John Wickerson sank himself deep in the plush leather seat; swirling around an amber concoction he’d become accustomed to sipping slowly. It’s calledCognacand there are barrels of the stuff deep below ground in a cellar of the ultra exclusive Machiavelli Club. He tilted the heavy glass toward his lips and let the warmth flow over them causing his crooked smile to spread over his face in smug satisfaction.
There is no amount of synthanol that can replace the taste of something real – not to the refined palate. Let the masses ingest corn syrup and other corn byproducts as they pretend to drink real champagne, John preferred to have authentic bubbly if he so desired.
“They wouldn’t even know the difference,” he sighed savoring another sweet sip.
We are in a time when our world needs stability, he thought. As he made himself more comfortable he looked around the room. Old men read; periodicals and other things made with real paper. It was recycled but John thought it better than straining your eyes looking at those abominable tablets for hours on end. He listened to the lilt of pages turning, crinkling sounds, and an occasional cough. There was the smell of tobacco and books, old books, many of the robotic masses hadn’t a clue existed anymore. Powerful men walked through the club without a care or fear of the outside world barging in with its complaints, problems, and filth.
He thought of the club’s namesake while finishing his last sip. President Thomas Nguyen was gone and it needed to be done. John was sure if Machiavelli were alive he would’ve agreed. Changes were about to take place, which the survival of humanity depended on. People like President Nguyen would have progress be “organic” as the new wave of hippies would say or a feat of anarchy, when standing at the edge of such a precipice demanded order.
John Wickerson thought as Machiavelli did, the State or in the case of right now, the Block, was an organism – the ruler is the head and the masses are the body. A strong Block has unity, order, and stability thereby affording the masses happiness and security. A weak Block would be fragmented causing drastic measures to be taken to right it again.
“He would agree with me,” John said to himself. “A leader needs to use whatever means to preserve the head. Even if that means you have to use deception or force as a last resort. People do not understand this they are mindless sheep. Sometimes they have to made do what is best.”
If he took a poll, most of his fellow club members would be applauding his thoughts but there were dissenters at every turn.
Though the bustle spread and the whispers of foul play crept through the halls, the news spread fast even inside these walls, John could never share his involvement in the demise of President Nguyen. There would be stories and questions of why a man who looked the picture of health had a sudden massive heart attack? And why were there rumors that the viewing would be a closed casket?
John flinched when he remembered the condition of the bodies. He and men he’d hand picked went back to the motel to recover them and walked in on a mess. John was more disgusted by the lack of professionalism he’d come to expect when something like this was done than he was by the blood and brain all over the room. He’d made a mental note that he would need to speak with his contact immediately.
He never liked bringing “outside” people in the club but knew it was the ideal place – no listening devices. Some would call it old but John always took the opportunity to correct those who he felt had no right to have an opinion. The Machiavelli Club was classic. It was a place men could go to unwind and speak however they wanted without fear of hurting some fringe group’s feelings.
Outside was a contradiction.
Remnants of the old were everywhere: classic cars, rotary phones, dirigibles… But these things resurrected from a twice by-gone era were put next to modern buildings, high-speed computers, recycling, solar panels, and ethanol. Noise and confusion were abundant and as a result so was the television programming. Imagination, storytelling, and escapism were the luxuries of those who could read books if you had the time to read or the credits to buy. Most of the masses had neither so they were left with the freedom of distraction. Sensational news stories (factual or propaganda) became the new drama, reality TV replaced Soap Operas, and movies, when they were made, were a series of sequels best watched on tablets; movie theaters were dangerous places where innocent people took a big risk to be entertained. If you could find a reputable bootlegger who’d give you a bunch of movies on an InfoChip for a decent price you’d be one of the lucky ones. Many bootleggers worked for the major studios so no one ever felt ashamed when purchasing their favorite films.
Crime trumped everything and there was enough of it for the world to share. Muggers, bandits, and thieves resorted to what they knew best. Violence and extortion hadn’t changed much from the past century. Chess Players evened the score among the glamorous folk – there was an abundance of them, good and bad.
Mr. Braithwaite made sure he always had the best his water and credits could buy, even so, he hadn’t the sway he once did over all of them. John knew his comfort depended on Braithwaite’s perception that he at least had control over Chess Players of quality; it was the reason for his meeting those people in the first place. It was best he be out in front, placing a lid on any potential mistakes that could be traced back to him or his benefactor. He couldn’t shake motel mess from his mind.
“Who did they get, a goddamned nodder?” he said through gritted teeth.
As if to answer his question the club’s gatekeeper walked in his deliberate and quiet manner toward John, who anticipated his arrival and stood from his chair.
“So sorry to disturb you, Sir,” the man said, “but your guests have arrived. Would you like them seated here, Sir.” He looked at the kind face on the elderly man he thought old enough to be his father, as he gestured to the leather sofa behind him near a fireplace. John noticed the man had to be some inches taller than him but kept his back bent so he was eye level. He also saw the man, elegant in his servant’s tuxedo and stark white gloves, never looked John in the eyes – they train them well, he thought.
“No,” he decided. “Do we have someplace out of the way where disagreements in business wouldn’t disturb our distinguished members?”
“Very good, Sir. I’ll arrange it and send for you,” the gatekeeper said and glided without a sound from the room.
Five minutes later a much younger and noisier man led John to one of the anterior libraries. It smelled of old leather, paper, and cigars. The lights were dim but he could see two figures sitting at the end of a long hardwood table. They’d been furnished a large carafe of cold water. There was no hesitation in their desperate gulps as John approached them.
