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Living Standards

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents

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 5: A Visit to a Doctor

Late the next morning, as promised, Bain arrived to take Jiri car-shopping. DeShaun took the driver’s seat and Jiri sat with Bain in the back.

As they departed the Gates’ compound in the Governor’s huge, silver limousine, Jiri once again had the opportunity to gawk at the realm of the wealthies, a realm he was now a part of but that was still as mysterious to him as the remote locales that he’d been studying in his classes. They rode on a winding, two-lane road that seemed to Jiri, used to the chaos of the enclave, to be nearly deserted. In fact, it was supporting a steady stream of light auto traffic.

“DeShaun,” said Bain, leaning forward to stick his head through the glass partition that separated driver and passengers, “take a right here and stop at this tall office building. I need to run a quick errand before we go to the dealer.”

As DeShaun parked, Bain said, “Jiri, come in with me, please.”

They endured the blazing, humid heat for only five steps before entering the frigid office tower lobby. Jiri looked around in confusion, unsure what all the doors were for.

“We’re going up to twenty-seven, here’s an elevator,” Bain said.

Jiri stood still, not knowing what to do.

“Step into the elevator, the one with the light on above the door.”

The door began to close, Bain reached forward and held it, Jiri hesitated as he stepped in. “It’s such a tiny room. Why are we going in here?”

“It’s a machine that takes us up to the floor we need to be on in this building. Do you feel the sensation of movement? We’re going up.”

The floor suddenly seemed to fall from his feet. Jiri panicked, but then the door opened and, prodded by Bain, he strode quickly out of the elevator. “Wow, that was so weird!”

“Shh, I don’t want people to notice you,” Bain warned. “Quickly, into this door.”

The door said Justin McDermott, MD.

The stood in a small room with no chairs, just a door to the right and a window filling the rest of the small wall, behind which a woman looked up to greet them. She was young and very pretty, and she wore the same black and blue makeup that Jiri had seen on Mira. When her eyes met his, he knew she liked him, and that he liked her.

“Governor Bain,” she said, “go right in.” Her eyes followed Jiri as they walked through the door to the right of the glass window. He flashed her his most winsome smile as he walked. They didn’t break eye contact until he rounded a corner.

Bain seemed annoyed, nervous, even jealous, mumbling, “I didn’t want to draw any attention to you, but you’re just too damned good-looking, and now you’re in all those commercials. I’ve got to be really careful about taking you out in public.”

They entered a small examination room where a thin, gray-haired man in a white smock stuck his hand out, warmly saying, “Governor, what a pleasure and honor to see you again!”

“Hi, Justin,” Bain said tautly, still unable to cover his nervousness. “This is Jiri, my nephew.”

“Oh, really, a family member I didn’t know about?” the doctor said, raising an eyebrow.

“Look, Justin, he is my nephew as far as you’re concerned, and you’d better stick to that story.”

“Now, Governor, you know you can trust me, don’t worry for one second, I would never betray you. So what is the young man’s problem?”

“To put it simply, he is unvaccinated.”

“Oh, no immunizations for the usual diseases? We can fix that right away.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant the, well, the thing we can never talk about.”

The doctor’s face abruptly transformed from friendly to fearful. He took a deep breath. “I have to make a complete record of every dose. If I lose track of even one dose, I’ll lose my license to practice. How do you propose we handle this?”

“Say you gave it to me, that the first time didn’t take.”

“OK, I could do that. It would require the falsification of an immunity test, of course. That could land me in prison.”

“I’ll give you ten thousand if you do it.”

The doctor’s face went from fearful to shocked. “Why is he so goddamned important? You know very well, Jack, that it’s reserved for only the elite. Is he a member of the elite now?”

“Yes, as far as I’m concerned he is. Look, let’s just do this, OK? No more questions.”

The doctor stood motionless, considering the situation, then said, “I don’t suppose I really have a choice. OK, pay directly, don’t let that receptionist know what’s going on. She’s awfully young, and well, I guess you and I are like peas in a pod.”

Jiri grimaced, realizing that the receptionist was something more than just an employee.

The doctor hurried out of the examination room, returning a minute later with a syringe. “Push back your sleeve, young man,” he said, businesslike, emotionless.

Jiri had no idea what the syringe contained. He didn’t trust Bain, and he certainly didn’t trust the doctor. “Wait a minute, what are you doing to me?”

“Jiri,” Bain said in his oiliest, most soothing voice, “I’m taking a tremendous risk for you here. Take the shot, you’ll never regret it. But I can’t tell you why. Please, believe me, beautiful. It’s because I love you.”

A wave of revulsion swept over Jiri so strong that he had to turn his head and take a deep breath.

Bain tried again. “Jiri, I would never do anything to hurt you, please take the shot.”

Now Jiri was convinced that something was wrong. He made a rush for the door, but Bain caught him, wrestled him onto the examination table, and used all his strength to immobilize Jiri’s left arm.

Through clenched teeth, Bain shouted, “Do it! Before he squirms away!”

The doctor jabbed the needle into Jiri’s arm, pushing too hard. A sharp stinging pain ran down his arm to his fingers. He winced, but he was determined not to make a noise. The needle came out, Bain relaxed his grip, and Jiri bolted out the door, fearful they would try to do something else to him.

