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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 30: An Assassination and an Opportunity

Car doors slammed outside, awakening Carlo from his nap on the couch. He heard voices tinged with stress, barking in short bursts. He sprang to a standing position, walked to the window of the parlor, and peeked through the curtains.

What he saw astounded him. Five black-clad soldiers carrying assault rifles and wearing dark helmets were positioning themselves at the door. The two in front gripped a two-man battering ram. Adrenaline surged through his body. He ran toward the stairs, down to the basement, and locked himself in the panic room.

The tumblers had barely clicked on the panic room door, as secure as any bank vault, when he heard the muffled crash of the battering ram bashing in the front door. Then he felt more than heard Teresa Walters running down the stairs from her office. She shouted, her words too indistinct for Carlo to understand. He heard no response from the soldiers. And then, shots. So many he couldn’t count. Then silence, next heavy footsteps running outside. One, two, three vehicles started. Their engine noise increased, and then faded away.

He waited, but the suspense quickly became unbearable. So he tapped the code to reopen the door, emerged into the dark basement and listened by the stairs. He heard nothing. He walked as silently as he could up the stairs, pausing again at the top, looking in all directions, listening.

From the stairway, he could see into the entry hall. On the floor was a pool of dark liquid. He rushed into the hall, and saw Teresa Walters face down on the floor, swimming in blood. He couldn’t get close enough to her to check for a pulse or to determine whether she was breathing, but it seemed most unlikely that she was alive.

What to do? He saw her purse on a side table, rummaged inside and found the key fob for her Bentley. But where could he go? He held the fob, standing before the door, or the remains of the door, where hot humid air blew into the house on a stiff wind. He stepped into the broad, semicircular driveway and looked toward the gate. A vehicle was approaching slowly. He considered the possibilities. If they’d wanted to kill him, they’d have gone looking for him in the house. This was someone else. He decided to wait.

The vehicle resolved into a large white labor van. He wondered whether it might be her grounds crew, and when the doors opened and three short, bowlegged, olive-skinned men emerged, all in tight, dark second-skin, he was almost sure that he must be right. But then one of them spoke to him.

“Dude, are you Carlo?”

“Uh, yeah. Hey something’s happened...”

“Yeah, don’t worry about that. We gonna handle that. You come with us, OK?”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, sorry, man. I’m Seraphin Ibañez from United Enclave Services.”

“Uh, OK, so you’re the grounds crew then...”

They all laughed, loud and long.

“Oh man, that puta got you locked up a long time dude! We’re the revolutionaries that took over Lake Forest!”

“Oh yeah? I never quite caught the name of that gang when I saw it on the news. Teresa talked about it. She hated you.”

“I guess that makes us brothers then, right?”

“Yeah. I guess it does.”

Carlo turned his head back to the house, considered taking the Bentley and heading who knows where, then turned back to the UES men. Why not? Maybe it was time he joined them.

“So what you gonna do, dude?” asked Seraphin. “You wanna stay here, you wanna go?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Sure, sure. We got plans for you, dude. But if you ain’t gonna play along, then you can go. Ain’t nothing you can do to hurt us.”

Thirty minutes later, Carlo sat in the front seat next to Seraphin. After recording the crime scene on video, the UES team had put Walters in a zip-up body bag and dumped her in the spacious rear. As they drove, Seraphin questioned him.

“So, Carlo, when they let Walters out of prison last week, you were still in the house. Why was that?”

“Bain told me I could keep living here while I did my rehab. It was nice. I had the whole place to myself and I just went in to the clinic every few days and took some drugs. I’d been totally clean for a month when she came back. I wanted to leave, but I had no money and nowhere to go. At least I didn’t let her give me any more Soma-K.”

“Smart man,” said Seraphin. “But dude, you gotta have been suspicious about them letting her out.”

“No, I thought she had good lawyers or something.”

“Hah! When Bain did his little coup, he ordered her out the first day. Didn’t want to murder her in prison.”

“That’s why she was set free?”

Eso, Carlo. To kill her.”

Carlo shook his head and sat silently. He looked around. They were on the Interstate, heading into the setting sun.

“Where are we going?”

“Got a long drive ahead of us, dude. Going to Joliet Enclave, our HQ. But first we gonna take a little side trip to Lake Forest.”

“What are you going to do with me?”

“We gonna give you a job in Joliet. But first you gotta talk to a reporter about what happened to you.”

“I already did that for Bain!”

“Yeah,” said Seraphin. “But Bain never released that video. He used it to put Walters away. It was evidence held by the court. The whole country needs to see what the Supreme Council is all about.”

Carlo sat in silence while Seraphin exchanged some words in Spanish with his fellow homos every few minutes.

As they pulled into a rest area, Carlo had a thought. “You arrived right after she was shot. How did you know?”

“Grounds crew, dude!” Seraphin laughed. “Yeah, UES does lawns, security, and revolutions. They been watching for this, and we’d been hangin’ out nearby. We knew it was comin’ down soon, so we just holed up ’bout a mile away and waited till they gave us the word.”

* * *

Carlo could hardly believe his eyes as they entered Lake Forest. The Bain Communications Building was riddled with massive holes, as were several of the other taller structures. Second-skin clad troops were everywhere. But the citizens of Lake Forest did seem to be going about their business. The restaurants, vehicle-charging stations, and stores were all open and many people were walking along the streets. The wealthy district sidewalks were still filled with well-dressed people while the poorer areas teemed with citizens in shabby clothes and work uniforms.

They drove into the parking garage of Bain Communications, down several ramps until they were deep underground. One of the homos led Carlo to a windowless metal door. It opened to a long corridor full of people moving purposefully in both directions. They walked four or five doors down the hall, then turned into a room full of electronic equipment stuffed against all four walls. In its center was a large table and at the table were Jiri, Mira, and a man who looked very familiar to Carlo, though he couldn’t say why.

Mira leapt up and embraced Carlo. “It’s so good to see you after all this time!” Tears welled in her eyes, and in his, too. Their years at the Gates’ seemed like two lifetimes ago, but that experience had created a bond that could never be fully broken.

Jiri stood and shook Carlo’s hand. “Nice to see you again. You look good. You look clean.”

“I am,” said Carlo. “At least Bain did that for me.”

“He put you through rehab?”

Carlo nodded.

The third person at the table stayed seated but he smiled up at Carlo. “Don’t know if you recognize me, Carlo...”

“You look real familiar, but I can’t place you.”

“Alex Lifeson. I was a reporter for Cablefox, but I defected to the Clavenet during the Lake Forest attack, when Bain cut me off. We’re going to have a nice long chat on camera, Carlo, and you’re going to tell me everything: about the Gates’ place, about what Walters did to you, about what Bain did to you. You up for that?”

Carlo sat down and smiled. “Oh yeah. You bet I’m up for that!”

Proceed to Chapter 31...

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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