Not Okay, Boomer: Satire Short Fiction By Michael Mallory
Michael Mallory, author of Not Okay, Boomer, is the author of 20 books, fiction and nonfiction, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, and more than 140 short stories, including many in the mystery genre. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications from “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” to “The Los Angeles Times.”
“Hey, hey, USA, how many trees did you kill today?” Brian Steele chanted as he looked through the mail, finding several more full-color, glossy, cardstock junk fliers from United Seniors of America. One had a simulated plastic membership card. How much did the organization spend on marketing, anyway?
As usual, the dummy card and the rest of the USA junk went through Brian’s shredder.
That day’s real mail consisted of a utility bill and a letter from a realty company begging to buy his house. Brian was not about to sell his house. It was the one ace he had left, having inherited it from his parents, who bought it after the war and paid it off in the early 1960s, when he was still a toddler. It was not the biggest house on the block, but it didn’t have to be. It was in a good location in an older residential section of Burbank, which is why realtors were constantly after him.
He would stay in the house as long as possible, particularly now that he had been laid off by the movie theatre that had employed him for more than a dozen years. At 61, he was too young even for early Social Security (and who knew how long Social Security was going to be around anyway), but with no current income, the house was his only asset.
Out of necessity, Brian kept a close eye on his savings, which he’d been living on since getting dumped by the Arena 12 multiplex’s new manager to make room for a younger employee. That was not the reason he was given, of course, but he knew what was what. His forced austerity program meant that he’d be damned if he was going to shovel any precious money to the United Seniors to fund their nonstop harassment. And that’s what it was, really; harassment.
Out of necessity, Brian kept a close eye on his savings, which he’d been living on since getting dumped by the Arena 12 multiplex’s new manager…
New junk mail arrived at least every other day, USA commercials played nonstop on TV (particularly now that finances had forced him to get out of his dish contract and get an antenna instead), and promotional billboards for the organization were becoming as common as those for personal injury law firms.
He wondered if Robert was receiving the same harassment. Brian thought about Robert a lot lately, now that Robert was out of his life. Their last fight had been exactly that, because Brian figured he’d never be able to take back a few of the things he’d said.
Then again, Robert shouldn’t have cheated on him with a twenty-five year old kid.
Robert’s departure put even more strain on him, since he could no longer share living expenses. Hell, maybe he should find a 25-year-old of his own. “Suuuuure,” Brian told the empty house.
Turning his attention to the utility bill, Brian was disappointed to see that his recent conservation measures had not lessened this month’s amount. In fact, it was five dollars higher. How was that possible? Where was he wasting energy? He started to stuff the bill back into the envelope when he noticed something else in there.
It was a full-color buck slip promoting the United Seniors of America.
“Oh, my god,” Brian moaned, tearing it up into tiny fragments and depositing them into the trash can. “That’s it,” he muttered, hunting down his smartphone, which was another luxury that might have to go for financial reasons. Logging online, he did a search for United Seniors of America, just to see what complaints popped up from others. Maybe it was widespread enough for a class-action lawsuit. The first few pages were ads for the organization itself, but eventually he found something titled: Is This Outfit Really Scientology or the Mafia?
Accessing it, he found a blog whose author catalogued all of his complaints about USA, and even mentioned a few new ones Brian had not experienced, such as promotional videos on the monitors over the gas pumps at some stations. The blogger, who hid behind the avatar “Rantbo,” was certainly well-versed in snark, making for an amusing read, but the punch line was the admission that nothing could be done to stop the USA marketing tsunami. Anyone who thinks contacting this outfit and demanding to be taken off their marketing list will actually work, please call me firstbecause, I have a sweet Mexican-financed border wall to sell you! Rantbo concluded.
Since there was nothing he could do about it, Brian tried to put USA out of his mind. Robert would tell him to chill. He’d say that raising one’s blood pressure over junk mail and TV commercials was the smallest of small stuff. Hell, maybe he would be right.
But Robert wasn’t here.
When his phone dinged to alert him on an incoming text a half-hour later, Brian wondered who it could be, since so few people had his cell number. His online bank accounts continually begged him to register it with them, but that would lead to nothing but more marketing. Checking his inbox, Brian moaned, “Oh, no…”
Congratulations! the text began; You have taken the first step in securing your greatest future possible by contacting the United Seniors of America!