“So you up for the Presidency or you got some cushy job lined up?” the man said beaming with outstretched had.
John ignored his hand, glaring at the woman slopping up every drop of water in her glass.
“Why is she here, Ricky?” he asked pointing to her for emphasis.
“C’mon, man, it’s her crew that’s got the people. She has to be here.”
“No she doesn’t,” John replied.
“Yes she does,” the woman answered. She placed the empty glass on the table. “You heard the man, it’s my fucking crew. We take the shots, we get the creds – and the water,” she said extending her hand.
“Ha, ha. Looks like it’s pay time, John.”
John shot Ricky a look that would kill him if it had the power to do so. He got the message and answered, “Mr. Wickerson.”
“Look, we don’t have time for this bullshit, Wickerson. Just give us what you promised and we can get out of this museum.”
“You junkie bitch!” John said losing his patience, “You wouldn’t be able to set foot in this museum under normal circumstances. But your crew made a damn mess of everything and I need to know the details so I can fix it.”
“Who the fuck you callin’ a junkie, you tight ass mother- ”
“Marjorie!” Ricky interrupted. “C’mon now, we need to get paid. Look, I’ll tell you what you need to know, Mr. Wickerson.”
“No. I’ll tell him,” Marjorie started, “but this jerk is going to show some respect. Or maybe my junkie ass should go to the big boss out there,” she said taking another swig.
“We’re West Side, cocksucker, and I don’t give a damn about this stuffy old club or the old ass men in it. If you try to fuck me and my crew, we’ll burn this place.”
John sighed to relieve his stress. He didn’t like to lose him composure around those who weren’t his equal. He felt it gave them a sense of power they didn’t deserve and he needed to remain calm in order to take that power back.
“TheWest SideBandits. I’ve heard your reputation. Ricky,” he said turning away from Marjorie, “had I known you were going to use those incompetents I would have spoken to someone else.”
“Mr. Wick- ”
Marjorie stood brandishing a blade, “You must really want to test me.”
Ricky, Marjorie, and John sat at the end of the table in silence. John measured his pause before he decided to speak.
“You drink water like the rest of the mongrels. I’ve spoken to professionals, Players. None of them drink water like you two so that tells me you don’t take on many jobs. If you did, you and the ragtags you call a crew would be in abundance.
“And your reputation proceeds you, Madame. Promiscuity and a propensity for lying are not my business but being altered by pills makes me question your ability to do complicated tasks. Now one of you is going to tell me everything I want to know right now or you’ll find the ‘old men’ in this place can be very sprightly when inspired.”
“That shit is just haters telling lies on me,” Marjorie answered.
“Of course it is. And the nickname ‘Crackwhore’, it’s a terrible slander, I get it,” John replied. “I’m not interested in that. I need to know what happened.”
“Look, you didn’t specify you wanted something pretty. You wanted a war and that’s what you’ll get. And don’t forget, we get the spoils.”
“Yeah,” Ricky said. “The way it went down, looks like one of the Rayne pups went in over his head by trying to poach the Shus. You know they ain’t going for that. Word’s going to get out that they lost a big one once the reported chick’s body surfaces. Rayne’s going to get all the credit for that one and the Shuarra will look real shitty to the rest of the clans. They have to save face so it’s off to the races!”
“Why was there such a mess?”
“I told you, man, the kid was a newbie. Besides, no body no proof and it’s all over the wire that the Prez had a heart attack,” Ricky said.
“So are you the one taking his place?” Marjorie asked. “Because that’s going to run you extra. We won’t be drinking like mongrels then.”
“You will if you can’t produce the reporter’s tablet. In fact, you be in an abandoned building feeding the rats. They always seem to get their fill of anything.”
Marjorie looked at Ricky, “You ain’t say shit about a damn tablet. What is wrong with you?”
“I didn’t know about a tablet. Mr. Wickerson, you said to get whatever was left after all this. Wasn’t nothing left. Either the kid or the Shus got it. By now the tablet will be wiped and sold as something new and the creds will be used too.”
“What do you mean ‘wiped’?”
“I thought your smart ass knew everything?” answered Marjorie. “Wiped. You can’t sell a tablet with other people’s shit on it in the Hood. That’s what they’ll do to get rid of it quick – it belongs to someone famous and nobody wants the heat. Someone in the Hood will buy it and use it for whatever but it has to be blank. The creds, those’ll be gone in seconds.”
“Makes sense, if we were talking about thieves but we aren’t. The Shuarra and Family Rayne are not a bunch of shoot ‘em bandits. What would they do with the tablet?” John asked.
“Fuck them, they ain’t special,” Marjorie said, venom spewing from her pores.
“Ricky, humor me. What if they were special? What we they do?”
“Depends on what’s on the tab. If it’s like naked pics, bribery shit, then the word would go out to the highest bidder.”
“Not Rayne,” Marjorie corrected, “the Shuarras would do that. Rayne would go to the tab’s owner and get some water, cash, whatever out the deal. It builds good future relations, they’d say. Shus wouldn’t give a fuck and auction it. Now if you had something a little more hot, the Shus would get rid of it completely, who wants that kind of heat, you know? But Rayne, they’d have a back-up plan before they got rid of it because if the tab is that hot, they’d know it wouldn’t stop coming.
“So I take it what’s on there ain’t no naked pics?”