Tragic Mistakes #11: Buying From The Competition

Billy Rengal was a truck driver for the Coke corporation since before he could remember. In exchange for his deliveries of their product to thousands of stores around the US, Coke had put him in a nice house and put good food on the table for his family. His wife was always happy and his two boys looked up to their dad and hoped, one day, that they could grow up to be just like him. His life was ideal. It was perfect. He loved going to work and he loved the smiles he put on faces when he arrived to share that delicious, bubbly brown liquid they were all so hooked on. He loved the way the seat of his truck matched the seat of his pants. He loved the look in Terry’s eyes when he came home from work at the end of the day. The good clothes his boys were wearing, the car he drove in his leisure time, the vacations they took together as a family. All paid for by the Coca-Cola Corp. Did he ever forget this? No sir, he did not. Coca-Cola was the lifeblood of the Rengal family, and if you were to cut any member of that family their blood would bubble up through their skin like an over-shaken can of coke. He made sure to tell his superiors how appreciative he was of all of the things they had done for him. They mostly took him at his word for this, but no company can ever have complete trust in their employees, and so they had to dig a little deeper.

Whenever Billy went out for dinner he would ensure that the restaurant where he was eating had Coca-Cola products instead of the competition. He would rather drink his father’s blood than anything Pepsi made. Pepsi was everything that was wrong with the world. Pepsi was why weekends are only two days long. Pepsi is why animals sometimes abandon their young in the wild. Pepsi is responsible for all of the holes in the ozone and for the extinction of dinosaurs. Pepsi is the reason we don’t all get to live forever. Aside from that, he knew what happened to anyone who chose to spend their money on whatever beverage they felt like. He couldn’t return to his family after being terminated from his job. How could he look them in the eyes? It’s not like those assholes at Pepsi would give him a job, either. They’d laugh at his misfortune. The real world is serious business. It was best not to fuck around.

Once a year, every year, Billy would pack up his necessaries and drive across the country to the Coca-Cola convention, a fun filled weekend that put your knowledge of caffeine, CO2 and syrup to the test. For the truly soda savvy there were swank prizes and bears that had been trained not to crap on the carpets. It was really everything you could ask for in a work related vacation from work. At the lounge after the shows people would tell snide jokes about the Pepsi Co and the trolls who worked for it. Not spared their fury were the gremlins who purchased their products. They deserved to die, choking horribly on their newly grown throat-hair that Pepsi was reputed to cause in anyone who even looked at the ingredients on the side of one of their bottles. It was a grand time, and it was good to see old friends from across the country and feel like a part of something bigger. Boy howdy, was he proud.

Billy was a creature of habit and there was a roadside grill he would visit on the way back home after every convention, when the last of the obscene jokes were told and the last thunderous burp let loose. He always felt a little bit down on the way back; it was kind of like the day after Christmas for him, all of the hope and expectation finally purged, a sorry pock mark where there had once been wonder and anticipation. The only thing that could pull him out of his funk was the knowledge that there would be another convention next year (not just any other, by the way, but The Best God-Damned One Yet) and the knowledge that he would be pulling into Marv’s in about fifteen minutes, barring bad traffic, and he would be sitting down to one of the best steak burgers known to taste buds the world around. The fries were no slouches either. You could get onion rings as well with a gravy that could make you weak in the knees. You could get a float, like from when he was a kid. You could…

It wasn’t there. How hadn’t he seen it on the way up? He supposed he wasn’t thinking about it on the way up, his mind had been lost in the Coca-Cavern, a smooth cave that gleamed red and white where all wishes were reality and The Big Cheese didn’t have to stand alone. Marv’s was gone. In its place was a Second Cup. Worlds smashed together in Billy’s mind. Horrible Deaths the magnitude of which the earth has never known. He felt like he just discovered both of the big two soda manufacturers were owned primarily by the same people and that you were giving them your business either way. That was preposterous, of course, but it must be stressed as that’s how preposterous the end of Marv’s was. Especially to be replaced by a Second Cup. Better a herpes treatment facility or a medical waste dumping site. Didn’t anyone think of the children?

