Monday, 28 February 2011

The Prodigal Son - 2028 Part 2 - A Plea for Help

Ray sat staring out of the window.

“Ray, are you listening to me?” cut in an impatient female voice. It was that of Jenny, his Probation Officer.

Ray had been released from prison early on parole, but one of the conditions of his parole was that he had to see his Probation Officer once a fortnight.

And another was that he had to make some effort to find regular employment.

Ray switched his gaze from the view of a garden to his Probation Officer. Jenny Garret was a few years older than him and was overweight. But she was highly competent and used to dealing with people like Ray.

“Yep, I’m listening” Ray replied.

Jenny sighed “To recap, you’ve got no formal educational qualifications and no employment history. So, your options are that you go to college and get some qualifications or you get a job. You’ve told me you won’t consider going back to college, it’s not your thing. Fine. That leaves finding a job suited to your talents. I’m afraid that, without qualifications or experience and having a criminal record, the jobs on offer are going to be severely limited. Blue collar, menial and low paid. Something like a porter, a janitor or manual work on a building site. Work along those lines”.

Ray nodded. He had no intention of becoming any of the things that Jenny suggested. He would have to make job applications, but he would make sure he botched the interview, if he was ever offered one. He had other plans.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to wear if you get invited to an interview?”

That’s not going to happen, if I’ve anything to do with it thought Ray.

“Relax, I’ve got it covered” Ray replied with a smile.

He left Jenny, took the tram and got off at the nearest stop to Al La Mode. Emma had invited him to call in and see the company that she and their mother had built up.

Al La Mode was on the outskirts of the city and occupied enough space for an office, a warehouse, car parking space for its employees and garden and landscaping space for asthetics. Ray walked up to the security cabin and gained a visitor’s pass once Emma had confirmed that he was entitled to enter the site.

Emma came to collect him in her car and drove him up to the office complex. She showed him around. Ray noted that all of the male employees were in junior positions, such as porters or secretaries and that the women held the more senior jobs. The male secretaries were skirted and in high heels and stockings. The porters wore some kind of frock and thick stockings.

Emma explained that Al La Mode designed and sold mens’ clothing. The clothes were manufactured elsewhere and delivered to the warehouse for distribution. Ray saw male dummies around wearing, of course, a dress or other feminine clothing. Ray didn’t know where to put his face.

Emma told him that the business turnover was over a hundred million a year and that it was extremely profitable. Emma herself was well on the way to being a millionairess in her own right by the time she turned thirty.

Ray stared in disbelief at his younger sister. She already had wealth at her disposal that he could only dream of. But there was something else on his mind.

“Emma, I haven’t seen Dad or heard much about him since I got home. It’s almost like he doesn’t exist!”

Emma became quiet and grave and ran her hand through her hair nervously. Finally, she said “Dad works here. You won’t see him at the house because he doesn’t live there. He rents a place of his own. He and mum are pretty much finished”.

“Finished?”

“Yes. Mum owns this company. Not only that, she lives for this company. It’s like her baby. She’s outgrown Dad. They’re still married on paper but that’s all. They don’t even talk to each other any more”.

“But….if he helps mum run the company, surely they have to talk to each other”.

Emma stifled a laugh “He doesn’t help mum run the company! Dad was an habitual criminal, and not a particularly successful one. Mum has all of the business savvy in this family”.

Ray was confused “If he doesn’t help run the company, then what does he do here then?”

“You can ask him yourself. He’s just over there”.

Emma was pointing to a figure that Ray had vaguely noticed out of the corner of his eye as he had been talking to Emma. He had assumed that it had been one of the office cleaners, as "she" had been wearing a dress, a pair of stockings and a tabard and "she" was wielding a mop.

Now that he looked closer, he realized with a horrible shudder that the “cleaning lady” was in fact his father. His face, devoid of make up, was a picture of misery. His dress was grubby and his stockings were wrinkled. He was Mrs Mop personified.

Ray turned back to Emma “What have you done to him?”

‘Gave him a job. An income. Believe me when I say that I had to move heaven and earth to get Mum to allow me to give him this job!”

“But Dad owned businesses! What happened to them all?”

“Dad ran criminal enterprises and all of his income had been derived from the proceeds of crime. The courts took it all when he was sentenced. When he came out of prison, he had nothing. Mum was all for divorcing him, but our solicitor told us that if she did that she would have to give him some of her fortune and she would not do that. So, she’ll never divorce him. Just employ him in the lowest capacity possible to keep an eye on him”.

Ray stared at his father as he pushed the mop about listlessly. He had once been a player in the criminal fraternity, albeit a very minor one, and Ray had looked up to him. Now, he was a nobody. Ray couldn’t think of a thing to say to him.

Emma patted him on the arm “You and Dad can talk later, if you want. Come along to my office, I’ve got a proposition for you”.

Ray followed her along gleaming corridors and into a large office. A boy secretary was in a much smaller outer office taking calls and typing furiously. He acknowledged his boss and her visitor with a nod.

Ray wondered what the proposition was. Maybe he could become a director of this company and get and office and a secretary, although he would want a woman as his assistant, not some nancy boy.

Emma invited him to sit down opposite her as she took her place behind the massive desk.
“Ray, Mum and I have been thinking…..you’ve had a bad start in life, mainly thanks to Dad leading you astray. We would really like to help you try and make something of yourself. We want you to come and work here!”.

