Joel McKay

Tales of the Crypto


        “This is getting out of hand,” he said.

        I grunted noncommittally, struggling under the weight of the body, the muscles in my arms threatening to give out.       

        Ted held the legs. He looked tired, more than usual. We reached the top of the old mine shaft, counted to three and swung the corpse into the hole–all three hundred pounds of Mike Talarico slipped down the black throat of the stope as easily as water poured down a drain. It was so deep I never heard him hit the bottom and wondered if the hole stretched to the very depths of the earth, that hellfire fueled core that powers our little blue marble. Ted dusted his hands and set them on his hips, his face scrunched up like a contractor’s might be while puzzling over a complicated design plan. I couldn’t blame him. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around it all too. I knew it was all bad, but the most worrying thing was I didn’t feel real bad about any of it. We were the ones who had signed up for it. I glanced at Ted, my best friend and roommate. I’m not sure he saw things the way I did. He looked ashen.

        I wiped the sweat from my forehead and caught a whiff of Mike’s body odor on my hands–burnt eggs and orange juice left in the sun too long. The smell of someone whose been fried before dropped in the hole. It was the price Mike chose to pay, a sacrifice he made for his family. One we’d all benefit from.

        “Jesus that’s bad,” I said, twisting my nose.         

        Ted had an incredulous expression. “What? The fact that we just tossed Mike down a mine shaft or that we’re going to hit the cafeteria now, eat Salisbury steak and watch the crypto price go up?”

        “The smell,” I said, “It’s … ugly.”

        “Well, you would be to if–” I held up a hand to stop him, “Don’t remind me. Are we done here?”

        “I am,” Ted said. “I’m putting in my notice.”

        “No, you’re not,” I said dismissively.

        I pulled the steel lid closed over the mine shaft and snapped the padlock shut. Ted shut off the lights and we shuffled out of the room, careful to close the door behind us. We wandered down the long, concrete corridor toward a set of yellow steel stairs at the far end that led up to the main plant. Not many people came down to the bowels of the operation, just middle management like us. My eyes followed the collection of PVC pipes and cables that stretched up from the various abandoned mine shifts and along the corridor above our heads while Ted kept talking. They were stacked neatly in parallel columns and cradled by thin steel rods spaced at regular intervals. The work of an engineer. Not for the first time I had to concede the server farm had an impeccably clean and ordered industrial design, not that I was an expert in such things, but it was one of the strangely maddening details that I had a difficult time reconciling with the work we did there.

        “Lillian said all we have to do is submit the paperwork.” Ted was saying.

        I raised an eyebrow at that, “Make sure you put in the right paperwork. Don’t want to confuse one type of ‘leaving’ with the other.”

        “Mike made a decision,” he said, “It is what it is.”

        “I’m not sure it’s as easy as she says,” I told him. “And what about the money? You really want to give that up?”

        “The money is the reason,” he nodded, “The money’s good.”

        I was confused by that but too tired to argue so I nodded quietly. There was a long pause as we considered things. I was missing something but I was too tired to think it through and I knew I had a long night shift ahead of me. My eyes drifted again, following the immaculately designed diamond-stamped stairs that ascended a dozen flights. My arms and legs ached thinking about the climb ahead. I wondered why no one had thought to install an elevator when they designed the place.

        “Well, shall we get some lunch? Check our earnings?” I asked.


        The monthly all-hands meeting that night was at a field of bonfires beneath a black sky. The air was damp and greasy, the kind that follows a heavy summer rain. The heat from earlier in the day radiated from the ground, suffusing the air with a dense fog that formed a ghostly ceiling above the freshly cut grass. Normally, these staff meetings were held during the light of day but Lillian, our chief operations officer, insisted this one be at night because of a special guest.

        Ted and I arrived shortly after dark to find a hundred or so staffers already mingling among a dozen propane bonfires. There was a short stage at one end of the field with four halogen lights erected over it to blast white light onto the spot where Lillian would preach from the company pulpit. The stage was empty for now, and the only sound was the low voices of the Falkirk Crypto Mining Company’s staffers and the rhythmic hum of the massive server farm around us.

        I tripped over a propane hose laying across the grass. Ted lifted an eyebrow and smiled sardonically.

        “The propane is safer than actual bonfires. Wildfires are an issue in this part of the province,” I reminded him, “Better safe than sorry.” 

        “Ever the loyal company soldier. Just seems like more Falkirk bullshit to me,” Ted said, his hands stuffed in his jeans pockets as he walked toward a tent where drinks were being served.

