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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

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Chapter 6

part 2: Mira Exiled

“So how are Mr. and Mrs. Lee doing, Jiri?” DeShaun asked him as they were driving back to the Gates mansion from Jiri’s weekly visit to his family.

“Oh, they’re good. They said that this is the first Christmas ever that they’ll be able to give me a nice present.”

“Glad to hear that,” DeShaun said with a smile. “What are you gonna give ’em?”

“I want to give them a house, but they won’t take it. They say they want me to save my money.”

“Wise, very wise. You know, you a big-time guy now, you gotta start thinking big-time. Maybe give them a nice bank account, an annuity, something like that.”

“Good idea, DeShaun. But how do you know about annuities?”

“Well, I suppose you know a few of the Gates’ secrets by now. I can say this...” He paused, looked around and put his fingers to his lips. “But don’t go repeating what I be telling you now.”

“No way!”

“For every secret you know, I know ten, and they know I know. So they take very good care of DeShaun, let me tell you!”

Jiri laughed. “Good for you! Maybe someday you can come and work for me and tell me all those secrets!”

“I’d be most pleased to do that, Mr. Lee, just say the word.”

They sat silently for a moment, and then a question came to Jiri. “My parents said something about snow at Christmas, that when their parents were little, there was snow at Christmas. Do you think that could be true, DeShaun?”

“Oh yes, my grandparents say the same thing. Nowadays it barely cools off in winter, but back then, it used to get godawful cold, and snow and ice and everything. I sure like it better this way!”

“Snow might be fun. I wonder where I could see snow?”

“Maybe up in Alaska, or Russia, I don’t know. Not much snow around any more.” He stopped the car, waiting for the huge gates to pull apart. “Well, here we are, Jiri. Enjoyed it, as usual. You just let me know whenever you want to go somewhere.”

Seconds after he’d entered the main house, walking purposefully toward the garden and South Wing, Jiri saw Lea sitting on a winged chair, her head in her hands. He walked over to her, and as he neared, he could hear her sobbing.

“What’s wrong, Lea?”

She looked up, sprang to her feet and embraced him tightly. Her tears wetted his cheek, he could feel her convulse in sobs as she pulled herself together to whisper, “Mira’s gone. They threw her out.”

“Threw her out? How could they...”

“I told you they can toss out anybody any time they want to. When you stop being useful to them, you’re outta here.”

“But she was working here with you, and making videos, why wasn’t she useful?”

“They didn’t like her. She was sarcastic, her videos never sold that well. So she’s out. Imelda brought in some pretty thirteen-year old nymph from Lakewood yesterday, and every girl here stayed awake all last night worrying, wondering who would be fired.”

Jiri held her, thinking, realizing that he alone could protect his privileged position, that Mira had let fate carry her along, that he could never let himself do that. “So, Lea, where did she go?”

“I don’t know where they sent her. She didn’t come from Lakewood, it was some other enclave in the south. Imelda shoved her into a taxi, paid the driver, told him to lock the doors.

“I saw the whole thing through the open window in the kitchen. I could hear Imelda shouting at Mira, telling her she was useless. I could hear Mira’s screams.”

He wanted to march right to Imelda and demand an explanation. He felt outrage, anger, hurt, but then he remembered his mother’s words. He could not let his feelings control him. Yes, he would hear Imelda’s version, when the time was right, when he could ask calmly, with only the mildest curiosity.

The opportunity came the very next day. Imelda was visiting Jiri in the South Wing to offer him a lucrative commercial role. Just as she turned to leave, he asked, “Someone told me that Mira’s gone. I’d like to keep in touch with her. Could you tell me where she is?”

Imelda stopped in his doorway and turned. “That’s very nice of you, Jiri, you are such a good person. But you’re not a clavie anymore, and you should forget about your clavie associates. Even your parents are out of the enclave now. Move on, don’t worry about Mira; she made a modest amount of money while she was here. She’ll be OK.”

“That’s good advice, Imelda, but I liked her, I just want to talk to her. Could you tell me where she is?”

Imelda’s face hardened. “I’m sorry, that is simply not possible. Please don’t press this, Jiri. We are working so well together, making each other lots of money. Let’s not do anything to jeopardize that!”

“Sure, Imelda, I understand. I think the commercial is a great idea. Thanks for bringing it to me.”

She smiled tightly, lips closed, turned and marched briskly down the hallway.

Witch! he thought. I’m going to find her if it takes the next ten years and, when I do, I bet I’ll learn a few more of your secrets, too!

* * *

It took Jiri only one day to discover where they’d sent Mira. When he realized how easy it would be to find out, he laughed at how stupid he had been for not seeing it immediately.

“Hello, Lake Forest Yellow Taxi, what is your destination?”

“Hi, I’m calling because someone you gave a ride to yesterday left something here, and I need to give it to her. You picked her up at 7 Cambridge Lane at about 12:15. Name is Gates. If you could tell me the destination, I could find her comm link number.”

“Sure, one minute.” He heard papers shuffle and tapping sounds. “Well, sorry, but we don’t have an exact address, Mr. Gates, only Joliet Enclave, north entrance. Don’t know whether that’ll help.”

Jiri did his best to sound disappointed. “Oh, I see. That won’t help much but, if it’s all you have, then I thank you anyway.”

He’d discovered where they’d sent her, but tracking her down in the jumbled maze of an unfamiliar enclave would be much more of a challenge.

Jiri found DeShaun eating in the kitchen, sat down and asked, speaking as softly as possible, “DeShaun, I want to go to Joliet Enclave, could you take me there?”

DeShaun choked, coughed, spit chewed food onto his plate. “My man, are you insane? Why you want to do that?”

Jiri put his finger to his lips and, keeping his voice low, said, “Imelda kicked Mira out; she sent her there.”

DeShaun nodded, sighed, and whispered, “She came from there. I was driving when they picked her. Barely got out alive. It’s the most radical enclave, very dangerous for wealthies. I told Imelda never again, and she agreed.”

“But I have to find her, I need you to take me there.”

“You need me to keep you from getting killed, young man! There ain’t no way I’m taking you there. End of discussion.”

“I’ll go by myself then!”

“Well, all I can say Jiri, is that it’s been a pleasure knowing you. Could I have your car once you’re dead? I’m assuming of course that someone could get your car out of that hornet’s nest.”

“It’s that bad, huh?”

He turned his head, eyes focused only on the memory. “They pounded on the car, tried to turn it over. I had to accelerate and hit a few of them — may have killed someone, I’ll never know — before they got out of the way. They were chanting ‘Death to wealthies’ over and over again. And I’m not even a wealthy! Man, I never been so scared.”

Jiri had never seen such behavior in Lakewood, though many people there spoke about wealthies through clenched teeth. He feared that Mira might be tainted by her association with the Gates and thus in grave danger, or perhaps the Joliet clavies might see her as a hero for having been rejected by wealthies.

There was much he wanted to know, but the Clavenet didn’t extend to Lake Forest; he couldn’t reach her by comm, and there was no safe way to look for her. He sat dejected, vowing that he would not forget Mira, that he would find a way to contact her.

Proceed to Chapter 7...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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