“I didn’t contact you!” Brian said to the phone. Then he wondered if the “Rantbo” site was some kind of gateway disguised as protest, through which the organization could access his information based on his login. He deleted the text, but it was almost immediately replaced by another one. After four more deliveries, he silenced his phone.
Brian turned on the television, but turned it off again at the first USA commercial.
He tried doing an online crossword puzzle, only to discover it was sponsored by USA.
He went to the store for a package of hamburger and some red wine, and found a USA ad sponsoring his cart.
That was when he made a decision: From now on, he would simply collect every piece of junk mail from United Seniors and put it in a special box. Then he would log every phone call and text from them, and jot down every time he saw a billboard or other outside marketing from the organization. Then…well, what would he do then? Maybe when the box got full, and the list of calls and messages took up multiple pages of a notebook, he’d call a television station and have them send one of their consumer reporters out to do a feature story on it. Maybe public attention would actually elicit a comment from the organization itself.
…he made a decision: From now on, he would simply collect every piece of junk mail from United Seniors and put it in a special box.
After only four days, Brian was shocked that the shopping bag he used to collect all the USA junk was nearly full. Several of the envelopes contained sample membership cards with his name embossed on them, rather than a generic John Oldie or Your Name Here. He also received two sample copies of USA Magazine with a cover story about a former sitcom child star who just turned 50. Brian actually flipped through one of them, out of curiosity, but quickly realized it was nothing more than a catalogue for products and services sponsored by USA, disguised as feature stories. Even the crossword puzzle was filled with clues pertaining to USA.
Three days later, and well into a second bag, a white van with United Seniors of America painted in blue and red letters on the side, pulled up in front of his house. A young guy in a deliveryman’s jumpsuit got out and came to the door. Brian was watching through a window. There was nothing threatening about the young man ─ in fact, he was rather handsome ─ but something held Brian back. He stayed where he was throughout the four rings of the doorbell, and subsequent knocking, moving only to pull out his cell and snap off a video of the young man and the van. After a couple minutes, the kid got back in the van and pulled away.
Brian remained inside for a good half-hour before going to his front door and peeking out. He saw a yellow tag hanging on his doorknob with the USA logo, and the printed promise, We’ll be back! The tag also contained a smiling face emoji, but it was different than those one saw online. After examining it for a few seconds, Brian finally figured out what it was: the artist had very skillfully created an old smiley face, with squinty eyes and a mouth too high up, giving the impression it had no teeth.
Taking the tag inside, Brian tossed it on the dining table with yesterday’s store discount fliers, and it landed upside-down. There was writing on the back. Upon examining it, Brian suddenly chilled.
In what looked like hand-writing with a red sharpie, it declared: You can hide, Mr. Steele, but you can’t run!
It took the better part of an hour for Brian to stop shaking. Then he put in the call to the television station. He was passed from one person to another until he was finally connected with Avi Fawcett, the KLLA consumer reporter. Struggling to keep fear out of his voice, he explained his situation.
“Mr. Steele, this may or may not surprise you, but you’re not the first person to contact me regarding this,” Fawcett told him. “I’ve already started work on a story about USA, but I’d be happy to include you in it, too. Is there a good time I could come out and interview you.”
Brian made an appointment for the next day. Avi Fawcett arrived at his house with a cameraman, who quickly set up a few small lights and recorded the interview against Brian’s bookshelf. The taping took a little over fifteen minutes, with the only requirement from the reporter that Brian refer to the organization as United Seniors instead of USA, out of fear that people would tune in mid-report and think Brian was some sort of insurrectionist. “It was a clever move to dub itself USA,” Fawcett told him. “I believe it has definitely curbed criticism from those who don’t want to appear to be trashing the country as a whole.”
The story ran on television the next week, and Brian’s contribution included footage of his bags of junk mail, and the video of the van and drive, whose face was pixelated out. Another interviewee, an 82-year-old woman living in Pacoima, produced letter from her health insurance company stating that it had now partnered with USA to keep drug costs down, while at the same time announcing a premium increase. Others interviewed for the piece tended to speak with one voice, all asking how they can get the harassment to stop, and wondering what United Seniors did with its membership dues except pay for more marketing. Avi Fawcett ended the story by saying that he had reached out to USA for comment, but had not received a reply.
