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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Living Standards: synopsis

In a future world marked by extremes of poverty and wealth, 13-year old Jiri has known only poverty. One day, a wealthy woman appears in Jiri’s enclave, the slum he calls home, and offers his mother an unimaginable amount of money for Jiri’s services. Little do Jiri and his mother know what the woman intends, but they accept. As Jiri grows and prospers in his new life, he becomes involved in a dangerous movement that will change his life and everyone else’s as well.


“The systematic repression and manipulation of the laboring classes is an automatic, self-perpetuating process that becomes an unconscious aspect of the behavior of the wealthy.” — Hayek Manifesto, Introduction

Jack Williams had been thirteen years old when Mariana Gates chose him. At first, it looked like a big mistake. The screen test was a dud, and the wealthy men and women whom she brought to the studio to take a look at Jack all said the same thing: nice looking kid but nothing special.

She’d come very close to dropping him back in Palatine Enclave where she’d found him, but for Mariana, there was always something about Jack, a self-confidence, a fearlessness, that appealed to her. So she kept him in her huge house and studio as a servant. He soon was running the entire operation: scheduling staff, bargaining for better prices from her vendors, supervising upgrades to the massive structure, and at the same time, winning everyone over with his charm. For a boy now only fourteen, his talents were nothing short of astounding.

Jack first saw blue-eyed, blond, tall, wispy, thirteen-year-old Jaden as Mariana first led him into the house, fresh from Lakewood Enclave. Never before had Jack felt such a connection, such a need. Soon they were lovers, something Mariana barely tolerated.

“You shouldn’t tamper with the cash-earning assets,” she’d warned him.

But they were beyond caring about what Marianna thought. For a year Jack and Jaden lived in a rosy haze of infatuation.

Then came the blackest day of Jack’s young life.

Mariana had continued to bring in wealthy men to look at her new finds from the enclaves, and so Matthew Bain, CEO of Bain Communications, came to the house. Jack met him at the door, flashed a winsome smile and turned to lead Bain into the house. But Bain stood still.

“Turn around, young man, let me take a good look at you.”

Jack did as he was told.

“Wow, you’re exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

“But I’m in charge of the household, Mr. Bain. Miss Gates has some very nice young men and ladies for you to see...”

“No, I want you.”

Mariana led Bain into the dining salon and shut the massive double wooden doors. Jack, ear against the polished maple, could hear animated discussion that at times sounded like arguing, but he couldn’t make out the words. For an hour it went on, and then suddenly he heard footsteps snapping on the marble floors. Jack dashed into the study and sat at his computer screen. Mariana entered seconds later.

“Jack, you’ll be going with Mr. Bain. I’ve arranged a great opportunity for you. You’re a very lucky young man.”

“Do I have a choice?” asked Jack, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Of course you do. You can agree to the terms I negotiated with Mr. Bain, or you can return to Palatine Enclave. Which will it be?”

Minutes later, he was riding in the back seat of a gigantic black limousine, Matthew Bain sitting beside him. The man was nervous, excited, almost giddy. Jack didn’t get it. He was nobody, and this man was one of the most powerful people in the world; Mariana had told him that. So why was he so nervous? Jack, never one to be shy, asked him.

“I’m not nervous, Jack, I’m just excited. You’re going to be my special boy. We’ll be doing everything together. Who knows, maybe you’ll even take over my business some day.”

A cold wave of fear ran through Jack. “But I have friends in the Gates’ house. I really liked it there. I...”

“I thought you were smart!” Bain’s nervousness had vanished replaced by clear annoyance. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Not one boy your age in a hundred million gets a chance like this. And you’re worried about missing your friends?”

“Well, OK, sure, I understand,” said Jack. “I’ll just go back and visit once in...”

“Are you insane?” Bain was shouting now. He grabbed Jack’s shoulder and shook him. “What I’m doing here is risky enough. You’ll go where I tell you to go and nowhere else. Forget about those people. They’re nobodies.”

Bain lowered his hand and forced a smile. “Jack, just play along, do what I tell you, and there’s no limit to who you could be. Why someday, you could be Jackson Bain, CEO of Bain Communications!”

“You’d adopt me?”

“Maybe. I need to see what you’re capable of. Mariana said that you were running the whole household.”

“Give me a problem. I’ll show you what I can do.”

Bain smiled, his eyes off to the side, unfocused. He pointed out the window. “There’s your new home, Jack. It’s as big as the one you just left, but it’s just for you and me. Let’s take a look.”

For months Jack existed in a murky stupor, sick and depressed over the loss of Jaden. He survived by plotting Bain’s death. But even after he’d worked out how to commit the perfect crime, he still had to endure four more years of Bain’s physical needs. In return for the use of Jack’s young body, the communications mogul gave him a rapidly-growing bank account but, more importantly, he let Jack have more and more power in Bain Communications.

During the first year Jack negotiated with vendors, buying bandwidth, microwave equipment, towers, trucks, everything the company needed to operate day-to-day. A year after that, Jack had learned enough about finance to work with Bain’s investment team, and the year after that Bain gave him the reins to the Clavenet. Jack had become the youngest executive in the history of the industry.

There was now only one mountain left to climb. Four weeks after Bain formally adopted him, formally made him Jackson Bain, formally put in his will that his adopted son Jackson would inherit all his wealth and become CEO upon his death, Jack reached for it all. He chose ricin: easy to concoct, hard to detect and quick to kill. It solved two problems for him: the old man’s abuse, and the urges of his own insatiable ambition.

And it was only the first of his crimes.

The elder Bain’s body was still warm when Jack arrived at Gates’ Studios. Mariana herself answered the door.

“Why, Jack, what a surprise! Are you here now as a customer?”

“That depends, Mariana. There was a boy here the same time as I. His name was...”

“Jaden,” she finished for him. “Yes, he became quite a star. Did you see his movies? Maybe not. I imagine Matthew kept you pretty cloistered.”

“He made movies? Did someone take him?”

“Yes, Jack, he’s not here any more and while I know where he went, I of course could never tell you that.”

“Never? Do you know who I am now?”

“Jack, regardless of what title Matthew may have bestowed on you, I have customers far more powerful than he or you will ever be. Their confidentiality is the single most important service I provide them.”

Jack stood silently, staring at her thin, hard face, once pretty but now betraying the treatments that could preserve beauty only into the sixth decade. He sighed. “Yes, I suppose I should have known. Well, I guess...”

“Not so fast!” she said. “Come see who’s available now. We have six girls and four boys fresh from the enclaves and at their very peak of perfection.”

“Never!” He turned without saying another word. The chauffeur held the door to his Bentley. He rushed inside, escaping the heat, running from his reality.

Proceed to Chapter 1...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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