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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.

Chapter 17: Runaways

Imelda Gates rushed down the long, curving stairway, turned into the parlor, and saw Bain, sitting patiently, his elbows on his knees.

“Hi, Imelda,” he said, looking up. “Is Paco ready for me?”

“Jack, we’re having a bit of a problem with Paco, I’m afraid.”

“OK, if he’s not up for it, I can come and see him another night.”

“No, I don’t think so. You see, he’s not here. Nobody’s seen him since lunch. The performers are very tight-lipped. They used to cooperate, try to help me, but now they don’t even try to hide their contempt. I think he’s run away. I doubt we’ll ever see him again.”

Bain sighed, shook his head. “Second one this year. Where do they go?”

“Back home, I suppose. We never hear from them once they leave.” She sat on a huge, dark red arm chair, her narrow waist disappearing into its soft cushion. Her knees covered by micro-sheen jeans stuck up awkwardly above her waist.

“Jack, what’s going on? The performers are different: they refuse to do certain kinds of videos, the number of runaways is way up, the fear of returning to the enclave doesn’t seem to keep them here any more.”

Bain sat silently, as though he were far away in thought.

“Did you hear me, Jack?”

“Yes, yes, Imelda, of course I did. Just trying to decide how to respond. OK, we go way back. You’ve taken care of me for a long time. The day has come when I need to return the favor. I’m going to give you some advice. Don’t ask for an explanation, please.”

She stood, walked over, and sat down next to him on the long couch. “What’s going on, Jack?”

“If I were you, Imelda, I’d close down this operation and go to Spain or Australia. I know you have homes in both places. Take a nice, long vacation. Wait for some news from here, at least three months.”

She stared hard at him, finally saying, “No explanations?”

“No. But let me recite some facts for you. You’ve probably had what, maybe a thousand kids here since you started this business? And of that number maybe eight hundred ended up going back to the enclaves. Is that a good estimate?”

“Very close. We’ve had maybe five like Jiri, who became one of us; a few more who’ve become professionals; close to two hundred who are working at various skilled jobs in the wealthy zone. So, yes, around eight hundred are back in the enclaves.”

“And do you think those eight hundred all harbor nothing but kind happy feelings about you?”

“So what? We have the police. I’ve got my own private security. They can’t hurt me.”

Bain shook his head. “Don’t depend on those people, Imelda. The day may be coming when they’ll open the doors to your murderers. That’s all I’m going to say.”

She stared at him, her face full of questions, finally just saying, “How much time do I have?”

“No way to know. Better to get out now.”

“What about the final defense?”

“You don’t want to be here if we use it; trust me on that.”

“What about you?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m doing what I have to do. Maybe we can stop their revolution before it starts. I still think there’s a chance. But when it starts, if it starts, people like you and me are going to be the first targets. I know this as surely as I know that the sun rises in the east.”

Proceed to Chapter 18...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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