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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 42: Queenstown


Jiri and Lea spent two days in the bedroom, emerging only when his mother gently tapped on the door and announced a meal. At the end of the second day, over a dinner of roast lamb and kumara that a neighbor had taught her how to make, she said, “After all that time in the bedroom, and all these meals I’ve cooked for you, I’d better get a grandchild out of the deal!”

Lea laughed and said, “I think the odds are good. Stay tuned eight months and twenty-eight days from today!”

Two weeks after Jiri had arrived in Queenstown, Jack Bain called. “I’ve got a place in Christchurch,” he said. “That means I’m on the South Island, just like you. I can drive down and visit whenever you’d like me to. I’d love to see Queenstown, and you all could come over here too. It’s really beautiful.”

“Like I said before, let’s give it some time,” said Jiri. I’ll let you know when we’re ready for that. But what are you doing, Jack? I can’t believe you’re just sitting around soaking up the sun and visiting vineyards.”

Bain laughed. “A lot of the power structure of the old GNA government is in exile in this area. I’ve been talking to them. General Peart especially. We’re planning our return. Those clavies will never be able to run such a huge country. Why it’s already broken up into two countries, did you know that? The Western Enclaves and the United Enclaves in the east.”

“No, I didn’t know that, Jack, but I’m not surprised. Seraphin was turning into a Stalin, but the westerners seemed a lot more moderate.”

“Right, so mark my words, they’ll be at war in no time, and then we can ally with the westerners and—”

“Jack, Jack! Listen to yourself! What happened to living in the moment? You’re back to plotting, dealing, making yourself miserable.”

“True, but there’s a good reason. I’ve been talking to a local immigration attorney here. She says that my asylum request is running into some serious trouble.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s that video about me that you made with Lifeson and Carlo. I need a Plan B. My attorney says she knows of no country in the world that will take me in if I’m booted out of New Zealand. Nobody wants to harbor a serial child molester. I’m not going back to GNA in chains, Jiri. I’ll only go back as part of a counter-revolution.”

“And how exactly, Jack, do you propose organizing this counter-revolution in the short time you’d have before being booted out of New Zealand?”

“My attorney says we can delay my extradition for months. That gives me time.”

“If I were you, I’d say no more. Plotting the overthrow of a foreign government just might be a crime here.”

“Yeah, it is, as a matter of fact.” Bain paused, then added, “But there is another way for me to wriggle out of this. And that’s why I’m calling you.”


“You could repudiate that video. You could say you did it under duress, that it was all lies, that—”

“Stop, stop! I told you when we were on the rocket plane that I wouldn’t help you. I meant it.”

“I remember. But think about it, Jiri. There were some things left out of that video. Like all the money I gave you, that beautiful house and car, the nice job, the free college education. I put Carlo through an incredibly expensive rehab program. Those things never got mentioned.”

Jiri was silent a moment, long enough that Bain said, “Are you still there?”

“Yes, Jack, I am. And you’re right. If I tell the Asylum Commission about all those things, what I’ll be doing is telling the truth. That sits well with me.”

“Yes!” said Bain. “You’ve always valued the truth!”

Jiri laughed. “Not like you, Jack. Remember what you told me way back when I first met you at the Gates’? You said ‘The truth is for losers. Be a winner like me.’”

“Kind of ironic, isn’t it, Jiri? In the end, it’s the truth that might save me, not all my lies and deceptions.”

Jiri stood and paced in front of his floor-to-ceiling patio window, staring for a moment at the snaggle-toothed, snow-covered Remarkable Range fronted by the impossibly deep blue of Lake Wakatipu. He said, “It’s a risky strategy. You’ll be admitting the abuse but claiming it was part of a mutually beneficial relationship. I have no idea how the Commission will see that.”

“My lawyer is the best,” said Bain. “She’ll know how to spin it.”

