Chester was living it up. He worked for an in-demand contracting company, programming PLC controllers in an ancient language called “APT”. Very few organizations were experienced in APT, and Chester’s employer was often contracted to be a “firefighter”, when projects were ablaze and people were prepared to jump out of the windows to escape the heat.

Chester and his companion, Colby, were booked to work for the California Cheese Co.. The CCC was a notorious client. By paying late (or not at all), by inserting vague clauses into contracts, and by generally being complete jerks, they ensured the bankruptcy of their contractors- and bankrupt firms can’t afford to sue you for late payment. They would get millions of dollars worth of work done for hundreds of thousands. Chester’s firm was more cautious, more experienced, and more litigious than many of the CCC’s victims. They’d be receiving 100% of their payments, and not end up bankrupt.

Upset that they’d actually have to pay Chester and company, the CCC resentfully made the work experience as miserable as possible. They stuck Chester and Colby in a run-down trailer that smelled like curdled milk. It was a quarter mile from the main office, and the phones only worked when the temperature was between 67º and 67.85º, on a Tuesday, and even then only when you didn’t actually use them. This meant that even the most minor question involved a long trudge through a hot, southern California summer. By the time Chester got back to the trailer, he smelled like a brick of Limburger that had baked in the sun all day.

Chester and Colby worked hard in that stink-trailer, 12 or 14 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. The checks kept clearing, so they kept plugging away at the project, hoping to see the light through the block of Swiss. One week, Chester and Colby started overhearing things in the main CCC office about a “big new project” and “the cheapest contractors out there”. That made Chester curious, since his company was the cheapest in the area, and anyone who could undercut their prices was surely programming from a home in a van down by the river.

The CCC didn’t care about that, what they really wanted was a fresh batch of contractors that they could screw over.

As Chester plodded up to his curdled trailer office the next Monday, he was blinded by the California sun shining off three brand new, white BMW’s in the parking lot. For a moment, Chester thought these might be lawyers for one of the previously bankrupted contractors showing up to put California Cheese over the grater. Chester asked Colby what was going on.

“The new contractors are here. I saw some guy in an expensive suit, and a bunch of high-school kids.”

“Wait, these goons are the people who underbid us on the next milestone?”

Just then, a large, sweaty man burst through the door of the trailer. He dramatically removed his aviator sunglasses and raised an eyebrow. “You… must be the… other guys,” he observed. He held his sunglasses in a way best suited towards showing off his biceps. “Well, The Rock and his crew have been brought in to take this project to the next level, once you scrubs finish your piece. I am The Rock. You don’t need to know The Rock’s real name, so don’t bother asking. I’ll whip your monkey asses all over God’s green Earth.”

Chester and Colby stared at each other in disbelief, while The Rock continued. “This here is a group of hand-selected Wunderkinds that The Rock picked out. These guys are geniuses that can program circles around your batch of losers.” The teenagers behind him looked more qualified to be placing cheese on hamburgers than programming the machines that made the cheese. “The Rock expects your little project to be done by the end of the month. Get out of our way or you’ll be hitting rock bottom!”

Chester rolled his eyes and got back to work, hoping to end this month of awkwardness as soon as possible. Over the next few weeks, The Rock kept up his loud brashness while his Wunderkind squad quietly pecked away at their keyboards. They churned out increasingly flashy demos that delivered no functionality in the most dramatic way possible. It impressed the management of California Cheese Co., and it became ever-more apparent that Chester and Colby were just a nuisance. Jack, their handler at CCC, underscored that point by gently suggesting Chester and Colby needed to step up their game or get out.

Their final week on the project was a relief, at least until they ambled up to the trailer for the last time. No BMWs were parked alongside. Instead, Jack was running around, eyes wide and arms flapping. “It’s all GONE!” he screamed. And it was- the computers, the test controllers, the backup tapes, everything was gone except for that sour-smelling carpet. The Rock and his Wunderkinds were nowhere to be found, and The Rock’s cell phone was no longer in service.

The California Cheese Company found out that The Rock wasn’t a brilliant businessman with an eye for young technical talent. He was a man with several aliases, a pile of fake companies, and a portfolio of abandoned properties that he used to pull swindles across the country. There were no backups of anything the Wunderkinds had worked on, and the California Cheese Co. was out the six-figure sum they’d already paid The Rock. Chester couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that the CCC’s shady deals came back to stab them. The irony was sharper than the taste of Wisconsin cheddar.

Cheese image by Zerohund