        I wanted to tell him that it was false loyalty, a façade of corporate flair that I’d become all too comfortable projecting. I’d so quickly gotten used to the cycle of cashing crypto and spouting company jargon that I was beginning to wonder where the real me–the cynical, urban, poli-sci grad–had gone. How was it possible that he’d vanished so quickly? Was he ever there to begin with or had that been an act too? I guess I was learning how quickly a person can change if the right incentives are provided. But I didn’t say any of this to Ted.

        The fact was we, like everyone else in that field, had signed on the dotted line, were making money hand-over-fist and had a vested, personal interest in seeing the company succeed–watching the value of that cryptocurrency ascend the price charts and make us all millionaires before we hit thirty. We had volunteered for this. I know Ted had his reasons–eighty thousand in student loan debt he couldn’t hope to pay off in the next decade and medical bills for his sister’s novel cancer therapy program. I had debt too and wasn’t about to submit my resignation. Even if I wanted to get out, go home like Ted, I wasn’t convinced it was that simple. An image of Mike’s desiccated corpse flashed through my mind, his rumpled flesh vanishing into the mine shaft like a bit of meat swallowed by hell. 

        Ted came back a minute later with two cans of beer, and the front pocket of his hoodie stuffed with several more. He handed me one and offered only a shrug. We’d lived and worked together long enough, first at university and now at Falkirk, that words weren’t always necessary for one of us to understand what the other was thinking. It’s like that with old friends.

        Ted cracked a beer and shifted his attention to the bonfires and stage behind them.

        “Looks like a goddamn–” he started.

        “Pagan ritual,” I finished, sipping the beer. It was room temperature and had a strong metallic taste.

        He must’ve picked up on the revolted look on my face because he said, “Some type of new craft stout. I guess we’re celebrating the expected spike in the price. How long until this thing starts?”

        “I hate craft beer,” I told him.

        “But you like the money.”

        As if on cue a faint fwump fwump fwump reached out of the hillside darkness toward us. At first, I thought something must be wrong at the farm. Maybe the fans were malfunctioning, and the servers were overheating, but the noise grew closer and within a few seconds revealed itself to be a blue and white helicopter dropping out of the mountains and fog onto a makeshift grass landing pad not far from the empty stage.

        The heavy steel rotated to a stop and out hopped Quentin Reed, company founder and CEO. I had never seen him before but nothing about him surprised me–he was short, fit and strangely ageless; he could easily be in his late twenties or early fifties. He wore dark-wash jeans with a t-shirt and hoodie. The only splash of color were his bright orange sneakers.

        Reed’s story was like a lot of others out of the tech sector–he made it big as the founder of a software-as-a-service company, cashed out on the exit and rolled some of that into a bunch of experimental companies, one of them being Falkirk. He was early into crypto, and one of the few that figured out the best way to get ahead was to court small towns on the verge of bankruptcy and push for a package of incentives that reduced the company’s overhead to little more than wages. The former mining town of Falkirk was the perfect candidate–it had cheap power, industrial sites, and was so far off the beaten path most people had forgotten it was still there. But none of that was the most important thing to Reed and his investors. No, the real selling point of Falkirk was an ingredient that’s hard to replicate: desperation.

        It meant the town bent over backward to accommodate the posse of faux down-to-earth silicon valley cowboys who rolled into town talking about jobs and sustainability, two words that have endless mileage this day and age. It also meant he got more out of people than he might in a major city, and the culture of the company–or what Ted and I affectionately referred to as the cult–was as important as the power, both human and otherwise, that fed the servers.

        Reed had delivered what he promised, jobs and a pile of cash.

        There were whoops and cheers when Reed strode across the stage into the white light. I’d like to say that’s because people were losing faith, but that’s not true.

        I won’t recount here what he said. At least he had the decency to start off by acknowledging Mike Talarico’s sacrifice. The rest was a bunch of fluff and jargon, the same kind of shit and buzz words you find on strategic plans, motivational wallpapers, and Slack channels. Suffice to say he was here to celebrate the crypto’s rising value, pump our tires, allay fears, and ask people to give more.

       I was antsy listening to him, a sharp churning feeling rolling around in my gut that was completely at odds with the rah-rah cheerleader shit coming out of Reed’s mouth as the halogen lights bathed him in an almost angelic glow. I was thinking about my loan payments, and that ashen look on Ted’s face. Was he making enough to afford his sister’s meds? He was already enrolled in the company’s matching equity plan, which helped a lot, but I considered I might need to exchange some of my crypto to help him make ends meet. There was the other option too. The Power Plan, the thing that made Falkirk so unique.

