Sali and I meet at the assigned coordinates. It’s a parking lot. The striped spaces facilitate a calming effect, promote a grid-grinned confidence that will bulwark the process.

The drone arrives overhead, drops the what-have-you’s, and the wag on the stick maneuvers it through a double dollar sign flourish before it peels off. Sali and I sort the orders, the roles, the prosthetics, the lunch chits.

This time, they want us to name a condition. There are no conditions, of course, you learn that early on. And there are nothing but conditions.

The elixir vitae for it is in the pipe, but only at the point to which they know it won’t kill the average rat in any great numbers. So they sit at least four years out. We will bring the nostrum to the client Sales Face anyway. You cannot get these animals out of the paddock early enough.

Of course, by the time the medicament is manufactured, three-quarters of the Face, maybe more, could be all of them, will be shaved off like so much stubble, or washed out, drowned in the headwaters of an acquisition, merger, or actual tsunami. 

It doesn’t matter. We’re seeding the clouds, framing the house, pounding the clichés; the next millennium’s archaeologists will revel in our traces.

“Spasticated Bed Leg,” Sali repeats, this time without the laughs from the group in response. “SBL.”

This time, Sali is the frontispiece, while I lurk and linger. I watched the crew file in: jocular, hard-wired in visage and ambition, coiffed and clothed to the expected corporate fare-thee-well, greedy leakage oozing from their pores. I memorized lanyard identifiers as they flopped past. Now, Sali working through the orientation gearbox, I watch for the first nubs of laggardly performance.

We’ll raise the tide of competence, Sali and I. We’ll draw a bath of success for them to soak in.

“Is it always one leg?” asks the cute one down front. “Or sometimes both?”

“Good questions.”

Sali turns and walks over to the gym bag on the table, takes out a fake leg, Caucasiany, with a white athletic sock, banded red at the top, and a dated basketball shoe, high-top, also white.

Sali proceeds to demonstrate—the thing giving off squeaks—how a spasticated leg announces itself. Who wants that? How can you sleep through that shit? So empathy then, sensitivity. They get trained to feel the pain.

It all goes. The morning of the last, third day, after the role-plays, the Emotional Quotidian, the pitches, the various and proper glad-hand techniques—thumb bopping within and without, pinkie sworn to secrecy—the elevator speeches, the group lunches, the group dinners, and the nights at the bar, oh the nights at the bar, my device blinks on, and taking the Lord from my pocket I go out into the hall, touch its flashing mien.

“How’s it hanging?” Oga says.

“It’s hanging,” I say. “Juicing over the flames.”

Oga and I have known each other a long time, came in at the same time, but Oga rose faster. Well, Oga rose; me, not so much. Oga fit the bill, rode the demeanor, assumed the position and took the name that came with it.

The drone is in the shop, so Oga direct deposits the next play. I say it doesn’t sound like a condition, and Oga agrees.

This one in the bin, Sali and I hump our wherewithal to the car. Beside the passenger side front wheel, Sali duck-squats out of the jacket and tie, unbinds the breasts. Looking in the side-view, I pull the putty off my nose and forehead, lose the fake ears. We get in and head for the corridor, toward the next one in the patch. I’d checked before we blew. We have multiple rubber brains in the prop trunk.

“Early Onset Likes Dependency,” I announce, as Sali drapes the wheel.

“EEEE-OLD?” Sali tries.

“Maybe the E’s two-spirit… goes by ‘S’ as well. SOLD.”

“Either way, doesn’t sound like a condition.”

“You have never been more right.”

This time, they want us to promote a syndrome. There are no syndromes of course, you learn that early on. And there are syndromes everywhere.

And better, to our fevered, never-ending fortunes, someone up ahead has a pill for that.

Thus far in 2020, Jon Fain’s fiction has been published by Blue Lake Review, (mac)ro(mic), Flash Flood Journal, Potato Soup Journal, Wilderness House Literary Review, Molecule, and others. He lives in Massachusetts, and on Twitter @jonsfain.

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