He would not receive a reply, either, for two days later, Avi Fawcett was shot and killed by an unknown assailant.
While the on-air KLLA personalities kept the story of Fawcett’s murder alive for longer than a 24-hour news cycle, no other L.A. stations did. Police were operating under the assumption that the killer had previously been exposed as a fraud by one of Fawcett’s stories, but had no definite suspects as of yet.
After three days of not leaving the house, Brian forced himself to venture out to the grocery store. Standing at the checkout line with his groceries, the young woman clerk looked at him and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from television? The one complaining about the USA?”
“I was interviewed about United Seniors on TV, yes,” he replied.
“The USA really isn’t that bad,” the clerk said. “I convinced my mom to join.”
Brian slid his debit card into the slot and waited for the prompt for his pin.
“That didn’t go through,” the clerk said. “Try it again please.”
He did, entering all the information, and receiving the Remove Card message.
“Sorry, there seems to be a problem with your card.”
“It seemed to work on this side.”
The young woman shook her head. “Sorry, but it didn’t go through. Are you sure the PIN is right?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” He tried it a third time.
“Nope. Do you have another card?”
Brian had a Visa, but he was not sure there was enough of a balance to cover a $33.91 charge. “Let me see how much cash I have,” he said, finding $27 in bills in his wallet.
While the Mom with two unruly kids in line behind him sighed heavily, Brian separated out the items to put back and paid for the rest with his cash, receiving 42 cents back in change. As the clerk began to bag his items, she muttered, “I wish you old people would figure out how to use their cards.”
“What did you say?”
“I said you should really join United Seniors of America,” she told him, her eyes glowing with disdain. “You really should.”
Upon returning home, still feeling a little numb, Brian noticed the message light flashing on his landline phone. Punching the Play button he heard: “Bri, it’s Robert…don’t hang up! We need to talk, ASAP. Call me.”
Two hours later, Robert Buskirk was sitting in his former front room, a glass of red wine in his slightly shaking hand. Robert appeared to have aged considerably in the last three months.
“I wasn’t sure you’d let me back in,” Robert said.
“I did,” Brian replied. “Has something happened between you and Tyrell?”
Robert nodded. “It’s over.”
“I asked him to leave. It got…ugly. But I finally got him out. He was trying to kill me.”
“I didn’t want to say anything, Rob, but you don’t look well.”
“Don’t I know it? I’ve stopped taking those damned pills. I hope it’s not too late.”
Robert Buskirk reached for his wine glass, took it, and drained it. “One night when Tyrell thought I was asleep, I overheard him talking to someone on Zoom. He was using a real low voice, which is not normal for him. Naturally, I thought he was hooking up with someone else, and immediately got upset. I guess that’s kind of ironic, coming from me.”
“Go on,” was all Brian said.
“Fortunately, Ty wasn’t using ear buds, but even so, I was only barely able to make out what was being said. He was talking to someone from USA. ‘Counselors,’ they call them. They were talking about how to get rid of someone…me.”
“That seems a little…”
“Crazy, I know. Believe me, I know. Did you know that USA is owned by a larger company called Millennial Force?”
“Sounds like something from Star Wars.”
“It’s an organization of young people, millennials, run by Rance Freeberg.”
“The kid behind WeChat?” Even though Brian did not keep up with every latest thing, he knew that Rance Freeburg had created the most powerful social media corporation around, a reported multi-trillion dollar concern with billions personally going to Freeburg, who had not yet seen his thirtieth birthday.
“United Seniors of America is nothing less than a means for one generation to wipe out the earlier one,” Robert said.
“Um…okay, if you say so, Rob.”
Brian’s former partner laughed grimly. “I’ve crossed the line, haven’t I?” he asked. “I can see you’ve finally decided I’ve flipped. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here.” He started to get up.
“No, don’t go. I wasn’t judging you. I was thinking about an incident today at the grocery store. But let’s say I believe you…why are the young people doing this?”
