of books. He liked the weight in his lap, in his hands. He liked the suspense provided by the very act of turning a page. Everything about books satisfied Jim, until one strange afternoon in March of 2050.
Though Jim had never known a time when drugs were illegal, he got the crude, intuitive feeling that what he was doing would have felt a lot like the drug deals shown in the midnight 2Ds at the Bijou. He met a man through a friend in a rare bookstore. The man took him to a dark bar and opened a briefcase. Inside the case was one of the rarest, most valuable, and highly illegal books in the world: Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, a handbook for guerilla democracy and in the top ten of the first books burned after the War of Initiative. Hoffman’s name had been stricken from all past public records along with those of Hunter Thompson, Carl Woodward, Matt Taibi, Tanis Glee, and countless others. It was full of ways to subvert government control and live without money. Everything from providing yourself with free footwear, to free phone calls, to free ammonium nitrate.
Jim tingled all over; this was a dream and a nightmare rolled into one, but the addict in him took over and he left with the book and less a good deal of creds. He took it home and locked himself in his study until he had read every word twice. He didn’t piss for ten hours, and when he got up to go to the bathroom finally he fell flat on his face as his legs were wracked with pins and needles. From there it was all downhill. The writings of Mother Teresa, Thomas Jefferson, Ted Kaczynski, Margaret Atwood. Jailhouse diaries of Nelson Mandela and Jeffrey Dahmer. Napkin scribbles of John Dillinger. Walt Whitman cryptically talking about sex. Jim was hooked. Before long he had amassed one of the best collections of subversive and forbidden literature in the country. He couldn’t help himself. He was driven by a hunger he didn’t fully understand and was helpless to control, and his paranoia hardly let him sleep. That’s when things began to get a bit over his head.
* * *
Jim was late. He’d assumed that he would have enough time to make it home after work so he could have a fresh shave and shower before meeting his boss for dinner at Chateau Psychotrope, but, of course, traffic was shit and now he only had fifteen minutes to make it to the restaurant in time. Outside his apartment tower on the fashionable Halliburton District in New York©, he hailed a hover-cab and floated gently up to the skyway.
“I’ll give you double creds if you can get me to Psychotrope in,” he glanced at his watch, “shit! Ten minutes.”
“No problem, Sir. We’ll just kick in the old fusion drive and be there in no time.”
Jim sat back and lit a cigarette. Staring out the window of the taxi he watched the lights of the city zoom by in a blur as the car accelerated to top speed.
“D’jew hear the latest about the Demos this afternoon, buddy?”
Jim flinched. “Did something happen this afternoon?”
“Did something happen?!” the cabbie almost shouted. “Buddy, where you been for the last three hours? They blew up the friggin’ statue of Morgan Finley in Washington©. Damn thing’s in pieces all over the Mall.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Nah. Nobody hurt, but boy hell, are the cops pissed! They really ruffled their Armanis.”
They floated along in silence for a few more minutes until Jim saw the restaurant on the horizon and checked his watch. 6:58. The cabbie was good.
“That’ll be sixty creds, Mister.”
Jim placed his index finger on the credbox and authorized C120 and got out of the cab.
* * *
“I’m meeting Benjamin Falbach for dinner right about now. Could you point me toward the table?
“Of course, Sir. Mr. Falbach has been waiting for you.”
The Chateau was one of those throwback restaurants, like a period piece. It was as if someone had snapped up a tidy little chunk of the 1990s and dropped it into New York© sixty years later. White tablecloths and waiters with mustaches and tuxedos, hair slicked close to their heads. On the walls were pictures of products made popular in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: everything from something called Brylcreem (what in god’s name could that be?) to iPods. The waiter led him to the Bill Gates Room and his boss.
Falbach stood up to greet Jim, his meaty hand outstretched for a shaking. “Jim, my boy, glad you could make it tonight.”
“Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Falbach.”
“Hey, I’ll have none of that. When we aren’t in the office, I insist you call me Ben. Have a seat.” Ben Falbach was a large, rather imposing man. At fifty-five he was just beginning to get round in the middle, but it was hardly noticeable due to his great height. He stood a menacing 6’6”, and his hand wrapped all the way around Jim’s.
Jim had played a few games of racquetball with Ben and been trounced each and every time. The one time he’d come close to winning, things had gotten so physical that he had to call in sick the next day, sore all over and hardly able to get out of bed. With the voice of a stern father and one of the best business minds in the last twenty years, no one was surprised when Ben became the youngest CEO Morgan Finley Inc., I.S.A., had ever hired.
“Jim, I’m starving. Let’s get some food on the way before we get into things. I hear this place has the best jimson weed salad in three states, and I aim to try it out.”
