Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jeremy and the Secret Contract

The sound of my phone’s dance-floor ringtone jolted me out of my daydream. It was Jeremy calling.

“Hey, Rick, I got the job,” he said. But he didn’t sound like he was celebrating. In fact, he was whispering.

“You don’t sound very happy about it,” I said. “What’s wrong? Why are you whispering?”

“Well, there’s something I need to ask you about,” he said. “They want me to sign this contract, and in the contract, it says I can’t show the contract to anyone or tell anyone what it says. I’m not even sure they’ll let me keep a copy of it.”

Needless to say, I was alarmed. “You didn’t sign it, did you?”

“No,” he said. “I wanted to ask you want it meant first.”

“Jeremy,” I said, “you’ve been offered a secret contract. Never, ever, ever sign secret contracts. Legitimate businesses don’t use them.”

“Well, I know it’s a problem,” he whispered, “but it seems like a good job.”

“A good job?” I said. “What are you going to tell your mom?”

“Well, I guess I’ll tell her . . .”

“If you sign the contract, you can’t tell her anything. That’s what you told me the contract said. Does the contract say how much money you’ll be making and what kind of work you’ll be doing?”

“Yes, that’s the very first thing.”

“Then you can’t even tell her that! You can’t even tell her what you’re not allowed to tell her!”

“Oh — man, that’s weird.”

“She’s going to think you’re working for a drug dealer.”

“Sh–t! That’s not fair!”

“Well, how do you know this company isn’t dealing drugs, or smuggling, or something?”

“Um . . . um . . . well, they dress nice . . . I don’t know.”

“That’s the whole point. You don’t know. All businesses need some degree of secrecy in what they’re doing, but a business usually won’t make an entire contract secret unless there’s something about the way they’re doing business that’s flatly illegal.”


“Which means, if you work for them, you could go to jail. Or maybe they’re slave traders, and they’re going to ship you off to who knows where. Or if it turns out they’re in something deeper than it looks like, they might have to kill you.”


“The reason they want to keep the contract itself secret is so that if they’re doing something to abuse you, and you talk to anyone to try to get help, they can take you to court.”

“Holy f—! That’s terrible!”

“Are they watching you right now?”


“And you’re absolutely positive you didn’t sign anything?”

“No, I absolutely didn’t.”

“Then just walk out. Act like nothing’s wrong, and walk out the front door, and you’ll never have to talk to them again.”