“Tyrell told me all about it. I said our last fight was ugly. It made our little set-to look like a honeymoon. He dropped all pretenses and laid out the entire scheme for me, as a way of telling me that no matter how hard I fought, I was doomed. Lord, it was like an old, bad, science fiction movie, where the aliens tell the remaining humans there’s no sense in fighting the takeover. USA gets people to join, then they get access to their money. Then they start selling them products ─ vitamins, herbal supplements, Lord knows what else ─ that are really mind-control drugs…or worse.”
“You mean poison?” Brian asked.
“I mean poison. Most people in USA are either signed up or encouraged to sign up by their kids or grandkids. For people like us, who don’t have children, well, there’s always someone like Tyrell waiting to fulfill the function.”
“Are you saying Tyrell took you away from me so he could get you into United Seniors and kill you? Rob, that’s one helluva conspiracy theory.”
“So was the government experimentation on the Tuskegee Airmen…once. This isn’t coming from me. This is coming from Tyrell.”
“But why are they doing this?”
“According to Tyrell, Freeberg hates us boomers because we screwed up the planet for him and his generation.”
“Yeah, he’s really hurting.”
“Well, you have to admit, we kind of dropped the ball on global warming. Among other things.”
“How can this be happening in secret?”
“It’s only a secret to us. There’s this thing out there called the dark net through which all these kids communicate online, and that’s where they get their instructions.”
“Jesus. Have you considered going to the police with this?”
Robert laughed. “And tell them this? Sure, I’ll go as soon as my tin foil hat arrives.”
“If United Seniors is really doing all these horrible things, there has to be some way to stop them.”
“I’m open to ideas.”
“Do you still have money?”
“Last time I looked. Why?”
“I think we should liquidate all our accounts into cash before Tyrell…or anyone…has access to it.”
“And just leave the money lying around in piles?”
“We’ll hide it somewhere. I assume Tyrell has a key to wherever your living now?”
“Yes,” Robert said. “I’m planning on getting the locks changed.”
“It might be too late. Why don’t you move back in here?”
“You’d take me back?”
“I’m thinking of your safety. Why don’t you go to your bank and take everything out in cash. Leave just enough to keep the account open, but not so much that it will be bad if it gets breached. I’ll do the same and meet you back here. Oh, and you’ll need this.” He went to a small covered jar in which he kept loose keys, and took out the one to his house that Robert used to carry.
They were both about to leave through the front door when Brian pulled him back. “Look,” he said, peering through the front window.
The United Seniors white van was parked across the street. As they watched, the young man Brian recognized from before got out of the driver’s seat and started walking toward the house. “The back way, come on,” Brian said, leading his friend to the kitchen door, which led out into the back yard.
The front doorbell rang.
“My car’s in the driveway,” Brian said. “I don’t want to be seen. Where did you park?”
“I’m on the street at the end of the block.”
“Okay. We’ll get out through the alley.”
It took nearly an hour to get to both of their banks, withdraw their cash ─ a combined $37,000 worth, mostly from Robert ─ and get back to their street. The good news was that the white van was gone.
The bad news was that it had been replaced by a tow-truck, which was hooking up Brian’s Honda Civic.
“What the hell are they doing?” Robert cried.
“Anything they can,” Brian replied. “Don’t stop. Drive around the block. Better yet, go to the park.”
Three blocks away from the house, the local park featured a playground, basketball court, tennis court, and sand pit. Pulling up to the curb on one side of it, the two watched as several young children played, squealing happily.
“Youth,” Robert mused.
“I know why they took my car,” Brian said. “I’m late on a payment. Somehow United Seniors found out. If I didn’t own my home outright, I’d probably be evicted.”
“Isn’t it possible, though, that the repo was simply because of your missed payment, and has nothing to do with USA?” Robert asked.
After a half-hour, Robert headed back to the house. He parked on the side street and they retraced their path down the alley, entering the house from the back. “We might have to do a lot of walking now,” Robert said. “It’s a good thing we’re both in decent shape for a couple of old bastards.”
“Speak for yourself,” Robert said.
“About which? Being old or being a bastard?”
Once inside, Brian went to the front door, preparing to check and see if there was another tag on doorknob.
He didn’t have to bother.
An envelope had been shoved through the mail slot with his name written on it. Opening it, Brian read: Not only can you not run, Brian, you can’t even drive anymore. Have a nice day.