The first thing the Corporatists did after winning the War of Initiative was to legalize all drugs. There was simply too much money being made on the black market that could be in the pockets of the legitimate businessmen around the country, rather than in those of the dregs in the ghettos. Since then drugs had found their way into almost every aspect of society. When it started, you could go into a convenience store and buy a drug packet for the day like they used to sell vitamins. Uppers in the morning, a small joint for right before lunch and a valium/morphine compound for right before bed. As people acclimated themselves to this, eventually the drugs were just included in everyday products: Snickers laced with smack, Valium-flavored Icees, and finally, Coke with coke. Full circle. Drugs could even be found in laced sacraments at churches. It seems that the opiate of religion just wasn’t quite strong enough—or perhaps it was just stepped on. In any case, the Chateau Psychotrope specialized in preparing the finest food with the finest drugs.
Falbach waived off the specials and began his order. “I’ll start with the Jimson Salad with the Psilicybe Ranch on the side. And for my entrée, I’ll take the laudanum-marinated filet mignon, medium.”
“And to drink, Sir? We have a wonderful Amphetamine Cabernet 2022 which should go nicely with your steak.”
“Yes, that sounds fine. Bring a bottle of that. How about you, Jim?”
“I’ll take the Soupe de Poussiere d’Ange, to begin, and for dinner, I’ll take the Chicken Breast à la Phenobarbital.”
“Excellent choice, Sir. The chicken is very juicy, and the Phenobarbital is very fresh. Bon.”
With that the waiter waddled away and very shortly Ben Falbach and Jim Strider were sipping their wine and enjoying the beginnings of a five star meal chocked full of many different kinds of heavy narcotics. Falbach dove into his jimson weed with gusto, liberally spilling his mushroom derived dressing all over the salad. Jim’s soup was a bit spicy, but good and he could already feel the euphoria from the early stages of the PCP working on his brain. By the time their entrees arrived Jim was beginning to hallucinate and tingling all over from the wine. Falbach seemed normal, but Jim just chalked it up to his own impairment.
“So, Ben, why are we here? Not metaphysically, which is to say why are we on the planet, but here in this specific place together, rather. What I mean is, why do you like me? No, that’s not what I mean.” He laughed. “Sorry, let me try again. Ben, why did you invite me here? What’s the occasion?” The PCP was really doing a number on him. He longed for the calmness of his chicken. If I can just make it to the main course that sedating wonderful main course that should be popping out of that egg any second sizzling for me. No wait. I’m not eating eggs am I? A waiter passed by and left a trail of thousands of waiters behind. Jim shook his head.
“Well, Jim, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.”
Oh GOD! Oh GOD! “What’s that, Sir?” Why was Falbach so goddammed calm? He should be every bit as fucked up as me after that psychotic fucking salad he just ate.
As Ben Falbach spoke, Jim noticed his head inflating, getting larger and larger until it seemed it would burst. “Jim, did you hear about that mess in Washington this afternoon?”
Mess in Washington Mess in Washington. What the hell is a messinwashington? “Sir?” The statue! Of course! “Yes, sir, I sure did, in the cab on the way over. Horrible about the Finley statue. Bits of him everywhere. Dripping from the rafters. HA!” I shouldn’t be laughing. Why am I laughing?! “That thing’s been around since the end of the War.”
“Yes, it has, Jim.” Just then the waiter arrived with their entrées, and for a moment the conversation stopped. “I’m glad no one was hurt, but one of these days those Demos are just going to have to get it through their heads that the time for democracy is over. We tried it for more than two hundred years, Jim, and the only good it gave us is the Corporation. The Corporation is the natural evolution of government. The Corpos won the war, and that is the way things are.”
“Yes, Sir.” Jim dove into his chicken, hoping the barbiturates would take the edge off of the incredibly potent soup he’d just consumed. All around him images swam into and out of one another. He could not separate person from table, food from plate. Things were swiftly melding into one giant moving being, and he desperately wanted it to stop. Falbach seemed so clear, and he felt at a disadvantage, especially considering the topic of conversation. “Ideologues die hard, Sir. Crush them like cockroaches, we should. Pull them out of their shells, I say. Crushkrinklecrack!”
“Indeed, Jim; indeed they do.” Falbach hadn’t yet touched his opium-laden steak. “Jim, we’ve been monitoring you lately.” Jim’s pulse soared even higher but he tried to conceal it with his face. He was convinced that Falbach could hear his heart beating, that everyone in the restaurant could for that matter.
“Monitoring, Sir? I’ve been making my quotas, haven’t I? I’d hate for my department to fall behind.” Yes! Good cover, Jimbo. Jimbojimbojimbo.