“Would I get an office like this? And a secretary?” Ray asked.

“Whoa! Hold on, Ray, I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here! We’re offering you an entry level job, not a directorship”.

“An entry level job? But I’m your brother, not some normal employee!”.

Emma’s expression became grave “Ray, you have no qualifications, experience or any special talents that would help this business. So you’ll have to start at the bottom and work your way up. If you show promise, we’ll promote you. At least you’ll have a job and an income”.

Ray was sullen, disappointed by the offer “What did you have in mind?”

“You can start as one of our admin team. It’ll be very basic stuff, I’m afraid. Filing and photocopying and maybe typing some letters. If you take to it, we can think about a more advanced role for you. If not, we'll try and find you something else more suitable".

Ray thought it over. It was a job, he supposed, but not much of one. At least it would get Jenny off his back about job hunting. He was about to tentatively accept, when Emma spoke again.

“Of course, if you accepted the position, Al La Mode have a strict dress code here. You would have to wear a blouse and skirt. I’m sorry, Ray, but we can’t make exceptions, even for the boss’s son! I hope you understand”.

Ray had to suppress his rage. When he felt sufficiently in control of himself, he said “Thanks for the offer, Emma, but I’m not interested. I have something else lined up”.

I am not wearing a skirt!

Ray was on his way home went he got a call from an old mate of his, Doug. He and Doug had inseperable tearaways at school and then Doug had worked for Ray’s father. He had been in and out of prison too. It was good to hear from him. They arranged to meet up in the Duck and Ferret in the working class district of the city.

It was only a few stops away on the tram and Ray was standing outside the soot begrimed pub within half an hour. Ray pushed open the worn doors and entered the hostelry.

The Duck and Ferret was a typical working class pub, with bare floorboards, scratched tables and a lot of men sitting or standing around drinking beer. The men in this pub, at least, were still dressed as men. It seemed that male feminization was only applied to the upper and middle classes, the classes who held the power and wealth in society.

The bar boy was the exception. Either through choice or coercion, he wore a denim mini-skirt over a pair of jeans, but that was his only concession to femininity. He was otherwise dressed as a normal boy.

Doug, and a pint, were waiting for him at a nearby table.

Ray was taken aback at the sight of his old friend. Time had not been kind to him. Although he was the same age as Ray, he was putting on weight, his hair was already showing flecks of grey and his complexion looked unhealthy.

They greeted each other as old comrades and swapped accounts of their lives after the last time they had seen each other, over ten years ago. Doug, like Ray, had spent most of that time behind bars. They discussed how much society had changed in those ten years.

“The world’s gone mad!” said Doug bitterly “Women run everything and men have to run around after them in frocks and high heels! You wouldn’t catch me in that get up, I can tell you, mate. I’m a man’s man to my core!”

Ray agreed. He told him about the job offer he had received from his sister. Ray noticed that Doug perked up at this and suddenly became absorbed in what Ray had to say. When Ray finished his account, saying that there was no way he was wearing a skirt, Doug half heartedly agreed with him “Too right, mate. Skirts are for women!”

Ray was enjoying himself for the first time since he had left prison. Doug was a comfortable reminder of the good old days. More hours passed and by now both men were well lubricated with alcohol and in a good mood.

With the next pint, though, Doug became more serious “Ray, mate…..I’m gonna come clean and confess that I’m in a bit of trouble and need your help”.

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Ray asked him.

Doug winced and lowered his voice so that the punters on a nearby table couldn't overhear “Actually, I’m in big trouble. You see, I like the casinos. A little too much for my own good. I lost a pile of money and borrowed more off that Vince Reardon. You remember Vince don’t you?”

Ray remembered Vince Reardon alright. The criminal world’s biggest moneylender and extortioner. And most unforgiving of defaulters. People who failed to keep up with their repayments ended up in hospital. Or worse.

Doug ploughed on “Anyway, I thought my losing streak had to come to an end and so….I gambled all of the money Vince lent me and lost it all. I’m potless. If I don’t find two grand by next month I’ll be eating hospital food!"

Ray shrugged “Sorry, mate. I’d help if I could, but I’m skint too”.

Doug shook his head “I know that. But…..if we could rob that place your mother owns, we’ll have enough money to repay Vince and for you to start over somewhere else, if you want to”.

Ray could see where this was going and he didn’t like it “I don’t know. Robbing my own family…”

Doug grabbed “Please! I’m in dire straits here mate! Your mum’s rich, she won’t miss a few grand! ”

“Even if I agreed, we don’t know anything about the premises, like where the safe is, what security they have…” Ray began.

“But that’s the beauty of it!” exclaimed Ray “You’ve just been offered a job there. You can get inside and find all those things out. Then, we can disable the security, get inside and empty the safe”.

“I turned the job down, remember”.

“Oh, come on, this is your family! Just tell them you’ve changed your mind!”

“But I’ll have to wear a skirt to work there! I’m not doing that!”

Doug thought about this “It’ll only be for a few weeks. Once we rob the place and split the money, you can go where you like and wear what you like. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate!”

Doug gave him a pleading look.

Ray thought about what he was being asked to do. Frankly, he was more disturbed by having to wear a skirt than the idea of stealing from his own family. But it would only be for a few weeks and he would have a load of money of his own to start over somewhere else. He would be back in the game in the criminal fraternity.

He sighed and said “OK. Let’s do this!”, wondering exactly what he was letting himself in for!

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