        My eyes shifted to a front row bonfire where the town’s mayor–a grey-haired old miner with a potbelly–clapped his hands and cheered for Reed, his bent frame silhouetted by orange flames. I wondered just how deep those old mines shafts went. Were they truly bottomless as the mayor and other old timers like to joke? Did those old miners stab a dark hole through the ground to another more ancient and frightening place? How else could it be that Falkirk was able to do what it did here? 

        Reed’s speech ended with a rousing chorus of pithy one-liners and a call to corporate action–work harder, give up more, we’ll get rich together. He whipped out his phone and tapped the screen–a chorus of chiming phones echoed through the field. There were cheers, high fives and more drinks poured. I pulled out my phone and saw the spike in the crypto’s price. The power plan, I thought, my stomach churning.

        Reed bid us good night and raised his hands like a rock star closing a set at the coliseum. He climbed aboard the waiting helicopter and vanished into the darkening night.

        “Well, that was … something,” said Ted.

        He tilted the can of chocolatey stout over his mouth, emptying it, burped, and dropped it. I spotted three more dead soldiers at his feet.

        “You’re going to get us in a pile of shit if you leave those there,” I told him.

        “Who cares? Someone will take care of it,” he said. He jutted a thumb over his shoulder toward the server farm and added, “The amount of juice those servers are sucking is way worse for the environment than a couple of rusty tin cans on a field. Get your priorities straight my friend.”

        He wandered off into the night, leaving me alone on the cool grass amid a handful of bonfires that winked out of existence as the propane valves were shut. Only the white halogen lights of the stage were left on, a glowing halo that provided just enough light for the few stragglers to make their way to the parking lot. The only evidence of Reed having been there was the wet footprints of his sneakers left on the black stage.

        I stood there for a long time just listening to the sounds of a dreary summer night and watching the others drift away. The town was quiet except for the steady thrum of the server farm. There was a melody to it if you listened long enough, a cycle like an industrial dryer churning wet laundry round and round. That’s the sound of money, we always said.   


        It was past midnight when I wandered into the cafeteria for a coffee. I worked the overnight shift, which paid double-time. It meant no social time in the evenings but there wasn’t much to do in Falkirk anyway as most things were closed by nine except the town’s only pub.

        The cafeteria was housed in the administrative part of the old mill building, which the company had left largely intact. It didn’t matter where you were in Falkirk you could hear the drone of the servers churning away, but it was surprisingly quiet in this part of the plant, just a low hum.

        The cafeteria was a large room built to serve hundreds of miners in the seventies when scraping copper out of the ground had been the town’s main source of income. The tables and chairs looked their age, and although the walls were thickly papered with Falkirk crypto propaganda and safety tips, there was more than enough of the old cork board and faux oak veneer to make me feel like I could reach out and touch an earlier time. I wondered whether the miners worried about their jobs back in the day as I did now, or how many of them had softened their convictions to go-along and get-along, choosing the devil they knew over one they didn’t as they dug ever deeper into the Earth.

        The coffee was lukewarm and thick like syrup, but it was better than the metallic tap water that coughed up from the sinks. A cough behind me drew my attention and I found Ted at one of the tables where the buzzing fluorescent lights had been quieted for the night.

        “I didn’t see you there,” I said. “Fuck are you doing, anyway? Sitting there in the dark like a friggin serial killer.”

        “Just been thinking,” he said.

        “That’s never a good idea,” I quipped.

        He looked disconsolate. He sat in one of the faded yellow plastic chairs, his shoulders slumped, a paper coffee cup on the melamine table in front of him. He fiddled with something beneath the table, but the light was too low to make out what it was.

        “I wanted to be an entrepreneur, like Reed,” he told me. “I thought getting a commerce degree was the shortest route to it, but like everybody else I was a chicken shit and took the first job at someone else’s company I could find.”

        “No one goes out and starts a company that makes it big right out of school, man,” I said. “You read about that shit in Forbes but that’s a one-in-a-million thing.”

        “We got bills to pay,” he said, his eyes lifting from his hands to meet mine.

        There was something in them I hadn’t noticed earlier, a struggle inside him that made the skin on the back of my neck prickle with worry. I opened my mouth to say something but didn’t know what to say, so I just lifted the paper cup to my mouth and sucked back more sludge.

