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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 41: The Scapegoat

The suffocating heat and humidity had little effect on Mira as she marched briskly through the narrow lanes of Joliet Enclave, always aiming south despite the many looping diversions she had to negotiate.

A final turn revealed a complex of gleaming white massive structures, at least fifteen of them, looking like ten-story warehouses. Some were new while others were former farm implement factories now converted into offices and residences and used by the new leaders of Greater North America. She stopped and stared a moment at this new city within a city, realizing that she stood before the new center of power for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Mira found Building Seven and set her eyes into its iris reader. It flashed green. She looked up and nodded to the two guards who stood at the entrance. A wall of frigid air hit her as she strode inside. She climbed a flight of stairs and opened a door labelled Chairperson, Revolutionary Council.

And then Mira stopped in her tracks. The space, as large as a luxury penthouse in a Manhattan tower, enveloped her in wood paneling, sumptuous furnishings, and thick, tastefully gray carpeting. At first, she couldn’t even see Seraphin, but then she noticed his black hair peeking just above a huge desk that sat below a beautiful painting of colorful spring tulips.

“Dude!” she said in a hesitant voice. “Like, what’s going on here?”

“Hey, Mira!” Seraphin stood and faced her. “That’s right. It’s your first time here, isn’t it! Nice, eh? We got it all from some law offices that we looted in downtown Lake Forest.”

“I thought Hayek said that we should never adopt the ways of our oppressors,” she shot back.

Seraphin waved his hand and, with a sheepish grin, replied, “We don’t gotta do everything Hayek says. Besides” — he lowered his voice — “why not enjoy the fruits of our victory? Is nice, no?”

Mira sighed and looked around. Seraphin directed her to an area with a long couch and two huge overstuffed armchairs, all upholstered in a plush, muted purple fabric. He sat on the couch, and Mira joined him there. She sat on one of the chairs. “Okay, why did you invite me here?”

“Kendrick!” shouted Seraphin. “She’s here.”

A door opened, and Kendrick Drake emerged, wearing a sharp, charcoal-stripe, silk suit, a pale lavender shirt, and a matching darker lavender tie. Mira couldn’t suppress a shocked gasp. She’d never seen Kendrick in anything but the scruffiest of clothing.

“Stylin’, dude!” said Seraphin. “Where you get that?”

“Found them in a shop in downtown Lake Forest. Told the tailor there he could fit me or he could join the army. He made the right choice.”

Mira shook her head. “You guys just don’t get it.”

Kendrick’s expression darkened. He sat on the couch and said quietly, “No, Mira, you don’t get it. We won. Everything’s different now. We’re in charge. You can keep wearing that second-skin if you want; I got no problem with that. But I’d rather look the part of a leader now.”

Kendrick shifted in his seat and glanced at Seraphin, as if to say you or me. When Seraphin didn’t react, Kendrick sighed and continued. “Like I said, we won, and that’s why you’re here. We got some unfinished business, and I think you know what it is. How can we move the revolution to the next phase when there’s this cloud hanging over us?”

“Bain’s escape,” said Mira.

Eso!” said Seraphin.

“Hey, look, Seraphin,” said Kendrick, “we gotta start speaking English now. It’s the official language of—”

“What are you sayin’, dude?” Seraphin was on his feet, shouting. “What are you sayin’?! Clavies are what: eighty percent Spanish speakers? Come on!”

Mira sighed again. “Let’s get back to Bain. I assume you talked to that fat guard?”

“Yeah,” said Kendrick. “Gary Wilson is his name.” Kendrick turned to face Seraphin. “Native English speaker, Gary Wilson.”

Seraphin waved his arm and looked away.

“Okay,” Kendrick continued. “Gary says that you, Mira, told him to let Jiri have the run of the place. He says Jiri put a bag full of something — he doesn’t know what — in Bain’s cage. That night, Jiri and Bain both disappeared during the evening meal. A certain rocket plane took off from the holding pad at 7:53 pm that night. That rocket plane landed in Auckland, New Zealand some three hours later. We have it from reliable sources that Jiri Lee and Jackson Bain got off that plane.”

“What are you gonna do, Kendrick?” said Mira. “Take me out and shoot me, like you did to Wilhouse?”

“We don’t know what to do, Mira,” Seraphin said. “But I want to know why you’d do such a stupid-ass thing.”

