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Boys from the Neighborhood

by Dan Reed

Boys from the Neighborhood, synopsis

Space pilot Tom Farrell finds the Benevento brothers naive in trying to confront a Gilded oligarch over a mining claim in the outer Solar System. But two things command loyalty: they're boys from the neighborhood, and they're family.

Colonial bureaucrats are highly prone to dick you around in search of a handout, or just to show off their power to the Earthers. But I was established enough that I was very rarely detained when I announced my intention to take off. Yet there he was, some young prick with just enough power to ruin my day, filling my vidscreen with a smirk as he requested that I return to launch control and document that my fusion burn license was up to date. So I rose heavily from my launch chair and worked my way into my suit for the second time in five hours.

I had barely gotten through the airlock when I realized this was not the normal punk with a hand out or surly admin having a slow day. There were half a dozen well-armed men waiting for me, and as I slipped off the flex helmet, one of them gestured with his rail rifle, unspeaking.

We walked through the hallway, not a sound but the dull echo of bootfalls off the rough-hewn ice walls. At one point I tried a joke: “What have you heard that made you think you needed six guards?” But there was no response. They surrounded me as if I was a wanted criminal or a king, and we continued down the main corridor deep into the colony, never taking a side tunnel to the left or right.

Finally we reached a door, more of a gate, really, a huge platinum thing twelve feet tall with hinges set deep into the ice. One of the men walked up to a comm panel in the door, pressed the button and said, “Got ’im.”

The gate swung open in the middle, like the entrance to a medieval fortress. I hesitated: this was new for me, and I had been to more of these colonies than I could count.

The butt of a rail rifle urged me through the door. I found myself in a cavernous room, so big it almost felt like the outdoors. It was completely unadorned except for a giant holoprojector platform off to my left, which was currently idle, and, against the wall opposite the one I had just passed through, a row of ornate windows with another door, this one smaller, underneath.

My escorts and I stood stock still in the center of this courtyard. I glanced around a bit wildly while the six men held a motionless vigil facing the holoprojector.

It duly came to life, and conjured forth the likeness of a man displayed at about four times normal size, dressed in what I recognized as a tuxedo. His delicate features defied my abilities to place his age precisely; he could have been anywhere from 23 to 40 and I wouldn’t have been surprised. His broad smile hinted at the easy and cruel way he was used to applying power. Or maybe that was just the illusion caused by his gigantic likeness.

“Captain Farrell.” The projection bowed, so slightly I could have imagined it. “I appreciate your coming so promptly.”

“These men gave me the impression it was urgent.”

He laughed. “So, I’m guessing you know who I am, then?”

“Well, if you aren’t Jeong Bae, this is one hell of a coincidence.”

“Fine, and you know why you’re here?”

“That I find a little less clear.”

“I wanted to give you the opportunity to purchase the life of Joseph Benevento, of course. It seems to have some value to you.”

“I can’t imagine why you would think that. I was just getting ready to leave the little punk to rot.”

“So it would not distress you if I had him eliminated? After all, I believe you undertook this rescue mission,” he leaned on those two words in an unpleasant way, “for virtually no compensation.”

“I was promised payment upon arrival, and I took what now seems to be an incredibly stupid chance. I hardly think that implies some deep emotional involvement.”

“Then those sources who have told me you have some longstanding connection to the family must be mistaken. It’s funny, my information is so rarely wrong.”

Bae was pretty damned plugged in for a guy who’d been on Ganymede for most of his adult life. “Why don’t you just tell me what you have in mind, so we can all stop dicking around.”

The giant Bae hologram considered me for a moment, then flickered out without another word. The six guards turned in perfect unison from the holoprojector to the door. I had barely time to wonder if they were robots. If they were robots, they exhibited advances beyond what any of Earth’s top engineers would have deemed possible. The door slid open, contracting itself into the wall in the modern fashion. Two more guards came out, then Bae, his small frame shielded and shadowed by their bulk.