        “I didn’t know you were on the overnighter,” I said.

        He nodded and sat back. The light shone a little more clearly on his hands and I could see his iPhone there. He’d been flipping through something though it was too far away to say what.         

        “Foot patrol,” he said, “Marty and his friends have been spray painting the building again and trying to break in.”

        Marty was Martin Jacobs’ son, the 14-year-old ringleader of a local gang of vandals who had a serious hate-on for the company. His dad worked for Falkirk, which I’m certain didn’t make things easier at home. The son was busy spreading rumors on local social media channels that the servers sent signals that caused cancer, and the sound was killing birds. This on top of the ever present small town legend the original miners had dug so deep they’d breached the gates of Hell itself. Marty also utilized his talents with crowbars and canned paints when the sun was down.

        “You want company?” I asked.

        He thought about it for a minute and climbed to his feet. He slipped the iPhone into his pocket, but his hand went with it, almost cradling it like he intended to get back to it as soon as I was out of the room. I wanted to know what he was doing but I didn’t want to ask. What business was it of mine? He was probably looking at porn or texting someone but maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was looking at that crypto price and thinking the same thing I was thinking–get out while the getting is good. Or maybe he was thinking about Mike, who was little more than a gooey meat bag rotting at the bottom of a mine shaft.

         After a minute, Ted said, “Yeah, for sure come along. If I get jumped by Marty and his friends at least I’ll have you as back up.”

        “You mean me and my noodle arms?” I quipped, waving my arms around as if they were stringy, useless tentacles.

        He laughed and nodded, and we left the cafeteria.


        The fog dampened the hum of the servers, but we still wore ear plugs as we strolled around the building, flashlights in hand. The air had cooled since the all-hands meeting. I zipped up my company windbreaker and nestled my nose and mouth in the collar to keep the cold at bay.

        I had never adjusted to the cold and snow that accounted for half of every year in Falkirk. It was a northern town, but I was a southern boy, born into a mild, sunny climate where snow was something that only ever showed up on ski hills in distant mountains. Falkirk received dozens of feet of it every year, and even in the summer it wasn’t unheard of. By late August it was common for temperatures to drop close to freezing overnight and I was already worrying about winter.

        “How’s your sister?” I asked as we wandered through the dewy grass.

        “Struggling, scared,” Ted said, “You know how you always hear these stories about kids with cancer who are brave to the end? That’s awesome but that’s not her. She’s scared, man. It shows. I’m …”

        He trailed off deep in thought. I felt the urge to say something hopeful but nothing hopeful came to mind. We rounded the corner of one of the buildings and heard the distinct fssshhh and boney rattle of an aerosol paint can ahead of us. Through the shadow and dim sodium lights were the silhouettes of four figures against the far side of the building. Ted was the first to shout at them. It was reactionary, had he held his wind we might’ve snuck up on them but instead they turned, yelling a litany of four-letter words, and darted toward the tree line.

        Ted was off at a sprint before I sucked in my next breath. He ran with a determination that suggested this was about more than graffiti on a building. I tried to keep up, but he slipped into the trees that framed the server farm before I was halfway there.

        I pushed through the loose border of ratty alder at the forest’s edge and found myself in a cathedral of spruce trees, their trunks several telephone poles wide and heavy needled branches disappearing away into the darkness above my head, only a few hung low enough for me to see, dangling like prickly fingers reaching for something.

        Ted was gone as were Marty’s gang and I was alone in the darkness. I discovered silence as if I’d never heard it before. I was caught off guard at first, alarmed that maybe my ear drums had pierced in the commotion but as I shifted my feet and heard the fine crackle of twigs beneath my shoes, I knew it was just the blessed quiet of a late summer night in the northern wilderness. The hum of the servers was gone from here, or it couldn’t reach this far. I breathed deeply and felt my shoulders slacken. A knot of anxiety I’d unknowingly carried for months loosened. The air still carried the warm, log-cabin fragrance of sunbaked spruce.

        The peace lasted only a minute as my rational mind took over and I was suddenly very conscious that I stood alone in the darkened woods. I began to jones for the dull thrum and structure of Falkirk drew at me like a smoker longs for a cigarette. Not out of desire but the comfort of habit.

        Heavy footsteps sounded to my left and a white beam from Ted’s flashlight knocked back and forth a moment later. He stomped through the trees toward me muttering to himself.

        “Vanished like a fart in the wind,” he said.

        “What are they Robin Hood’s Merry Men? They can’t hide in the woods forever. We could wait,” I told him.