It was obvious he would have to select a new location. He rolled past a place named “Joe’s”, which he doubted was really the guy’s name, as he was a Pepsi slinging son of a manatee. Billy never really knew how much he hated this town before Marv’s closed. He was looking now at a random stab in the dark as far as a good meal at this point, which is coincidentally what he wanted to give whoever was responsible for that bastion of tingly taste buds’ disappearance. The first two places he tried sold Pepsi and laughed at him cruelly when he ran out of them. What the hell was the world coming to? The third place, The Burger Palace, looked promising and the waitress informed him they had cool, fresh Coca-Cola. The burger wasn’t as good as a Marv’s steak burger, but it wasn’t really that bad either. He supposed he could alter his route this one time out of necessity. The fries tried their best but they just weren’t feeling it today. Maybe when the grease pit was a little better worked in. The Coke tasted a little funny, though, almost like Diet Coke. He asked a waiter who happened to be passing by if he could get it dumped out and refilled with Coke instead of Diet Coke.

“We don’t have Coke here, sir, but I can certainly refill your Pepsi for you if you please.”

He sat there, jaw hanging open, mind so overwhelmed it was simply idling. Worlds which had smashed together and become new worlds had smashed into even bigger worlds. The granddaddy of them all. “You can’t be serious. You’re joking, right?” He’d never had the vile drink before, it must’ve been a joke. The inside of his throat didn’t even feel like it had stubble. “Please tell me you’re joking..”

“I can assure you, sir, that I never joke about soft drinks. I take them very seriously indeed.”

Billy looked around quickly, checking if anyone was looking at him and who might have been looking at him while he ate. It didn’t look like too many people could see him where he was seated in the corner, but it would be best to pay his money and get the hell out of here immediately. There were no cameras that he could see and nobody here knew his name. He might be able to keep his job. Maybe. He had to move fast. He clicked his teeth together grimly and got up, taking his wallet out and dropping enough money to cover the meal and a little extra just to be sure. While he was doing it, the waiter saw his wallet and saw his Coca-Cola ID card in the flap and started laughing. Loudly, and to the entire restaurant, he announced:

“Hey! This guy works for Coke but he was just swilling a Pepsi! Look at him, everybody!” There were eyeballs everywhere, crawling all over his skin like maggots. They wanted to see the person who supported another company with the very money they had been paid by their own. They wanted to see the type who would betray Jesus to the Romans. They wanted to take in every detail so they could tell their friends, after a couple of drinks, the kind of depraved individual they saw when they stepped out for a meal the other night. They saw him sweating. They judged him with every stare. He covered his face and ran for his car, trying not to see the pointing fingers, to feel their scorn. He was not very successful at it. He was weeping openly by the time he got to the door and blubbering when he got into his car, but by the time he was out of town he started to feel a little better. He’d just never go there again. He would find a different route next year, no matter how much the idea of that made him nervous. He would tell himself this was a crazy dream that he used to have sometimes and nothing more than that. By the time he was getting off the highway and starting to drive the little maze of streets that led up to his house he already had himself partially convinced that it was all a dream brought on by hunger pangs having not found a suitable replacement diner. God Damned Marv’s.