Jiri shook his head but said nothing. Bain’s life had been one big risk after another. This strategy was nothing out of character for him. For Jiri, there was little risk in being honest. Anyone could easily discover all the ways Bain had helped him. It was an easy decision.

Finally, Jiri said, “I have to go now, Jack. Let me know when you’ll need me up in Wellington to testify. But one thing: I’m going to tell the truth, whatever questions they may ask.”

* * *

Six months later, and just one week after Jiri had testified in Wellington before the Asylum Commission, he received a call from Jack Bain, whose agitated excitement left little doubt about the nature of his call.

“They granted my asylum, Jiri! I’m here in New Zealand to stay! And in the end, it was all about your testimony. The Commissioners said that you provided mitigating circumstances according to New Zealand law something-or-other and that there was no evidence presented to corroborate a charge of forced child molestation. They saw what happened between you and me as a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

Jiri’s voice was soft and hesitant as he said, “Congratulations, Jack. I trust this means that your plots are at an end now?”

Bain chuckled. “Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I’ve come to realize that there’s no way I can lead some counter-revolution. But no, in the sense that there is something I can do, and that brings me to the second reason for calling you. I want to come down there and visit you so we can—”

“Slow down!” Jiri said forcefully. “We’re not ready for that yet.”

“Please, hear me out. This isn’t a hi-how-are-you kind of visit I’m talking about. General Peart wants to come, too. He’s been talking about how that Hayek Manifesto provided a justification for the clavies to revolt, how it gave them a framework that they built everything on top of.

“He’s come up with the idea of writing a new manifesto, one that emphasizes the rights of the individual and the stability of society. Hayek is all about taking: taking from the wealthy to give to the poor. But he fails to offer a realistic vision of a society after the revolution.”

“You’re right,” said Jiri. “I told Mira long ago that Hayek was just communism dressed up a little differently. Communism didn’t work, and neither will Hayekism, or whatever you’d want to call what they’re doing in GNA now.”

“Exactly! General Peart and I want to comb through the great ideas of the past and come up with a synthesis that works in our time. And he suggested that we use your considerable writing and communication skills to create something impactful, something that will move people to action.”

“I’m not willing to extol the virtues of concentrating wealth, or of unfettered free enterprise, Jack. That stuff didn’t work either.”

“You’re right. We need to find a middle way. Something that creates a participatory society, a society where there aren’t people left behind.”

“It won’t be easy,” warned Jiri.

“No, it won’t. So let’s get started. General Peart and I are ready. Are you?”

It was a seductive offer, a quest of sorts. Jiri and Lea’s six months in New Zealand had been pleasant, but Jiri’s life lacked direction. This project could give meaning to his life. He didn’t much like the people he’d be working with but, on the other hand, he’d worked with Bain most of his adult life. He knew how to deal with the man.

Jiri took a deep breath and said, “Yet another attractive offer from you, Jack. But this one appears to be free of strings or hidden agendas. OK, I’m ready. Why don’t you both come down tomorrow. I’ll text you the coordinates.”

* * *

Bringing a new life into the world is an act of hope, a wager that the future is worth living for. Despite everything they’d experienced, Jiri and Lea never gave up their dream of a happier future. And so, nine months and three days after Jiri arrived in Queenstown, the nation of New Zealand welcomed its newest citizen, DeShaun Chester Lee.

Just minutes after returning home, Jiri and Lea stood over their newborn. Jiri’s mother joined them. Her eyes sparkled, her whole face was a smile. Never had Jiri seen her so happy.

Jiri said, “Let’s hope that the cycle of history brings him a peaceful time, a time when people respect and value each other.”

Jiri’s mother looked up. She pointed toward the study where they could catch a glimpse of the sun-splashed Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu through the patio window. In front of the window were Jack Bain and General Peart sitting at a large round table, hunched over a screen, their fingers touching lines of text.

“And let’s hope that the work they’re doing with you in there, son, will help create that better world.”

Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski

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