“Oh yes, Jim. We can always count on you to go above and beyond the rest of the teams. Why, the only person to move through this company faster than you was me. No, the issue isn’t your work, Jim.”
“Then what is it, Sir?” The chicken was beginning to calm the effects of the soup, but his mind still couldn’t keep things straight. He couldn’t decide exactly what was happening, but he grew more and more nervous as Falbach hesitated to answer. Jim then saw a huge gulf open up between him and his boss. It was as if they were sitting hundreds of feet apart, and all around him the tinkling of silverware and glasses was amplified as if projected through a bullhorn.
“Come now, Jim.” His voice sounded tinny and wee from so far away. “Wouldn’t it be more dignified to just go along easily? It’s quite tasteless of you to make me spell it out this way. I’ve always thought of you as a class act, Jim, but you’re testing my patience. I mean, the monitoring started as routine. We monitor everyone at some point, but you proved very interesting. All those late-night meetings in dark places. Quick overnight jaunts all over the country. Credits leaving your account in huge lumps. Very suspicious behavior on the surface. So we dug in a bit. Tried to get to the bottom of it all. We even sent a man into your home.”
OHGOD! What did they know? They couldn’t know it all could they? Sure they probably found the books, but that’s not that bad, is it? They couldn’t know how deep it really goes could they. He’s so faaaaaaar away…
OhGod they know. Know what? Everything you dummy. They know you’ve been helping the Demos. No I haven’t. Have I? Damn that soup I can’t think. I just need to think. “I don’t know what it is you think I’ve done, Ben, but—”
“That’s enough Jim. Stop shouting. We know you’ve been operating quite a nifty little lending library for criminals and conspiracists out of your home. We’ve been tracking all of your communications for the last year. Hell, if you weren’t such a good VP we would’ve sacked you long ago but, we had no idea you would go this far. Really, Jim, treason? Treason against the Incorporated States of America. Treason against its founder, your employer, Morgan Finley, Inc.”
“Mr. Finl—er Falbach, I think your salad has gotten to you. I assure you I’ve done none of the things you claim I’ve done. I know my books are a little eccentric, but I’ll get rid of them, Sir. I-I’ll burn them myself. I swear, I haven’t been helping the Demos at—“
The room around Jim began spinning like a merry-go-round. He could actually hear the music that went with it. His paranoia was shouting at him in a high-pitched screech. You’re fucked, Jim! They’ve got you cornered, you little cockroach! “SHUT UP!” You’ve been set up!
“You’ve been set up. I arrived early and told the waiter to bring me clean food no matter what I ordered, and I’ve had enough of your denials. Now, Jim, I think it’s time we paid the check and got going. You know where you have to go now.”
“Now don’t fight it, Jim. It’s nothing personal. Hell, I like you, but the law is the law, and as Commander and Chief Executive Officer of M. F., Inc. I have to enforce it, even when I don’t like to.”
I don’t want to be wiped clean I don’t want to be wiped clean. “I don’t want to be wiped clean, Mr. Falbach! Please, I’ll stop. I’ll turn them all in, I swear, just don’t wipe me clean!”
“I know you’ll talk, Jim. They all talk, and they all get wiped. And I told you to call me Ben outside the office.”
Jim was surprised to find himself being picked up out of his seat by two uniformed police officers in their dress Armanis. He couldn’t make their faces come clear in his mind. Just blank slates. No mouths. No eyes. As he was pulled from the restaurant, followed by Mr. Falbach, he had the sensation of riding backwards on a gurney through a hospital hallway. “I DON’T WANT TO BE WIPED CLEAN!” he screamed. He thought he screamed. Did I just scream?
* * *
Ben Falbach stared out the window of his limousine, floating gently through the smoggy but perfumed air of New York©. He smoked a very good New Cuban©. It was a nasty business with Jim in the restaurant, and he was glad to be done with it. Every once in a while you had to make a public example of a person in order to keep the rest of the sheep in line, but for god’s sake he’d gone to school with the man’s father. He was only glad the man was dead so he didn’t have to see the mess his son had made of such a well-manicured life. And for what? A few books. A few bits of stone. Nothing more.
His one consolation would be the burning. He did so enjoy the book burnings. Nothing drove up patriotic fervor (and therefore the Dow) like a good public book burning. They would already be loading Jim’s entire library into the back of a few vans and trucking it down to Times Square©. The vid-screens on the buildings would be announcing the time for the upcoming event. Ben Falbach smiled to himself and did a line of very pure cocaine off of an onyx-topped table in the back of his limo. It really was a very nice cigar.