Mon
Dec 28 2009 9:00am
Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 76 (of 81)

 

Illustration by Idiots’Books

Perry ground his teeth and squeezed his beer. The idea of doing this in a big group had seemed like a good idea. Dirty Max’s was certainly full of camaraderie, the smell of roasting meat and the chatter of nearly a hundred voices. He heard Hilda laughing at something Lester said to her, and there were Kettlewell and his kids, fingers and faces sticky with sauce.

Lester had set up the projector and they’d hung sheets over one of the murals for a screen, and brought out a bunch of wireless speakers that they’d scattered around the courtyard. It looked, smelled, sounded, and tasted like a carnival.

But Perry couldn’t meet anyone’s eye. He just wanted to go home and get under the covers. They were about to destroy Freddy, which had also seemed like a hell of a lark at the time, but now—

“Perry.” It was Sammy, up from Orlando, wearing the classic Mickey-gives-the-finger bootleg tee.

“Can you get fired for that?” Perry pointed.

Sammy shook his head. “Actually, it’s official. I had them produced last year—they’re a big seller. If you can’t beat ‘em... Here—” He dug in the backpack he carried and pulled out another. “You look like a large, right?”

Perry took it from him, held it up. Shrugging, he put down his beer and skinned his tee, then pulled on the Mickey-flips-the-bird. He looked down at his chest. “It’s a statement.”

“Have you and Lester given any thought to where you’re going to relocate, after?”

Perry drew in a deep breath. “I think Lester wants to come to Orlando. But I’m going to go to Wisconsin. Madison.”

“You’re what now?”

Perry hadn’t said anything about this to anyone, not even Hilda. Something about this Disney exec, it made him want to spill the beans. “I can’t go along with this. I’m going to bow out. Do something new. I’ve been in this shithole for what feels like my whole life now.”

Sammy looked poleaxed. “Perry, that wasn’t the deal—”

“Yeah, I know. But think about this: do you want me there if I hate it, resent it? Besides, it’s a little late in the day to back out.”

Sammy reeled. “Christ almighty. Well, at least you’re not going to end up my employee.”

Francis—who had an uncanny knack for figuring out the right moment to step into a conversation—sidled over. “Nice shirt, Perry.”

“Francis, this is Sammy.” Francis had a bottle of water and a plate of ribs, so he extended a friendly elbow.

“We’ve met—showed him the bicycle factory.”

Sammy visibly calmed himself. “That’s right, you did. Amazing, just amazing.”

“All this is on Sammy,” Perry said, pointing at the huge barbecue smoker, the crowds of sticky-fingered gorgers. “He’s the Disney guy.”

“Hence the shirts, huh?”

“Exactly.”

“So what’s the rumpus, exactly?” Francis asked. “It’s all been hush-hush around here for a solid week.”

“I think we’re about to find out,” Perry said, nodding at the gigantic screen, which rippled in the sultry Florida night-breeze, obscured by blowing clouds of fragrant smoke. It was lit up now, showing CNNfn, two pan-racial anchors talking silently into the night.

The speakers popped to life and gradually the crowd noises dimmed. People moved toward the screen, all except Francis and Perry and Sammy, who hung back, silently watching the screen.

“—guest on the show is Freddy Niedbalski, a technology reporter for the notorious British technology publication Tech Stink. Freddy has agreed to come on Countdown to break a story that will go live on Tech Stink’s website in about ten minutes.” The camera zoomed out to show Freddy, sitting beside the anchor desk in an armchair. His paunch was more pronounced than it had been when Perry had seen him in Madison, and there was something wrong with his makeup, a color mismatch that made him look like he’d slathered himself with Man-Tan. Still, he was grinning evilly and looking like he could barely contain himself.

“Thank you, Tania-Luz, it’s a pleasure.”

“Now, take us through the story. You’ve been covering it for a long time, haven’t you?”

