Leon Jackson glared at the FW Diner's new sign as he pulled into the parking lot. Its familiar curved roadway design had been replaced with a stylized ball-and-chain. "That's disgusting," he grumbled, glancing at his wife.
"Could have been worse," Francine said, wincing. "They might have used a hanging tree, except the company was imprisoned. Maybe they should have shot it."
Fremont-Wayfarer's high-profile trial and conviction for stealing from its own employees had been the second case following the Supreme Court's momentous decision to grant full citizenship to corporations. The first had ended in a death sentence, dissolving the company and throwing thousands of people out of work. This one marked the end of unbridled corporate behavior, for the court had imposed severe restrictions, replaced its board of directors, and assigned a new kind of parole officer to oversee its three-year sentence. The CEO was doing his best to make a buck off it.
As they walked towards the entrance, the Jacksons got a glimpse of some of the other changes that had been made. The big picture windows were now fitted with oversized plastic bars, complete with painted-on rust, and the interior was all institutional beige. But the most dramatic difference wasn't evident until they'd walked in, for the wait staff all wore sunny yellow prison jumpsuits, and the young woman behind the register was dressed like some kind of back-room drone. It was ghastly.
She looked up and smiled. "Welcome to the FW Diner. Two for dinner?"
"I don't think so," Leon said sternly. "May we speak with the manager, please?"
Francine watched curiously as the cashier fumbled with an old-style push-to-talk microphone. Clearly, the bulky unit it plugged into was chosen more for prop value than functionality.
The man who approached them a few moments later was fitted out with Hollywood's idea of a prison guard's uniform. He extended a hand in greeting. "Hello. I'm Alizondo Klee, the night manager. What can I do for you?"
Leon ignored the offer. "For starters, you can explain what the hell this insult to the families of real inmates is all about."
"Yes, that. Well." Klee smiled awkwardly and looked down at his uniform. "How much do you know about the conditions of the company's sentence?"
"How much do you know," Francine countered, edging closer, "about what it's like to have a family member imprisoned? About how cruel people can be when they learn there's a convict in your family? Huh? Do you people think it's all a joke?"
"Of course not, ma'am."
"Then why did you let them do this? Why are you participating in this hateful parody of justice? Why?"
"Believe me, it wasn't our idea. In fact, the union would have staged a strike if it hadn't been for --."
"For what?" Leon challenged angrily, cutting him off. "For a payoff? Did they promise you all raises? Or was it a threat?"
A jovial man approached from the dining room. "Is there a problem, Al?"