We found Black dead drunk slumped over his desk the Tuesday morning. Bottle of compound beer emptied by his screen and several more rolled off to other places. People crammed into the room to see and right away began trying to bring him to. I said:
"Why not let him be? The guy's just won is first sale."
But it wasn't a popular sentiment.
We had spoken and knew each other a little. Both of us had joined up to the compound the same day and waited in reception together. He was at his snout plenty, scratching it, rubbing it over. He wore a full pressed suit and tie owing to how he had just come from work. He was sanitary for a badger but there was a lot of something came masked by his cologne and I couldn’t be sure but it seemed he sported a black eye. The receptionist brought me through to the interview room first of everyone to meet the three recruiters behind the desk.
"We have to prevent certain types making their way in here." They told me. "We have to ensure we don't get any kinds who just show up, take in a few meals, enjoy something of a holiday only to leave. Then there are the types on the run from the law, from debt collectors, from their wives." They asked me what my job had been.
"I worked in freight. A stevedore. The guys that load and unload ships. I was one of those." As it happened I had worked in advertising but it was no concern of theirs.
"We've decided to put you on probation. We need you to prove you really want to be a part of what we're working for here. It's no party. We're a no nonsense operation. We all chip in, quite often above and beyond. For that is what it takes. It gets tough. There are early mornings. Late nights. The crops require constant care and attention. Are you sure you still want it?"
"I definitely want it."
"Another thing is we have to confiscate all you've brought with you. In the commune we share everything equally."
"You mean my car?"
"Yes, the car."
"That's all right."
"And everything else too. You no longer own anything."
Afterwards Black told me he made the mistake of coming forth with how he had been a salesman. On account of how lying was behind him. The compound was to be his fresh start. He opened his wallet and showed me a photograph of his house, of his old car and his boat. He told me he hadn't sold them, he had given them away. That was all a part of it. These things were but symptoms of his illness. This place was the cure.
I met him again about a week and a half later. I was out in the field spraying the sprouts for flies. He passed me coming back in, still wearing that full suit. The rest of us were all in the casual sweatshirt and jeans type get-up they handed out at registration. He said to me:
"I can't understand they haven't given me anything else to wear. It's all I have with me. They keep washing and handing it back. I thought they'd supply us with a toga or robes or something. I feel like a real weirdo in this."
He showed me a photo of his son, Martin. He kept talking about this kid. He seemed the difficult type. He was a cellist. In the photo it seemed like the boy was looking right through me. But he could do no wrong by Black. He was only the one half badger. He lived back out there with Black’s ex-wife. They had helped him through much of the drinking and the clinic but had been dead against his hanging it all up to join a commune.
The three behind the desk had informed Black he had a month to pull in two large in sales or he was out. That was his probation. He had to sell the vegetables. Then after that it was three large. All this farmed produce needed to go toward paying for irrigation, electricity, the kitchens. They needed someone to sell it.
He sat by his desk early morning into the evening.
"Afternoon miss, I only called to inquire if I might be able to interest you in the finest, the best value for money organic produce from right here in the..." Then he went back and redialled.
"Good afternoon mam. I wonder am I talking to the manager of the shop. That's, yes, that's fine too. Well, I was calling to see if I might be able to interest you in the very finest, the very freshest..."
"You look like you're on tough detail." I said. I poured him a coffee.
"It's not easy either. Try selling vegetables from a hippy commune. Everyone believes all we do around here is sit in circles smoking pot beneath the oak trees."
"That or worse."
"Worse, exactly. Go try selling groceries from a drug addled sex farm. But I can do it. Two large in a month, I have to. I have to do it. I can't go back out there. It's cut throat."
He utilised age old techniques peppered with new methods like what he told me was neuro-linguistic programming. He only mentioned positive things. He made sure their answer to his every question was yes. It coaxed favourable chemicals out of the brain. It set lucrative patterns of speech. Then, each night, the managers brought him in for a full report. He produced his flow charts and projections. It usually ran till late. We would some of us stay up and listen outside. I couldn’t take much. It felt bad hearing a badger go through that kind of thing. They are proud animals and that sounded awfully demeaning.
I tried talking with him some at suppertimes. He talked about being a failed painter. He was a failed poet too. Everyone in sales is deep down something else. But when he visited the west, or the countryside, and he stood alone beneath a ferocious yawning sky in every direction, with an equally ferocious sea out before him, that was the only time he was content. He gave that a lot of thought. So one evening he had packed up his car and told his wife it was all done with. That was where the black eye came from.
Then the Monday night he strode in suit jacket over one shoulder, tie loose and already somewhat drunk. He had his figures all printed. He was sure and reminded them that he was the king. Yessir. Sale agreed. He had picked out his preferred bed in the full time dorm. Preference in pillow too. He yelled a whole lot about commission. That they didn’t know with whom they were dealing. That there had been a masterclass gentlemen. Kind of thing you can’t teach. It went on. He lectured them just as long as it pleased him then slammed the door in his wake.
A few of the stoats helped him to his room and he was allowed sleep it off. There was a whole lot of hot air but in the end nothing further was done about it. He hadn't drunk any more than his commission got him anyhow. I was put on cleaning duty. He had gotten through two cartons of cigarettes, the nine beers and a hip-flask and there was ash everywhere. He had really enjoyed himself in there. I for one was glad he had made the sale. I would have missed him. And when it came down to it we were all of us in the same boat.
I cleared up the charts and sales sheets and finally a chocolate bar wrapper and a receipt. It was a credit card receipt. It was in the name of Martin Black and it had just paid out two large. I pushed it to the bottom of the bag.
They moved him by the window in the main dorm. He got himself a bedside locker at that. And a couple of days at ease, they didn’t even call upon him to work crops. He hunched over the fence afternoons in shirtsleeves rolled up and watched us. I tried to make out how his face seemed but a badger is inscrutable. Thursday came by the first of the month. I visited the office on cleaning detail and he was back in there. His suit jacket caught the light handsomely. He had the coffee machine emptied already by ten am.
Merci pour la lecture!