“Oh yes. This is about the so-called ‘New Work’ cult, and its aftermath. I’ve broken a series of scandals involving these characters over the years—weird sex, funny money, sweatshop labor. These are the people who spent all that money in the New Work bubble, and then went on to found an honest-to-God slum that they characterized as a ‘living laboratory.’”—out came the sarcastic finger-quotes—”but, as near as anyone can work out was more of a human subject experiment gone mad. They pulled off these bizarre stunts with the help of some of the largest investment funds on the planet.”

Perry looked around at the revellers. They were chortling, pointing at each other, mugging for the camera. Freddy’s words made Perry uncomfortable—maybe there was something to what he said. But there was Francis, unofficial mayor of the shantytown, smiling along with the rest. They hadn’t been perfect, but they’d left the world a better place than they’d found it.

“There are many personalities in this story, but tonight’s installment has two main players: a venture capitalist named Landon Kettlewell and a Disney Parks senior vice president called Sammy Page. Technically, these two hate each others’ guts—” Sammy and Kettlewell toasted each other through the barbecue smoke. “But they’ve been chumming up to one another lately as they brokered an improbable deal to shaft everyone else in the sordid mess.”

“A deal that you’ve got details on for us tonight?”

“Exactly. My sources have turned up reliable memos and other intelligence indicating that the investors behind the shantytown are about to take over Disney Parks. It all stems from a lawsuit that was brought on behalf of a syndicate of operators of bizarre, trademark infringing rides that were raided off the backs of complaints from Disney Parks. These raids, and a subsequent and very suspicious beating of an ex-Disney Park employee, led to the creation of an investment syndicate to fund a monster lawsuit against Disney Parks, one that could take the company down.

“The investment syndicate found an unlikely ally in the person of Sammy Page, the senior VP from Disney Parks, who worked with them to push through a plan where they would settle the lawsuit in exchange for a controlling interest in Disney Parks.”

The anchors looked suitably impressed. Around the screen, the partiers had gone quiet, even the kids, mesmerized by Freddy’s giant head, eyes rolling with irony and mean humor.

“And that’s just for starters. The deal required securing the cooperation of the beaten-up ex-Disney employee, who goes by the name of ‘Death Waits’—no, really!—and he required that he be made a vice president of the new company as well, running the ‘Fantasyland’ section of the Florida park. In the new structure, the two founders of the New Work scam, Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks are to oversee the Disneyfication of the activist rides around the country, selling out their comrades, who signed over control of their volunteer-built enterprises as part of the earlier lawsuit.”

The male anchor shook his head. “If this is true, it’s the strangest turn in American corporate history.”

“Oh yes,” Freddy said. “These people are like some kind of poison, a disease that affects the judgement of all those around them—”

“If it’s true,” the male anchor continued, as if Freddy hadn’t spoken. “But is it? Our next guest denies all of this, and claims that Mr Niedbalski has his facts all wrong. Tjan Lee Tang is the chairman of Massachusetts Ride Theorists, a nonprofit that operates three of the spin-off rides in New England. He is in our Boston studios. Welcome, Mr Tang.”

Freddy’s expression was priceless: a mixture of raw terror and contempt. He tried to cover it, but only succeeded in looking constipated. On the other half of the split-screen, Tjan beamed sunnily at them.

“Hi there!” he said. “Greetings from the blustery Northeast.”

“Mr Tang, you’ve heard what our guest has to say about the latest developments in the extraordinary story of the rides you helped create. Do you have any comment?”

“I certainly do. Freddy, old buddy, you’ve been had. Whomever your leak was in Disney, he was putting you on. There is not one single word of truth to anything you had to say.” He grinned wickedly. “So what else is new?”

Freddy opened his mouth and Tjan held up one hand. “No, wait, let me finish. I know it’s your schtick to come after us this way, you’ve been at it for years. I think it’s because you have an unrequited crush on Suzanne Church.