The motel near the airport wasn’t the Ritz, but it wasn’t cheap, either. Their room had with two beds, a new HD television, a minibar, and of course WiFi. There was also a gym, spa, and pool, access to which came with the room. Neither Brian nor Robert knew how long they would be here, but they had both agreed that staying at the house was no longer an option. Taking some clothes and personal items with them, under the cover of darkness they’d made their way back to Robert’s car, driven across town, and checked in.
Suffering from stress exhaustion, they both fell asleep early. The next morning they decided to have breakfast in the motel coffee shop, though by the time they both showered, shaved and dressed, it more like brunch. The restaurant had booths, tables, and a long counter and bar with television screens dotting the wall behind it, one of which was tuned to a local newscast. On screen was live coverage of a house fire, shot from a news helicopter. Several fire vehicles were on the ground, and a small army of firefighter fought the place with water hoses. While waiting to be seated, both of them watched the TV, and then in union gasped when one camera angle clearly revealed the house next door to the inferno, which the firemen were drenching in hopes of protecting it. “That’s…that’s…” Brian uttered.
Becky Flynn was Brian’s’ next door neighbor, which meant it was his house they were watching burn to the ground in real time.
Brian collapsed on the restaurant floor, and Robert pulled his phone out to call 9-1-1.
“Don’t call ambulance,” Brian moaned. “I’m okay, just…get back upstairs.”
The restaurant manager and a busboy helped Robert guide Brian toward the elevator and up to their room. “Are you sure he’s going to be all right?” the manager asked.
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Robert said. “If anything happens, I’ll call for help.”
After the two staffers left, Brian said, “I’ll bet the damned organization thought I was inside. This isn’t just arson, it’s attempted murder.”
“You don’t know USA did this.”
“The hell I don’t. I need to get a drug-dealer phone.”
“Not the best time to change careers, Bri.”
“You kill me. I want to make a call and not have it traced, all right? Where can I get one of those things?”
A few seconds of online research showed that Target sold prepaids, so once he was convinced Brian would be all right, Robert dashed out to the nearest one and bought two of them, one for each. When he returned he found out Brian had already ordered room service for them.
“I still know what you like to eat,” Brian said, lifting the cover to reveal a Denver omelet. “So these phones are untraceable?”
“They’re prepaids,” Robert replied. “I don’t think they’re the best on the market, but they were the only ones at the store whose packaging didn’t carry an endorsement from ─”
“Don’t tell me.” Brian removed the phone from its plastic shroud and dialed 411. “Go ahead and start eating. I’ll catch up.” When prompted, he asked for the number of KLLA television. After a few seconds he said, “Hi, I’d like to speak to the producer who worked with Avi Fawcett,” he told the station receptionist. “It’s regarding his murder.”
Robert frowned. “You sure you know what you’re doing?” he asked softly.
Brian ignored him.
After a brief hold, he heard a man’s voice say, “This is Jess Guerrero, the news director. Who is this?”
“My name’s Brian Steele.”
“Right, Mr. Steele. You were interviewed for Avi’s report. What is this about his murder?”
“I think it was pretty obvious he was…what’s the word they use on TV? Whacked?”
“That’s not really in dispute. The question is by whom?”
“I think it was Rance Freeberg.”
“The Rance Freeberg. The CEO of WeChat? You think he killed Avi? That’s quite an accusation.”
“Don’t take my word for it. Hold on.” He handed the phone to Robert. “You tell him.”
“Tell him what?”
“What you overheard Tyrell saying.”
Reluctantly, Robert took the phone. “Hi, Mr….”
“Gutierrez. Now who is this?”
“My name’s Robert Buskirk, and I live with…well, I used to live with Brian until I made a serious mistake and moved out with a younger guy who…oh, you don’t give a rat’s about that. The point is I overheard a kid named Tyrell Monroe talking to a superior within the USA. I know what’s going on.”
For the next five minutes Robert related everything he’d heard and pieced together, after which Jess Gutierrez replied, “That’s some theory.”
“I know. And I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I was nuts, frankly. But everything I said is true.”
“I’m not calling you nuts, Mr. Buskirk, since some…not all, but some…of what you said confirms statements I found in Avi’s notes, things we could not broadcast without verification. I’ll put someone on this right away. Can you give me your number?”
“First, how old are you?” Robert asked.