“What did I do? I told the guard to let Jiri give Bain a bag.”

“We found four stunned guards at the holding pad,” said Kendrick. “Now how did they get that way? You must have given Jiri those weapons. How else would he get them?”

Mira stood, walked to Kendrick and loomed over him. “Yeah, I did give them to him. And you want to know why? Because of you, Kendrick. When I suggested we offer Jiri safe passage, you all but said you wanted time to build a case for executing him. Jiri couldn’t fly that plane. Bain was his only way out. I had no choice. It was a package deal: Jiri and Bain or nothing.”

“Why do you care about that pretty-boy wealthy anyway?” shouted Kendrick. “He was Bain’s right-hand man. That’s after he was Bain’s butt boy. And he admitted it on the video with Lifeson. Yeah, he helped us some, but we don’t need his kind in our organization.”

“Dude!” said Seraphin. “What you mean, his kind? You seem to forget how much those former sex workers have helped us. We got a couple thousand of them in the UES police. They’re good people.”

Mira had been staring daggers into Kendrick and now added, “That’s why you want to get rid of him? Because of your own prejudices? I’d think an African-American man like you—”

“Don’t lay that African-American crap on me, Mira!” Kendrick’s eyes were huge, his fists clenched. “I don’t trust him, and I just don’t like the guy. Got it?”

Mira clenched her own fists in anger. “So you scared him to death, and you scared me to death. The bottom line: you led to Bain escaping. All because you ‘just don’t like him.’ Maybe we should take you out and shoot you, Kendrick.”

“Who gave Jiri the guns? Who helped him and Bain escape?” asked Kendrick. “That’s who we take out and shoot.”

Mira held Kendrick’s glaring eye-contact until he sighed and looked away. They all sat silently for an awkward moment, then Seraphin said, “So we still got no solution. Somebody gotta pay for Bain getting away. It’d be better if it wasn’t one of us three.”

Kendrick nodded. They continued sitting, staring at the beautiful, thick, gray carpet. Mira became aware of the muted sound of drilling coming from what must have been a still unrestored part of the building.

Then a smile rose on Kendrick’s lips. “Mira, that bag, it just had some bread you’d baked for Bain, right? You felt sorry for him and asked Jiri to take it there. But Gary Wilson, that fat bastard, he admired Bain, wanted to save him so he could come back and overthrow us. It was Wilson who got the guns and gave them to Bain, and it was Wilson who helped Bain stun the guards at the rocket plane pad.”

Seraphin nodded. “Yeah, dude. You on the right track there. You know, I bet we could get those other guards that Gary Wilson works with to back up that story, to say that Gary kept talkin’ about how Bain was a good guy, got a bad rap. Stuff like that.”

“I’ll get right on it!” said Kendrick. “We should have all the evidence we need by tomorrow, latest.”

Kendrick sprang to his feet and walked briskly out of the office. Mira stood, shaking her head and yet staring into Seraphin’s eyes. “What about Jiri’s disappearance? This story you’ve concocted doesn’t cover that. People are going to wonder what he was doing, putting a bag in Bain’s cage. And isn’t the news that they arrived together in New Zealand going to get out?”

“No,” said Seraphin, “we control the Clavenet, and that’s the only source of news for just about everybody in GNA now. If it starts going around that Jiri and Bain arrived together, like you say, we’ll blow it off. We’ll just say it’s ridiculous. Bain abused Jiri. Jiri hates him. We can replay that video he made with Lifeson where he talks about the abuse. Why would Jiri and Bain escape together?”

Mira shook her head slowly, sadly. “So this is what we fought for? This is what all our ideals come down to? Telling the people lies? Inventing fantasies and selling them as the truth? Making Gary Wilson take the fall for Bain’s escape?”

Seraphin leaned forward until his forehead touched hers. His voice was little more than a whisper. “Mira, you taught me a lot. I think it’s time now I taught you something. This ain’t about ideals anymore. This is about power. Somebody gotta take the fall. If we let it ride, we look weak. If we look weak, somebody else gonna think he can run all over us. If you got a better plan, one that saves Gary Wilson and don’t involve a bullet in your brain, now’s the time to tell me.”

Mira considered that a moment, then looked down and, in a sad, small voice said, “I don’t.”

Proceed to Chapter 42...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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