Read Upgrade Degrade Online

Authors: Daniel J. Kirk

Upgrade Degrade



© Copyright 2015 DANIEL J. KIRK

Edited by A.R. Jesse

Cover Art by Turtle&Noise




No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.



First electronic edition 2015


For more information on this series please visit








By Daniel J. Kirk



I can’t remember how much I hated being average, ordinary. It would be great now. I’m tired of this. I’m so… I’m hungry. I’m tried. I’m bored. I wonder…she’s hot. Might age poorly, definitely in her prime. Bacon ranch.


His mind is like being at the bottom of a canyon, and someone is throwing rocks. I can dodge most of them, but it takes effort. Its constant and sometimes one surprises me.


Alice had nicer breasts.


No thought is final. Rickey Jones added,
but they were probably fake. Just something she upgraded. I don’t remember them like that when we first met. I’m sure….


It stings every time. He knows. Rickey Jones knows that I’m a fake. But if this is what I am now, doesn’t that count for something? I’m still me aren’t I?


“Miss Collins? Alice Collins?”

I raised my hand and shuffled past the other applicants. A few didn’t bother to look up from their smart phones. Those that did actually snarled at me. That was the state of our economy.

The man who called my name waited impatiently at the door to the interviewer’s office. I didn’t mean to take my time. I loved moving. I loved people talking to me. It tended to drown out Rickey’s thoughts.

“Thank you for coming today,” the well-dressed man said. I thought of thinking about his butt in those tailored pants, but it was no use. I couldn’t hurt Rickey the way he hurt me. If I wanted him to hear a thought, he would hear it and he would know I intended for him to hear it. I was way too passive aggressive for an upfront attack.

I followed the business hottie into an office made of glass walls. Everyone applying today could look in and see what was transpiring, and of course the potential employer could gaze out on all the desperate professional women who wanted a leg up, something for the resume other than: waitress.

The door closed after we entered, and it silenced all the little sounds in the waiting room. It felt like leaving rush hour traffic. But that moment of silence let a few more of Rickey’s inane thoughts through.

Cheesickle. Mmm.

“This is Alice Collins,” the business hottie said to the man standing at the window. Then he turned and directed me to a chair in front of a large desk that was sparse in its décor and use. There was a picture frame no bigger than a baseball card, a small cup of pens and one manila file folder that was about an inch thick. The rest of the office was glass, the windows promised a view, but only delivered the parking lot and the few suffering trees growing up on an island in the asphalt.

“Alice… Alice…Collins? You dropped out of university.”

I was caught off guard. “Yes. I…”

“Most of the other applicants have finished their degrees, what was it that you were pursuing?”

“Business administration and psychology.”

“Psychology. That is one of my favorites. It’s everyone’s favorite. We go to college and we think we can unlock the secret to why people do the things that they do. We learn neat jargon that we can impose upon our parents, significant others, and even puppy dogs. It’s a lot of fun. Learning psychology is like begin a kid in the candy store.”

“It was definitely interesting and I often…”

“It’s modern day astrology, Miss Collins. Alice? You look like an Alice.” The man, who kept cutting me off, should be described as a fast talker with a good smile. Too good—like there were hidden fees behind its purchase and strange maintenance obligations and a time-share in Barbados.  He was taller than Rickey and if the two were in a dating competition, most women would not choose Rickey. They’d chose…

“Samuel Winter—Campaign Manager. Don’t let me scare you or you won’t be hired. I’m looking for a particular kind of employee, Miss Collins, and I can assure you that I have met a lot of candidates today and competition is fierce. A lot of good young women have walked through that door and handed me actual resumes. What does being a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool have to do with anything?”

“I was manager and I had several employees and…the scheduling…”

“Did you ever have to save someone’s life?”

Not then. “No.”

“Would you say that’s because you ran a tight ship and accidents were prevented rather than dealt with?” Samuel Winter asked.


“Then that should be on your resume—that you provided a safe environment. Not maintained chlorine levels and what was it “the pumps?” You handed me a grocery list.”

“I’m sorry…”

“You and just about everyone else who isn’t full of shit. So now is your chance to bull shit me, Alice. Tell me why you would be a good assistant in helping me mange Duke Hall’s campaign for State Senate…and then the White House. Because that’s where we’re headed. If you can’t get us there then hold back those tears and walk through that door. Don’t embarrass yourself or me. There are jobs that most people aren’t cut out for, and this is one of them. I’m looking for someone special.”

Bacon ranch.

Dammit, Rickey!

“Was that funny?” Samuel Winter asked. He glared at me until I lost it.

“First of all, Duke Hall is a Republican with too much money and a black wife. Most of his party won’t vote for him because they hate rich people who can’t relate to their financial burdens…and then there are the racists. The liberals might appreciate his interracial marriage and children, but his stance on abortion rules out the majority of those voters. So you tell me how you plan to get him into the White House?”

Samuel Winter checked with the man who had escorted me in. They smirked back and forth like frat boys with a plan to steal a keg.

“You’re the first. You’ve got a fire to you, don’t you?”

“I just thought it was funny,” I said. “You seem so sure, but I don’t think you know much about your candidate other than the fact that his pocket stretched enough to pay for you little charade of a campaign.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m pro-life. Not a racist. And I don’t care how much money people have so long as their mission is to protect what I hold sacred. That and I didn’t want to sell life insurance in some pyramid scheme.”

“How fast can you type?”

“I drink decaf so that I don’t burn through keyboards.”

“Do you have any driving violations?”

“I haven’t been caught yet. But I’ve got a pretty smile and a sad cry face.”

“How good is your memory? Can you take dictation or…”

“I take dictation fine. I keep notes if it is important. I had great grades before I dropped out. Problem was college is just a bunch of people making money off a bunch of people who don’t yet know the value of money…or education.”