“How old am I? I’m 56, Mr. Buskirk. How old are you?”
“Sixty four, and just about to retire from teaching at a private school. Now that I know you’re over 30, here’s the number.” He rattled off the number for the prepaid, while Gutierrez chuckled. Brian held out his hand for the phone.
“Hi, Mr. Gutierrez? This is Brian Steele again. Just wanted to let you know that the house fire your station is probably covering is my house. I think I was supposed to be inside, cause I couldn’t leave. They also had my car towed. That’s how these folks at United Seniors play.” Then he cut off the call.
Once they had finished eating and wheeled the room service cart into the hall, Brian sat down at the small desk and started writing on whatever stationery he could find.
“What are you doing now?” Robert asked.
“Don’t get excited, it’s not my will,” Brian said. “I’m recording everything that’s happened so far, just in case.”
Robert attempted to watch television, leaving the sound down low so as not to disturb Brian, but after struggling through half of a bad cop film, he gave up. “I need to get out of here for a while,” he announced. “What say we go down to the pool?”
“Even if I wanted to swim, which I don’t, I didn’t bring a suit,” Brian told him. “Neither did you. I even had to loan you some of my underwear.”
“We can simply stretch out on the lounge chairs, then. The fresh air will do us good.”
It took a while to convince Brian, but finally he agreed. The two of them headed down to the outdoor pool area, but stopped cold when they got to the lobby. An event sign had been put up reading: Tomorrow Evening, Reception presentation in the Verdugo Room hosted by United Seniors of America, 7:30 to 9:30. No reservations needed.
“My god, they found us,” Brian muttered.
“Just wait a second.” Robert went to the front desk to ask the clerk about the event.
“They’re doing those all over town,” said the buxom, middle-aged woman whose name tag read Tish. “They rent a room and then invite seniors in to make their pitch, offer refreshment and swag, and the like.” Then looking askance to see if anyone else was watching or listening, she added, “Frankly, I remember when it was time-share companies doing this sort of thing, and look where that all went. But we’re a business, and catering to conventions and meetings is part of our profit margin.”
“Okay, thanks,” Robert said with a smile that prompted a wink and an “Anytime,” from her.
He was still chuckling when he went back to Brian.
“What’s so funny?” Brian asked.
“Either Tish there has got a very friendly desk manner, or I have it in my power to seriously disappoint her,” Robert replied. “Anyway, they haven’t found us. This is a schedule promotional meeting. They do them everywhere.”
“Still, I think we need to go.”
“As do I, Bri. I think we absolutely need to go.”
The next evening, Brian Steele nervously rubbed his hands as he and Robert Buskirk entered the ballroom, which comprised three separate rooms minus the airwalls. Brian had been anxious all day despite Robert’s encouragement. For his part, Robert had spent a good part of that morning on the phone, setting things up.
Now it was show time.
Tables of food ─ quality cold cuts, cheeses, fruit, and bread lined one wall, with metal washtubs of sodas and bottled water on a table of their own. “What, no beer?” one bald guy called loudly, causing a few others to laugh.
A young man who looked like a commercial spokesman entered and went to the podium in front, which was set up beside a projection screen. He was followed by a young woman carrying a laptop, which she set on a small table and plugged into the room’s system. After a couple shucka-shuckas on the keyboard, the United Seniors of America logo appeared on the screen.
“If everyone would please take a seat, we can get started,” the host announced through the microphone. It took another five minutes for people to get one last plate of food and then sit down. Robert and Brian took seats in the back row.
“Hi, everyone,” the young man said. “My name is Max Maluski, and I’ll be speaking to you this evening about the United Seniors of America, the only organization in the country dedicated exclusively to looking out for the interests of seniors. I suspect some of you here are already members, but for those of you who aren’t, we have membership forms here and our happy staff…say hello, Janis….”
The young woman manning the PowerPoint turned and said, “Hello, Janis,” into a body mic, which drew a few chuckles from the attendees, but more groans.
“R-i-i-i-i-i-ght,” Max Maluski drawled, as though it had not been rehearsed. “Anyway, our people are here this evening to help you sign up, and of course I’ll be available to answer any questions you might have regarding USA.”