“Captain Farrell.” He strode across the courtyard, moved delicately past the nearest of my escorts, and stuck out his hand. I shook it as the group of eight guards rearranged themselves into a bigger circle around us, with such precision that it no longer seemed possible that they weren’t robotic.

As if reading my mind, Bae offered, “They are human, but cybernetically enhanced to process information faster and work seamlessly as a unit. And I can implant commands directly into their consciousnesses. They are very well compensated for that slight loss of autonomy.”

I just nodded, trying to hide my revulsion. Cybernetic modification was completely illegal on Earth.

“Anyway, Captain Farrell.” He locked eyes with me. “Or can I call you Thomas?”

“If we’re going to be informal, Tom is fine.”

“Excellent. Now, Tom, you asked what I wanted, which led me to believe we might enter into a negotiation. And that’s always done best face to face, I think. Don’t you agree?” He didn’t wait for a response. “But first, I want to assure you, despite whatever Benevento has said, that I’m not a bad or unreasonable man. I just saw, when he made his claim, that I might be missing an opportunity, and acted to assert my rights in that area, which had been obscured. Joseph Benevento simply does not understand how things work out here, as I’m sure you have gathered.”

“Mr. Bae, I know all too well how things work out here, including how the Gilded will pull the rug out from anyone they feel like screwing.”

A flash of anger showed on Bae’s face. “Yes, well you’re entitled to your opinion, for what it’s worth. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am capable of either liberating or destroying young Mr. Benevento. And yet I’m inclined to restore him to his freedom, because you have something that I want.”

“And what could I have that you want?”

“Primarily, a large percentage of the real estate in Carroll Gardens. I would like to acquire it.”

I can’t imagine what Bae thought as I stared at him. I’d guess he enjoyed it: he seemed just like the type of prick that likes making people uncomfortable and confused. And if he knew so much about me, about things I never told anyone, then certainly he knew how much it meant to me to keep the neighborhood the way it was, to preserve something of the world the way it was before the Gilded turned huge swaths of it into their personal playgrounds.

Finally the words came to me: “Why don’t you just go shove a dull, rusty blade in your eye?”

Bae laughed, unpleasantly. “But Tom, don’t you care for the young Beneventos at all? They are in my power. I’m sure it would not take much to have young Paulie shipped off to Titan along with his brother, and as you know the life expectancy there is tragically short. Whereas, if you merely make a deal with me for a collection of old houses you almost never see, I’ll be happy to release them to you.”

“What difference would that make? Joe, moron that he is, seems pretty determined to fight you for that claim of his. I’m sure Paulie has now been recruited to the same stupid crusade.”

“Really? How interesting.” Bae’s eye gleamed with a dark intelligence. “Tom, would you be opposed to taking a walk with me? Maybe there’s a way we can make this deal happen.”

The eight guards shifted their weight slightly, but that slight movement was enough for me to know this walk was no more of an option than the walk to Bae’s icy citadel had been. So we marched, surrounded on all sides, this time winding our way through unfamiliar tunnels.

It was only as we made our way that I realized Bae’s tuxedo was in fact a Climate Suit. I marveled at the engineering genius and unbelievable expense required to fit all the gravity compensators, temperature controls and power relays into what appeared to be a traditional set of clothes. The man’s conspicuous displays of wealth would even make most Gilded uneasy.

Finally, we reached the Charity Dorm, and stopped in front of Joe’s cramped room. Paulie was curled up at the door, fast asleep. I dug my boot into his Climate Suit, and he snapped to consciousness. A few blinks were enough for him to recognize Bae in the midst of the hired muscle, and in another instant he was screaming, and attempting to push past the unemotional guards to take a chunk out of his family’s nemesis. He didn’t stop when I told him to relax, but he did when I slapped him in the face.

“We are going to listen to what Bae has to say, and you are going to stop acting like a stinking idiot. And I am going to do my best not to tell these goons to shoot.”

