Membership Required – A Short Story


I’m a reasonable man, and fair-minded, so I’m told. My employees know they can count on a holiday bonus regardless of their political and religious affiliations, or their disaffiliations. I promote women through the ranks as often as I promote men. And I donate liberally to Preserve the Planet—my part of “packing out” what we humans “pack in.”

You can understand, then, why I’m outraged by what just happened.

On the surface the invitation appeared to be for the kind of event I usually attend: very exclusive. This one was to be held across the country at an out-of-the-way little estate near the coast. Ideal for mixing a lot of pleasure with a little business.

A quick phone call verified that the guest list included a significant number of my colleagues and competitors. Perfect!

I gave my personal assistant the okay to RSVP in the affirmative.

“One problem, your lordship,” he said, studying a sheaf of papers, “the invitation states you must be a member of the host association.”

“Let me see that.”

I snatched the top sheet from his hand—a piece of parchment folded in half and embossed with gold lettering. There at the bottom in bold block letters was the simple statement: Membership required.

“It’s got to be a mistake. A foul-up at the printers.”

My assistant held up the other pages. “They included a list of locations—hundreds within a few miles of us—where you can apply for membership, sir.”

“A formality, I’m sure, not really a requirement. They wouldn’t send me an invitation unless I could attend. That would be absurd.”

Any reasonable person would know I was right, but I had yet to learn who I was dealing with.

I rearranged my schedule and set the plans in motion to attend what I expected to be the event of the year.

Everything went like clockwork. The flight was routine and my jet landed on time. As arranged, a limo met me at the gate. The short drive to the event site took me past a stretch of pristine sand that walled off the white-capped breakers tumbling from the cyan water. The limo sped through a quaint village and finally into a eucalyptus forest with ivy-covered walls lining the road. The place exuded wealth—the studied-casual kind, and I knew I belonged.

The driver turned into a private road leading to the estate, but a gate with wrought-iron detail barred the way.

An owlish man, dressed like a maître d’ and holding a computer tablet, stepped from the gatehouse. “And you are …?”

I lowered my window, thankful that my hosts were taking such precautions against party crashers. “Baron Mikal Kolmakov.”

The underling’s wide eyes scanned the screen in his hand. He punched a key, then another. “I’m sorry, sir, you don’t seem to be on the guest list. Could you be under another name?”

“I’ve got to be there. I gave my personal assistant explicit instructions to accept the invitation.”

The man stooped and peered through the window. “Perhaps if you have your membership card, I can scan it in and put you on the list.”

“No, you don’t understand.” I slowed my speech so he could be sure to follow what I was about to explain. “I received an invitation.”

“Of course, Mr. Kolmakov—”

“Baron.”

“Excuse me?”

“Baron Kolmakov. I paid good money for that title.”

He straightened. “Of course, Baron Kolmakov. All the guests received invitations, but membership in the Association is still required.”

“I’m sure my personal assistant took care of the matter. I just don’t happen to have the card.” I never expected an underling to call me on that lie.

Owl Eyes tapped a few more keys, looked at me, then to the tablet screen and back at me. “Unfortunately, sir, membership must be obtained in person. Your assistant—a Mr. Suesov?—would not have been able to sign you up. He could only apply for his own membership.”

I suppressed a sneer. “I guarantee you my assistant did not receive an invitation.”

“Begging your pardon, Baron, but I have his RSVP in front of me.” He touched his finger to the screen. “A ‘no,’ I fear.”

“Well, then.” I adjusted the sleeves of my jacket. “But you must also have my RSVP—a ‘yes,’ is it not?”

“It is. However, your name was not included on the guest list since we have no record of your joining the Association.”

I massaged my temple. “I flew thousands of miles to attend this affair, and now you tell me I’m not on the guest list? That’s unacceptable. You’ll simply have to waive the membership requirement.”

“I’m sorry, Baron, but that is quite impossible.”

“Anything is possible, my good man.” I reach inside my coat for my leather wallet. “How much?”

“Excuse me?”

Apparently the man thought playing the fool would stretch my generosity. “How much compensation do you need to waive the membership requirement?”

He took a step back. “Sir, even if I wanted to, without the necessary card to scan into the computer, I couldn’t add your name for any price.”

I shoved my wallet back in place. “This is ridiculous. I want to talk with your superior.”

“Certainly sir.” Owl Eyes tapped the keys of his tablet. “Would you like to fill out the membership form while you wait for her to join us?”

“You mean you can sign me up right now? Here?”

“I can.” He reached into the guardhouse and grabbed a clipboard. “I just need you to fill out the application and I can process you through.”

“Then why can’t you process that gate open and let me join the party?”

He extended the clipboard toward me. “I’ll be happy to do so, Baron, as soon as your membership clears.”

I moved to the edge of my seat. “Are you suggesting I might get turned down?”

“Not if you’re in agreement with the Association’s core values.”

Who talks about core values in this era of enlightenment? “What kind of organization is this? Don’t you have any respect for other people?”

The gatekeeper stiffened, almost like he was military. “On the contrary, Baron. Respect for all people is one of our values.”

“Then you should respect my decision not to become a member of your association.”

“We do.”

“So … stop quibbling and open the gate!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Members only.”

“This … you’re … You just said you respect my choice not to join.”

“Our respect does not negate the association’s charter, Baron.”

I flung open the limo door and stormed toward Mr. Maître d’ until I towered over him. “Is this because of my nationality?”

He held his ground. “I can assure you, your cultural heritage or nationality has no relevance on your admission into the estate. You simply must become a member of the Association.”

“But only certain people can join.”

“The Association is open to all like-minded men and women.”

“Well, there you have it. Your precious Association won’t let someone like me join who opposes your idea of core values. How tolerant of you.” I injected as much sarcasm as I could into that last line.

“Baron, I wish I could help you.”

“Oh, but you’ve helped a great deal.” I pulled out my smart phone and pushed record. “You’re giving me all the information I need to haul every one of you prejudiced bigots into court.”

“Sir, you yourself said you received an invitation, and I offered to process your membership right now. How do you see this as bigoted?”

I let slip a smirk. “To attend this function, you say I must be a member, but only ‘like-minded’ people can be members—your term, not mine. That’s the definition of intolerant.”

“Sir, you were not excluded. You were invited. Perhaps if you examined the Associations list of core values—”

“Stop! Don’t try foisting those on me.” I retreated to the limo and slammed the door. Through the window, I said, “You cannot force me to believe something in contradiction to who I am. Inform your superiors that my lawyers will be in contact. I’m shutting you down.”

And I will, too. They think they can turn me away at the gate, but I’m not letting them get away with such discrimination. I’ve got friends in law enforcement, in government, in the media. We can do boycotts and lawsuits and smear campaigns.

As the limo backs out of the driveway, I tap the number for my personal assistant into my smart phone. When he picks up, I order him to get all the dirt he can on the Association because we’re going to war. There’s no reasoning with such intolerant people. My only choice is to bring them down.

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Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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