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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 13: Persuading Bain

Jackson Bain’s penthouse office sat atop the tallest building in Lake Forest: seventy stories, a monument to state-of-the-art engineering, looking like a swooping crescent moon of silver and glass. His favorite part of the office, the place where he kept a desk, backed into the point at the very top of the crescent, creating a room of disorienting lines and a sloping ceiling so low that Bain had to duck low to reach the point at the very edge of the crescent that held his office chair.

He sat there as though suspended without support, facing Jiri, who faced Bain and a wall of windows that looked up, out, and down, with no indication at all that they were directly attached to the ground. In the foreground Jiri saw a sea of lush green that hid the posh houses of the Lake Forest wealthies and, farther out, the deep azure of Lake Michigan, almost purple in the late afternoon sun.

“There’s just no way that the Supreme Council is going to grant across-the-board wage increases and an old-age pension and full cradle-to-grave health care. Come on, we took that stuff away a hundred years ago. If we give it back, the economics will once again drive all the jobs offshore.”

Jiri shook his head forcefully. “A hundred years ago, you would have been right. But today, China and India actually have considerably higher costs than we in Greater North America. I’ve worked the numbers. We can do this and still be cost-competitive.”

“If you give the poor something, they’ll only want more. It’s a slippery slope, they’re never satisfied. No, I can’t present your plan to the Supreme Council. Forget it.” Bain waved his hand dismissively, and pushed back from his desk, not realizing that his studied body language was something Jiri could easily recognize as subtle manipulation.

“OK, Jack, if logic isn’t going to be persuasive, let’s consider just how much the members of the Supreme Council really know about each other. Do they know who the child molesters are?” Jiri stared intently into Bain’s eyes, gratified by the look of shock his statement created.

“You would never reveal that!”

“They certainly know about me, Jack. Probably half of them have watched one or more of my videos. But what do they really know about you?”

Bain sat silently, staring at Jiri, his eyes flickering. Jiri waited long enough to ensure that he’d created the necessary tension, then laughed. “I don’t want to do that, Jack, I really don’t. To be sure I don’t, all you have to do is present the plan. You can even say it was my idea and you thought it might have some merit. Then let me defend it.”

“I advise you: don’t push me too hard, Mr. Lee. While you work for me, I can keep an eye on you and, I admit, that was a factor in my decision to ask you to come on board. But if you start dangling this over my head, I warn you...” Bain’s voice rose with anger as he spoke. His index finger wagged in warning close to Jiri’s nose.

“There are what, Jack, maybe eight or ten other boys whom you’ve molested? I’m not the only one. How do you keep them from outing you?”

“They’re well taken care of, and know full well that they’ll be dumped at the entry of an enclave if they can’t keep their mouths shut.”

“An expensive vice,” Jiri muttered, his eyes drifting toward the deep blue of Lake Michigan in the background. “OK, warning understood.” His eyes returned to Bain’s. “Just tell them I have a presentation, let me do the rest.”

“Well, if I say it was your idea, I might be able to survive that. And if we frame it as a way to put down the growing restlessness in the enclaves, the increasing talk of revolution, the loss of control we’ve experienced in certain areas, they’ll probably pay attention. You know, the more I think about this, the more I realize that it’s a good idea at least to discuss it.”

“Tell me more about the loss of control. Might help my argument.”

“The enclaves around old Seattle and in most of the Californias are basically autonomous. They’ve got their own police, army, everything. They’ve even taken over the Clavenet and are broadcasting their own content. The Council tried to send the army in, but the commanders said they wouldn’t fire on their own people. You might as well call the west coast states an independent country at this point.”

“Ah, that explains why we’ve lost touch with our affiliates in that part of the country. It’s been months since we’ve heard from them, and no one has been willing to tell me why. Any other trouble spots?”

“Right here, in the area around old Chicago, there’s a methodical outsourcing of police services going on. We’ve gotten reports of revolutionary ideology being discussed. But the Council seems impotent to stop it. There’s more, but those ought to be enough for you to make a case.”

“Good, next meeting’s in three days. Can we get it on the agenda?”

“I’m on the agenda already. We could use that slot for your presentation. I’m warning you, this won’t be easy.”

Bain’s eyes wandered toward the ceiling for a moment, then he took a sharp breath and added, “You know, if we’re going to present something like this, I’d like to do it in person. You and I are both experts at reading body language, and we never get to see all the advisors that sit in on these meetings when we do the teleconferences. They sit off in the shadows, out of camera range. Let’s take the company rocket plane to Washington the night before. I’ll have everything arranged. We can leave from the pad above us.”

Jiri spent the rest of the day preparing his presentation, but as he did, he considered what Bain had told him, how important it was for the Council to feel an urgent need for action. Maybe he could up the ante just a little more. Once he’d left the building, once he was on the street, he dialed Mira’s number.

She answered quickly. “Hey, Jiri, what’s up?”

“Seattle, Mira; the Californias. They’ve already broken free.”

She was silent for a few seconds then said, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. Thanks.”

“Better say good-bye now.”



“I think it’s going even faster than I thought it would. You need to make your case for reform soon.”

Proceed to Chapter 14...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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