        He chewed his lip and looked over his shoulder, “No, the woods empty out onto one of the streets not far from here. They’re probably home by now. Let’s go.”

        Ted was ahead of me again, pushing his way through the alder onto the grass that edged the farm. The hum of the servers welcomed me back as I stepped onto the grass. We wandered over to the building where Marty and the gang had done their work–they had painted in blood red a devil’s head with tall and sharp horns. Below the devil in all caps were the words ‘HELLS GATE’, fresh paint oozing from the base of each letter.

        Ted stared at it but said nothing.

        “It’s not true,” I reassured him. “It’s just a job.”

        He looked at me, his eyes blank and emotionless. He didn’t need to say what he was thinking, I could already guess it.

        “I’m out, man,” he said, “I’m out.”


        The witching hour found me at my desk, and all was quiet except the servers. I was supposed to be monitoring security footage and, when I had time, pitching in to help the finance department with equity plan applications. I scrolled through the latest application–a new employee who intended to divert one-half of every paycheck to buy the company’s crypto–and found I was too tired to bother processing it. I thought about shuffling down to the cafeteria for another coffee, but instead I just leaned back in the cheap wheeled-office chair and let the steady hum lull me into a sort of fugue state.

        I closed my eyes and let my mind run away with itself. There were green-and-black stock charts, dollar signs and jazz hands. This is getting out of hand. Mike’s armpits, my fingers, burnt eggs and orange juice. Sun baked spruce. Wet grass and white light. Chocolatey beer. Syrupy coffee. Invest now and pay off later. A gnarled old miner dancing to the rhythm of a bonfire’s flames like a devil unchained. I’m out. I’m out. I’m out. And the revolving melody of the servers churning over and over until that’s all there was, a noise so all-consuming it was no different than a deafening silence.

       A thought hit me like a hammer. I needed to stop Ted, stop him from submitting his resignation. It wouldn’t go like he thought it would.

        Just then my computer beeped with a notification. Lillian, our intrepid COO, had sent me a message.

        “Come up to my office,” it read.

        I leaned forward and read it again. It was three in the morning, why was she even here?

        My skin crawled. I went to type something but thought better of it. I looked around the room for any obvious cameras I hadn’t noticed before–maybe she’d caught me sleeping on the job. I didn’t see any. And I didn’t see that I had a choice, so I got up and made my way to her office.

        I found her smoking a cigarette at the window behind her desk. Her office was on the second floor and overlooked the parking lot where orange sodium lights provided a dull glow over empty asphalt and white parking lines. The window was opened just enough for her to poke her head out and exhale the tobacco stench into the night. Her suit jacket was slung across her desk, her blouse partially unbuttoned, her legs crossed as she stood, one hand at her mouth the other held across her chest. She looked like a Twizzler in pumps.

        “We have a problem,” was all she said when I walked through the door. No hello, how are you? All business, the straight man to Reed’s Tony Robbins routine.

        I stepped pensively toward her, running a hand through my hair. I wasn’t sure what to say so I reverted to my own overly friendly, keen corporate façade.

        “What can I help with?” I asked.

        “This will be hard,” she said, taking another puff. “But you’re an important part of the Falkirk family so I want to make sure we’re providing you all the support you need.”

        Was she talking about Mike? Someone else? Alarm bells rang in my head. Had Ted already submitted his resignation? A dread washed over me; things were already in motion. I thought about turning around and running out of there. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do at the company without Ted around. We’d known each other so long he felt like a part of me, a not-so-dynamic duo united through the stresses of university and professional life. Maybe I could grab him and convince him to retract it before it was official, but Lillian’s narrow blue eyes held me to the spot like a statue.

        She took another puff from her cigarette. “It’s about Ted,” she said.

        I opened my mouth and started rambling. “Look, he’s just having a hard time. It’s been a tough few weeks, his sister, you know … the whole thing … ahh … uhh … he just needs a few days … I can get him to retract it. He won’t leave. He’s a Falkirker, like me.”

        Lillian screwed up her face in confusion. She stared at me for a moment, exhaling slowly before she stepped toward the broad desk that separated us. There was a monitor on her desk that she spun around so I could see what was there–it was a document with Ted’s name. I recognized it as an application, but not for the equity plan. It was for the power plan.

        I went numb, except my ears. I felt a burning sensation there, like all the blood had rushed to them. I’m out. I’m out. Lillian said all we have to do is submit the paperwork. The truth hit me like a tidal wave.