“Let him go,” Bain said, sighing. “He doesn’t know how to use the elevator.”

“I’d be careful with him if I were you, Governor,” the doctor warned. “He’s likely to cause you a whole lot of trouble.”

Bain shook his head sadly. “I can’t help it; I’m totally infatuated.”

“Know what you mean,” the doctor said, nodding in the direction of the reception desk.

In the elevator lobby, Jiri sulked, unwilling to look Bain in the eye. They said nothing until they were back in the limousine, then Bain whispered, “See, it didn’t hurt you. You’ll be fine, now let’s get in a better mood and get you that car.”

Jiri had no idea what kind of car he wanted, so Bain quickly chose a model, nervously inspecting everyone in the dealership to determine whether they were looking too closely at his alleged nephew, making sure that DeShaun, who would be driving it for some time to come, approved.

As soon as the transaction was completed, Bain hurriedly departed. Jiri sat in the front seat next to DeShaun, in a better mood, feeling no effects from the shot beyond a bruise on his left arm.

“That dude sure is high-strung!” DeShaun said with a chuckle. “He about driving me crazy. Glad he’s gone.”

“Me too, DeShaun. Don’t repeat this to anyone: I hate him. I wish he were dead.”

DeShaun nodded, sighed, then turned to face Jiri saying, “Hey, my man, what about we go see your parents?”

“Yeah! I’ll call mama on my comm. Dad’s at work, probably.”

His mother answered, and once she heard that he wanted to visit, her face lit up so much that even on the small comm screen, he could easily read her delight. “That would be wonderful! But we’ve moved. The money the Gates send us allows us to live in a small apartment near the Interstate now. It’s a much better neighborhood.”

She gave DeShaun the coordinates. “Man, glad to hear they’re not down where y’all used to be,” said DeShaun. “I’d need my weapon if we was gonna go there!”

Half an hour later, Jiri was hugging his mother in the entryway of a large brick building, ancient but well-maintained. She proudly led him up the steps to their top-floor apartment, a palace compared to the lean-to they’d inhabited for so many years. The simple flat had a separate kitchen, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms.

“And everything works!” his mother exclaimed. “The stove, the refrigerator, the toilets, the cooling system; and comm reception is good, too! And, not only that, your father got a five-dollar per day raise! Isn’t that wonderful?”

Jiri smiled and nodded. He’d probably earned more than five dollars from net sales in the time it had taken his mother to speak her last sentence.

“Mama, I’ve wanted so long to tell you something, but I haven’t because I didn’t know what you would do. But let me ask you something. What if I could get you a house and a car out in the wealthy districts? Would you like that?”

“But how could you do that? And how would your father get to work from there?”

“No, Mama, he wouldn’t have to work any more. Believe me, I can do it!”

She shook her head and laughed. “Your new surroundings are going to your head, son. But it’s a nice fantasy, I agree with that.”

“No, Mama, I can do it. But you have to promise not to stop me from doing what I’m doing, or it will all end.”

He told her everything, the movies, his stardom, even about Bain. She sat silently, her hand going to her mouth in shock at each new revelation. But at the end of it all, she nodded and sighed, “Yes, I understand why you want to keep doing it. You are beautiful, of course your father and I noticed this. So naturally I feared this might be happening. But I don’t see any evidence of injury, and their abuse only seems to be making you stronger.”

“That’s right, Mama, but someday, when I’m older, I’m going to get even with them. It’s how I keep myself going every day, knowing that I’m going to get back at them.”

“They’re giving you quite a lot in return I must admit.”

“And they’re getting even more. John Chester told me the Gates keep sixty percent of my earnings, and still I’m wealthy enough already to buy a house in their neighborhood. Imagine how much money they must have! John says the really big money buys more than things, it buys power, and power is what the Gates and Bain want.”

She sat silently for a moment, staring into space, then said softly, “Jiri, my dear, beautiful son, keep your money for the present; we have enough to get by. I’m feeling better now that I can afford to see a doctor, and your father has a better job, so don’t spend all your money on us now. When the time is right, we’ll all live in that big house in the wealthy zone together. Meanwhile, now that you have a way to move around, let’s see each other every week at least.”

“OK, let me know if you need anything, anything at all.”

“Of course I will. But you’d best play this relationship with Bain wisely, son. Take what you can from him, but don’t make an enemy. He is a dangerous man.”

“I can’t hide my disgust from him. He sees it, but it’s weird, he doesn’t seem to care.”

“No, he’s blind with passion right now, but passion never lasts. Try to string him out as long as you can, and when he finally cools off, be gracious, be kind. Get your revenge when you’re sure you can destroy him completely, not before.

“If you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to be really good at controlling your feelings. Your feelings can be your undoing. Keep them under your command, and, with your looks, your intelligence, you will always win.”

He couldn’t doubt the truth of her words, so deeply and profoundly wise. He thought about Bain slobbering over him like a love-struck puppy, taking ridiculous risks for a doomed infatuation. He could best Bain if he were more careful, more deceptive. Yes, he could do it. He had to.

Proceed to Chapter 6...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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