“Here’s what’s really happening. Lester Banks and Perry Gibbons have taken jobs with Disney Parks as part of a straightforward deal. They’re going to do research and development there, and Disney is settling its ongoing lawsuit with us with a seventy million dollar cash settlement. Half goes to the investors. Some of the remainder will go to buy the underlying titles to the shantytown and put them in a trust to be managed by a co-operative of residents. The rest is going into another trust that will be disbursed in grants to people operating rides around the country. There’s a non-monetary part of the deal, too: all rides get a perpetual, worldwide license on all Disney trademarks for use in the rides.”

The announcers smiled and nodded.

“We think this is a pretty good win. The rides go on. The shantytown goes on. Lester and Perry get to do great work in a heavily resourced lab environment.”

Tania Luz turned to Freddy. “It seems that your story is in dispute. Do you have further comment?”

Freddy squirmed. A streak of sweat cut through his pancake makeup as the camera came in for a closeup. “Well, if this is true, I’d want to know why Disney would make such a generous offer—”

“Generous?” Tjan said. He snorted. “We were asking for eight billion in punitive damages. They got off easy!”

Freddy acted like he hadn’t heard. “Unless the terms of this so-called deal are published and subject to scrutiny—”

“We posted them about five minutes ago. You could have just asked us, you know.”

Freddy’s eyes bugged out. “We have no way of knowing whether what this man is saying is true—”

“Actually, you do. Like I say, it’s all online. The deals are signed. Securities filings and everything.”

Freddy got up out of his seat. “Would you shut up and let me finish?” he screamed.

“Sorry, sorry,” Tjan said with a chuckle. He was enjoying this way too much. “Go on.”

“And what about Death Waits? He’s been a pawn all along in this game you’ve played with other people’s lives. What happens to him as you all get rich?”

Tjan shrugged. “He got a large cash settlement too. He seemed pretty happy about it—”

Freddy was shaking. “You can’t just sell off your lawsuit—”

“We were looking to get compensated for bad acts. We got compensated for them, and we did it without tying up the public courts. Everybody wins.” He cocked his head. “Except you, of course.”

“This was a fucking ambush,” Freddy said, pointing his fingers at the two coiffed and groomed anchors, who shied away dramatically, making him look even crazier. He stormed off the stage, cursing, every word transmitted by his still-running wireless mic. He shouted at an invisible security guard to get out of his way. Then they heard him make a phone-call, presumably to his editor, shouting at him to kill the article, nearly weeping in frustration. The anchors and Tjan pasted on unconvincing poker-faces, but around the BBQ pit, it was all howls of laughter, which turned to shrieks when Freddy finally figured out that he was still on a live mic.

Perry and Sammy locked eyes and grinned. Perry ticked a little salute off his forehead at Sammy and hefted his tee. Then he turned on his heel and walked off into the night, the fragrant smell of the barbecue smoke and the sound of the party behind him.

He parked his car at home and trudged up the stairs. Hilda had packed her suitcase that morning. He had a lot more than a suitcase’s worth of stuff around the apartment, but as he threw a few t-shirts—including his new fake bootleg Mickey tee—and some underwear in a bag, he suddenly realized that he didn’t care about any of it.

Then he happened upon the baseball glove. The cloud of old leather smell it emitted when he picked it up made tears spring into his eyes. He hadn’t cried through any of this process, though, and he wasn’t about to start now. He wiped his eyes with his forearm and reverently set the glove into his bag and shut it. He carried both bags downstairs and put them in the trunk, then he drove to just a little ways north of the ride and called Hilda to let her know he was ready to go.

She didn’t say a word when she got in the car, and neither did he, all the way to Miami airport. He took his frisking and secondary screening in stoic silence, and once they were seated on the Chicago flight, he put his head down on Hilda’s shoulder and she stroked his hair until he fell asleep.

<<< Back to Part 75

Continue to Part 77>>>

As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.


Doctorow’s Makers is now available in print from Tor Books. You can read all previous installments of Makers on Tor.com on our index page.

4 comments
Jess Austin
3. Jess Austin
Well we are nearing the end of the story.

I love the illustration for this installment.
Jess Austin
4. shirls
I guess I'm the only one that thought that was a bit harsh. Freddy deserved some payback but that was brutally embarrassing on a large scale.

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