        “I’m sorry,” Lillian said. “It’s done.”

        “When?” I asked her.

        “He submitted the paperwork after the all-hands meeting. All the liability has been signed off. It’s … you know, because of his sister,” she said.


         She flicked the butt out the window and stared at me. “He’s down there now.”

         I sprinted out of her office and down the corridor to the stairs. There might still be time if I was fast enough. I had to get to him before they hooked him up, before they started mining…

         An image of Ted sprinting ahead of me into the forest flashed through my mind. He was gone, slipped into the darkness before I could get there.

         I reached the top of the yellow, diamond-stamped stairs and took them two-at-a-time all the way down, descending into the bowels of the plant. At the bottom I ran down the hallway, past the door where we’d dropped Mike, following the perfect layout of PVC pipes and cables that stretched upward from the deep bowels of the Earth to the far end where a set of double doors led into the server farm. I burst through the door and found three technicians strapping Ted into a table, cables attached to his body. It was like an incline electric chair. It was the electric chair.

        The power plan. The Falkirk Crypto Mining Company’s secret ingredient–desperation. You want to mine crypto? You need power, raw electricity. But even that isn’t enough, or not enough for Quentin Reed. There’s an even better form of power, a purer one. Flesh and blood. People power. A little zap–the kind that could fry an ant or remind you you’re alive–will boost the system and leave only a small scar, or maybe none. But the boost to the system is significant. A big zap will scar, your fleshing bubbling or becoming necrotic. But the payout … the payout is enough to retire a mortgage.

        The ultimate zap–the power plan–the one Mike took to pay his debts; the one Ted was taking to help his sister. Well, you just don’t come back from that. You’re a fried meat bag, sour like orange juice left out in the sun, charred like burnt eggs.

        “It’s the right thing to do,” Ted told me as I came through the door.

        I looked past the technicians and met his eyes. He knew what I was thinking, and I knew what he was thinking. We didn’t need to talk about it. There was no need to argue. Whatever hope I had of changing his mind winked out as quickly as the propane bonfires. I felt a great sadness, a loneliness, wash over me like a heavy, greasy fog. He’d signed the papers and walked to the room on his own accord. He’d done and said all the things that only our own little tribe in Falkirk could do, say, or understand.

        The technician hit the switch and I watched him fry. His jaw quivered as the first course of energy flowed through him, then his body spasmed and gyrated, bouncing on the table like a rubber ball. And then it really did its work, reversing the power to suck the energy out of him, transforming his body into a bag of super-heated liquids. All that was awful to watch on its own but it was the look in his eyes that haunted me–there was a resignation there, a quiet acceptance that this was the only logical route, like an athlete throwing up his hands mid-game and saying “I quit.”

        Ted was gone.

        My hand brushed involuntarily over the phone in my pocket, the muscles urging me to pull it out, check the stock price. I saw the technicians reach for their own. The price of our coin would shoot up again. Ted’s equity would be cashed out on that spike. His sister wouldn’t need to worry about paying for her treatment plan anymore. I was one step closer to paying off my student loans, and the town probably had more than enough cash to fix the water system or pave a few roads.

        Two of the technicians smiled and high-fived as their phones chimed with notifications and messages. The third tech punched one in the shoulder and gestured to me, signaling to the him not to celebrate so openly. The first sucked his teeth, embarrassed. The second offered downcast eyes and tight, empathetic smile. But I knew it too was a façade. They were thinking about their equity, their bank accounts, the things they could buy or the debt collectors they could chase away. Fair enough. That’s how it’d been with Mike. That’s how it was in Falkirk. I didn’t see technicians in that room anymore. I saw dancing demons with forked tales and glistening black horns.

        The technicians unhooked Ted and shifted him onto a gurney.

        “Want a hand?” one of them asked me.

        “No, I’ll take care of it,” I said.

        The technician nodded and opened the double doors for me. I pushed the gurney out, leaving the sour-smelling room behind and rolling Ted toward the other door. Once in the next room, I unlatched the steel cover over the mine shaft and opened the black throat of the bottomless stope. I shifted him off the gurney and an empty beer can rolled out of his clothes and clanged against the concrete floor.

        “You’re going to get us in a pile of shit if you leave those there,” I had told him.

        “Who cares? Someone will take care of it.”

         I deposited Ted into the yawning, black hole. I didn’t hear him hit bottom. You never do.

        “This is getting out of hand,” I said, but even I didn’t hear it. The steady drone of the servers drowned it out.