The comm panel came angrily and incoherently to life, and I had to repeat the same basic instructions to Joe. Finally, Bae cleared his throat and made his offer.

“Joseph, I have been told yet again, this time by Captain Farrell, that you are still obsessed with your foolish quest to get your claim restored to you. Since we are all familiar and there are no legal authorities about, I will acknowledge that it must be frustrating to be morally in the right and yet so completely thwarted legally.

“I have absolutely no doubt that I could keep your claim from you forever, and arrange either a very unpleasant life or an untimely death as a little added bonus. I could likely even get your brother thrown in as a co-conspirator to defraud me. And I won’t deny I would enjoy it.”

At this point I had to re-establish with the brothers that they were going to shut up and listen.

“However,” Bae continued, “Captain Farrell has something I want, namely one of the last large tracts of land in New York City that has not yet been privately redeveloped. I have a vision of constructing a villa in Carroll Gardens that would be a modern reimagining of the Palace of Augustus in Rome, complete with formal gardens, a triumphal arch, perhaps a few temples.

“The thought of possessing and remaking that neighborhood, which treated me so shabbily, is intensely satisfying. But I don’t think there is any value in dollars or precious metals that would persuade him to part with it. So I am hopeful that he would be willing to exchange his holdings for your lives and your claim.”

Both Beneventos started talking, but finally Joe broke through by turning up the volume on his comm panel: “Captain, there’s no way you can do that for us. You can’t give in to this bastard. I’ll find another way.”

“No, you won’t,” said Bae simply. When Joe started to object, he walked over to the panel and deactivated it. A slight motion of one of the guard’s rail rifle was enough, for the moment, to keep Paulie from jumping in. “Captain Farrell, Tom, you’re simply going to have to decide what matters more to you.”

* * *

It’s amazing that even very smart people so often forget to read the fine print of a contract. Bae wanted Carroll Gardens, and in his eagerness to get his hands on that land, he didn’t fully appreciate that I had sold him the land. I had a very good lawyer, and the language was ironclad, if a bit ambiguous to a casual reader. I had sold him the dirt, not anything that sat on it.

By sinking every penny I had into it, I was able to get each house, store, school and — with the help of a few targeted bribes — even the park pulled up and taken out of there. I personally supervised the relocation of Mad Mike’s. We took it all to Bogota, a town right across the Hudson that was blighted, virtually abandoned, and thus dirt cheap. Like millions of New Yorkers before me who found themselves priced out of the city, I found a home in Jersey. Only I took my neighborhood with me.

Almost everyone came along. By the time Bae had wrapped up his affairs on Ganymede and returned to Earth, the whole neighborhood was put back together. He was pissed, even threatened to come after me. Which was a bit of a worry, considering the guy was Gilded as it gets and quickly making a lot of connections.

But before he could make a move, I got a call from Joe Benevento, asking if I would like an exclusive contract to shuttle their metals back to Earth, in addition to the 50 percent they had sworn would be mine when they struck it rich. Suddenly I went from more or less broke to pretty damned Gilded, myself. And people tend to like me more than Bae, so he had to be content with his schlocky Roman villa.

My life got kind of boring after that. Eventually the Benevento boys came home and settled in Carroll Gardens West. The three of us all found women willing to tolerate us, and we had kids and asked each other to be the godfathers. From time to time we would go visit Sophia, even though the Alzheimer’s had progressed and we weren’t sure she recognized us. Sometimes she would wave for us to come closer around her bed and would wrap us as best she could in a group hug. It felt like a family.

Eventually she slipped away. I can’t remember much of her funeral, not even what the weather was like or whose house we went to for drinks afterwards. All that I remember was Paulie hugging me, a hug that had no pretense of manly reserve.

When I changed out of my black suit that night, I discovered a small felt box that contained Sophia’s ring, my mother’s ring, and a note that said, “Thank you for letting me hold on to this for a while.” I never asked Paulie whether he or his grandmother had written it.

Copyright © 2011 by Dan Reed

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