He was still repeating it to himself when he pulled into his driveway and saw the front door of his house was not shut tight but hanging open, with evidence of the door having been stomped in. The dinner he had convinced himself he hadn’t eaten wanted to crawl back up his throat and leap all over his dashboard. He held it down, barely, and started to walk to his house to see what had happened. He wondered if this was all part of some terrible nightmare, the type from which he would awaken in a sweat and have to sneak out for a cigarette to calm his nerves. It seemed possible but somehow not possible at the same time. He was all nerves now. He had a little bit of blood in his adrenaline. He pushed the door in but couldn’t see anything in the darkness of the evening. The lights were all out. He called out but no one answered. When he tried the lights his heart stopped again. The entire house was trashed. Everything was broken, even some of the things he had purchased that were guaranteed to never break. The walls had been carved up and singed and smashed with hammers. He couldn’t find his sons but he did find his wife outside their rooms, shot three times in the chest. Terry was no more. The woman who had raised their kids with him. The woman who had stolen his heart away from the moment he first saw her. She was gone. If there were any question as to who had done it, the word “Traitor!” had been spray-painted all over the house. Tears filled his eyes as he looked for his boys. They were gone, though, so at least there was that. There was no blood in their rooms. He wanted to do something about Terry’s body, the woman he loved, but he knew it had been left here as a trap to occupy his time so they could capture him. He had to move quickly.

He didn’t even bother to grab clothes. He got his savings and his firearm, an old .22 he kept for burglars, and got back in his car and drove as quickly and quietly as he could out of his neighbourhood. He didn’t know where he was going until he was on the highway to his parents’ place. They could at least hide him somewhere while he figured out where his sons were and how to get them back. His mind kept going over what had happened that day and returning to the one thing that had forced it all to happen. Marv’s. Fucking Marv’s. He was still thinking about violent acts he’d like to commit on everyone who used to work there. While he’d felt fondly for them before they had lost their place and were now partially, if not completely, responsible for everything that had happened to him. Did they think this shit was a joke? He was so lost in thought he didn’t notice the fire trucks until he was on his parents’ street. Their house was a raging inferno. There was no way anyone had survived that fireball of destruction. His whole life was crumbling before his eyes. Why did he have to be so stupid? He pulled out his cell phone and called his friends, only none of them answered. Some of their phones were out of service. When he called Mark the phone not only rang but was answered.

“Hello?”

“Mark, listen..”

“This isn’t Mark,” he paused, “asshole. I think you know who this is.” Jesus wept. It was Coca-Cola Enforcer. His friends were gone. They probably didn’t even understand why it was happening. Their families would be told they spontaneously combusted and told not to ask any questions. He had no one left to turn to.

“Look, it wasn’t on purpose, I was only..”

“Save it, you bastard betrayer. Your words are nothing to me.” The Coca-Cola Enforcer said. At the same time a truck t-boned Billy’s car and flipped it over on its side. From somewhere beside him, Billy heard, “We’ve got you now, asshole. We’ll show you what happens to people who aren’t team players.” Evil laughter filled the smashed remains of the inside of Billy’s car. They had him, alright. His goose was beyond cooked. That sucker was burned. He saw stars and felt very tired. He fell asleep, whispering to himself that it was all a dream and that he’d be waking up soon.

When he did wake up he was not at home in his bed beside Terry, as he had hoped and almost expected to be. He was deep in the bowels of the Coca-Cola buildings. He could hear other company traitors begging for death in other dark rooms and shivered. Both his sons were with him, stripped down to their briefs, and whipped seemingly endlessly. There was a smell of aspartame and brimstone in the air. The heat was through the roof. Billy was flailed rather than whipped, and when he was at his weakest they would crack open an RC cola and force him to drink it, which of course would make anyone want to vomit and die. They spit on him and threw rotten food at him and made him beg for mercy. Mercy which never came. New employees were marched before Billy and told not to look away, but to stare at the fool who would dare shop for wares with a company that was not his own. Let the buyer beware.

You see, it’s crucial that companies enforce purchasing standards for their employees in order to protect their welfare. Can you imagine if we lived in a world where you could purchase whatever product you wanted regardless of who you worked for? Markets would crash, flood waters would rise, Sinbad would get another television show. This, kids, is why it’s important that we do everything our employer tells us, especially pertaining to our private lives. If you don’t like the wares a company is selling you probably shouldn’t work for them. People like Billy must be punished in order to create an example for the Susans and the Theodores and the Arsenios of tomorrow. It’s all part of the Business Natural Selection Process. The Circle Of Corporate life. Like The Lion King but with more whips and less singing. That’s all for today’s lesson.

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