Maluski spoke for about forty-five minutes, peppering his talk with baby boomer references and lame jokes, while Janis provided the visual aid, perfectly timed to meet his every point. When he was finished there was respectful applause, though Robert noticed that the man directly in front of him appeared to be asleep.
“I’ll be happy to take any questions you might have,” Maluski said, and a white-haired woman in front raised her hand. Another USA staffer, who had not been introduced, rushed to her with a wireless hand microphone. “First tell us who you are, ma’am.”
“My name is Maggie Dent, and I’m a retired tax accountant. I want to know what USA is doing about the threat to the payroll tax.”
“Ah, an excellent question. As some of you might know, the payroll tax is one of the primary funders of Social Security, which I’m sure is a topic that interests all of you. I assure you, Maggie, that USA is doing everything in its power to make sure that Social Security not only survives, but thrives for you and your children, and even your grandchildren.”
“How?” Maggie shot back.
“How are you making certain that it survives? What is USA actually doing?”
“Well, as you know we’re one of the largest lobbying organizations in the country. We have the ear of Congress.”
Now a man in the middle of the seated group stood up. “Then why does Congress keep threatening Social Security?” he called out.
“Social Security is under no threat,” Maluski said curtly. “Anyone else?”
Robert let another few questions go by, each one either answered glibly or deflected altogether by Maluski, before standing up. Using the voice he developed in the classroom, he shouted, “Is it true USA is a scam created by Rance Freeberg to control seniors and take their assets?”
A rumbling grew among the crowd, many of whom looked back at Robert.
“Sir, I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
“So Freeberg has nothing whatsoever to do with United Seniors?”
“I didn’t say that,” Maluski allowed. “Mr. Freeberg is indeed on our board of directors, but to claim that this is some kind of scam to defraud seniors is, frankly, offensive.”
Now Brian stood up. “How about arson and attempted murder?” he called.
“Gladly. I’m Brian Steele, whose house in Burbank you burnt down a couple days ago.”
“He’s supposed to be dead!” Janis blurted out for all to hear.
“Janis, shut the hell up!” Maluski snapped.
“What does she mean by ‘he’s supposed to be dead’?” Robert called out, and a few of the others echoed his question.
“Maybe it means some of you need to be in a facility,” Maluski muttered into the mic, his studied aplomb slipping. Now a small roar rose up from the crowd.
“We aren’t the ones who said he’s supposed to be dead!” Robert shouted. “We demand and explanation for that comment.”
“We’re done here,” Maluski said. Then turning to Janis, he added, “Just leave that shit where it is, we’ll get it later.”
“I’m sorry, Max,” she blubbered, “but they told us he’d been killed in the fire.”
“SHUT UP!” Maluski screamed, making a dash for the side door. He was stopped by a man no one except Robert had noticed up until now. He was wearing an obvious white wig and glasses, both of which he pulled off as he held up her phone in front of her. “Jess Gutierrez, KLLA News, Mr. Maluski,” she said. “What exactly was meant by he’s supposed to be dead?”
“I gave explicit orders that no press be allowed here!” he shouted.
“My presence was approved by the motel manager. This is his venue. Now please answer the question.”
Several of the gathered seniors now pulled out their own phones to record the conversation.
Meanwhile, Robert and Brian slipped out and headed back to their room. On the way they passed Tish. “Quite an event,” Robert said, belatedly winking back at her.
Janis Maurer proved to be the weak Jenga piece that collapsed the façade of United Seniors of America, though the testimony of fire chief Bob Lacsher that he had received payment to let Brian Steele’s house burn certainly contributed.
Three weeks later, Rance Freeberg was arrested on RICO charges and perp walked out of his Silicon Valley office on camera. By then, Brian and Robert were watching TV from their new apartment. It was a nice unit in a good complex, completely with a sauna and pool. Brian had no intention of rebuilding his house, since while the walls and floors could be replaced, his lifetime of memories could not. His insurance would cover the structure, though he suspected the company would recoup their loss by suing Freeberg for everything but his underwear. If things out, he might have a retirement after all.
“You know,” he said, “maybe those rat bastards should change their name to United Shysters of America, since the damn lawyers are the only ones that are going to profit from all this.”
“What say we go down to the pool?” Robert asked.
Checking the clock to make sure forty-five minutes had passed since lunch, Brian replied, “Sure. Let me get my suit.”
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