Samuel Winter’s smile was genuine. And the guy who led me in was suppressing giggles. If there was one thing I was good at, it was being fiery once someone pissed me off. Rickey can vouch for that. But he’s probably too busy thinking about bacon and ranch chalupas. He was making me hungry and that pissed me off more.

“Miss Collins, do you have a boyfriend?”



Three months later, I’m in a tight black dress that I wish Rickey could see, at a gala with so much to do that I shouldn’t be thinking about Rickey Jones and all his stupid boy thoughts.

Duke Hall was making nice with everyone in sight. He was genuine. He laughed, big hearty laughs that arched his back and required a shoulder pat of whoever was closest to him. If he had been sitting, he would’ve slapped a knee. His wife corralled their children who had worn a suit and a dress that matched their parents’.

“He looks great,” I said.

Samuel Winter backwashed. He only ever pretended to drink champagne. He hated it. He liked whiskey and would spend all day boring me to death with what made whiskey the best drink on the planet. It tasted like sap to me, dull, gummy, and repugnant. Though I still drank it every time he asked me to. I wanted to see how far he’d try to take it. He didn’t know that I couldn’t get drunk. And sometimes I’d play drunk and say things I wasn’t supposed to. Sometimes I was provoked by Rickey.  I always caught myself before it went anywhere that I’d regret—and Samuel Winter liked the chase.

“He’s not ready,” Samuel Winter said. “But he’s getting there.”

“We just need more people to see this side of him. What about an anti-campaign? Just have him go places and not say who he is until people want to know who they just met?”

“It’s a good idea.”

“But you don’t like it.”

“He’s almost everything you wanted, isn’t he? He’s going to break boundaries. Make millions question their beliefs…”

“Are you talking about Jesus or Duke Hall?” I asked, and gave a gentle nudge with my elbow.

“Politicians are symbols. We just need one that projects that glimmer where people can see they were wrong about something they swore was fact. He’ll do that. He’s not what he looks like on paper.”

“It’s not just the south that’s super racist,” I said.

“People aren’t racists anymore. They just hate thugs and complainers. But that guilt, that hope to prove they aren’t racists will get them to line up at the polls.”

“I would hope it had more to do with what he’s saying. That he intends to represent the state as it wants to be represented.”

“Yeah, he keeps saying that,” Samuel Winter said. “It’s such an on-the-fence statement. He’s not going to win any of the crazies’ votes with that. He needs to slip up. Say something just a little extreme.”

Extreme? These nachos aren’t extreme.

Rickey must pick up on some of my thoughts. He was eating a non-spicy variety of nachos, but for some reason he thought ‘extreme’ at the same moment Samuel Winter had said it. Maybe there were lines in our connection that were not as obvious as when I speak to him and when his mind thinks out loud. Maybe there was also a way for him to suppress his thoughts. Think on a different channel. I wish I knew. I wish I could fix that.

“Have you toured the Governor’s Mansion?” Samuel Winter asked.


“I’ve been here before. There’s a door in the coat check. It was built for avoiding the press—or emergency evacuations. It leads out onto the lawn.”

“Where else does it lead?” I asked.

“Why don’t we find out?”

My smile had a hard time, so I chugged the champagne and it rose a little more. Samuel Winter acknowledged a few folks on our way to the coat check. It was one of those ones seen in movies. Dark wood panels surrounded all sides, with ornate molding at every possible level—floor, chair, crown, and wainscoting. Samuel Winter rifled through coats and then shifted a piece of molding. A latch popped. The whole backside of the coat closet opened, from the floor to the twelve-foot high ceiling. The hall was short and had appeared to only be a simple alcove with a potted plant, an expensive painting and bench before. We closed the wall behind us and were in a corridor that ran along the rear of the mansion with floor to ceiling windows on one side and portraits of past governors on the other.

As soon as we stepped out into the night sky, I knew that Rickey was looking at the same sky. He couldn’t be far. He was down in the bottom, at a bar having drinks with some girl. Some girl. Some girl. Relax, I told myself. He’s not attracted to her. She’s spunky… She’s... Libby.

“Beautiful night,” Samuel Winter said. “It’s a little nippy isn’t it?”

I checked myself thinking he’d implied more than the slight coolness in the air. His hand navigated around the small of my back, found an appropriate place to settle just above my hipbone.

“I’m drunk,” I lied.

“You never seem drunk,” he said.

“We should head back inside.”

“Come on. I want to show you the garden at night. You see they planted it for nights like tonight, but because of security and what not, no one gets to enjoy it.” He led me across paver stones and through two tall shrubs. The moonlight cast a blue light everywhere. White flowers were glowing above dark plants. If I squinted, it looked like a sea of white polka dots. “It’s a moon garden,” he said.

He noticed me squinting and laughed.

“I told you I’m a little drunk.”

“Then you won’t mind if I take advantage of you,” he said.

His arms swirled around me. His breath warmed my face and then he spit.

I’d given him a Charlie-horse. His mood turned on me. He didn’t hit me, but he backed off and glared.

“Sorry. No. No. I’m not. Not tonight,” I said. I meant not ever. Samuel Winter was a jerk. I knew that. I wasn’t going to involve myself in any way with him. There would be no romance. I knew that—he was all business. Playful banter in the office was one thing, but I didn’t want to confuse that for actual love or even slight interest. I didn’t love him. Not the way I loved Rickey Jones. But then again—Samuel Winter would never be able to hurt me. He’d never mean as much if something happened, if he cheated, if he died. It wouldn’t be the same. I could go on living.

That’s a terrible thought.

I grabbed Samuel Winter. I pulled him into me and I kissed him.

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