127 It“s All About Money
"Can you believe that guy," Jake said to Li Yang the moment they were back inside their room. "A fucking cigar and a cocktail and did you see all that ice? His glass was half full of ice."
"No," Li Yang said stupidly. "I mean, I didn't notice that." He wasn't capable of saying anything intelligent; he was shaken by everything he'd seen and heard in the last hour.
"Fuck, man," said Jake. "It's a real downer, all this local resident bullshit. I mean that whole thing about not being allowed to start a colony. If it's serious, we'll have to go back to New York to get started."
"We can't go back to New York," said Li Yang.
"Correct. We can't. There'll be at least a million people competing for every available bit of space. There were a million assholes competing for every available bit of scrap already, before we left."
"You told that man we can get more precious metals," said Li Yang. "Can you?"
"I'll have to think of something," he said. "I promise you that I'll think of something, sooner or later. Don't worry about it."
"Maybe we should leave and try somewhere else."
"Jesus," said Jake. "Try where? This whole peninsula is great farmland. Great fishing and great farmland. So it's going to pretty much the same, or better, in the New World. And the most precious currency in the near future is going to be food, not gold. People will be willing to pay a small fortune for some food. It's happened before, and it will happen again. It's due. It hasn't happened for a while."
Li Yang had gone hungry often enough to know that Jake had a point. He said:
"What if they tell us they don't want us here?"
"Then yeah, we'll have to go somewhere else," he said. "We'll go across into Delaware - that's the east coast, and it's not far - and see what gives. And if Delaware doesn't work out we'll go south. The southern tip of this peninsula belongs to Virginia. Different state, different governor."
"Three different states have pieces of this peninsula?"
"It's because of historical stuff. Historical stuff is often crazy. Anyway... What we gotta do right now is do our best to convince this mayor guy to let us stay."
"I think it would be a good idea if we had a proper wash," said Li Yang. "Maybe even trim our hair. I have scissors."
"You're going to trim my hair? No fucking way."
"You can do it yourself. And you should shave."
"I'm growing a beard."
"It makes you look like a rat hiding behind a toilet brush."
Jake sighed heavily.
"Okay," he said. He pointed at the bathroom door and added:
"You go first."
Li Yang spent over half an hour in the bathroom. When he emerged, his hands were as clean as he could make them without using an industrial-grade solvent. He had also trimmed his hair and felt he looked much better than he had before, possibly better than he'd looked in a good couple of years.
"You still look like shit," Jake told him, and disappeared into the bathroom. Li Yang examined himself in the mirror over the dresser and decided Jake was just getting back at him for that rat and toilet brush remark. He really looked a lot better.
He prepared and ate one of his MREs, with some misgivings: he had only seven left. Stealing food from a store was no longer a viable option. He was in the middle of farm country, but it was the last day of February; it would be a while before there would be any crops. He worried about where to get food, in one way or another, until a clean-shaven Jake emerged from the bathroom.
"You look amazing, man," he said.
"I don't know," said Jake. He examined himself in the mirror, and frowned.
"I don't know, man," he repeated. "I think I better put on a shirt and a tie."
"You have a tie?"
"I've got several. I can lend you one. It would be a good move if you wore a shirt and a tie, too."
"I don't have a shirt," said Li Yang. "I mean, not the kind of shirt you'd wear with a tie."
"I can lend you that, too. I've brought a couple."
"I don't have a jacket. I'll freeze wearing just a shirt."
"Don't be stupid. The thermometer says it's fourteen degrees in here. It's practically like summer. You know what? You can wear that black V-neck sweater you got over the shirt. It looks good, looks brand new actually. Where did you get it?"
"I can't remember," said Li Yang. It was true. He'd stolen stuff from so many stores in the last eight weeks he couldn't remember what he got where.
He was wearing the black sweater over Jake's blue shirt and tie and Jake was wearing a short jean jacket when Irina came to fetch them for the big meeting with the mayor. She smiled when she saw them and said:
"That's better. You actually look like human beings. Now listen to me. Don't open your mouth except to answer questions. And don't forget to thank Terry for letting you stay tonight. Let's go."
Terence Morello, Director, and John Hardin, mayor and governor, were relaxing over drinks in Morello's room. Harding was a short, bald, fat man with a habit of raising his pinkie when he drank from his glass. He wore jeans and an expensive leather jacket and round wire-framed glasses with lenses that made his eyes seem huge.
He examined Jake and Li Yang for a while after Irina had led them inside. So did Morello, with an appreciative smile: he'd noticed the effort they'd put in improving their appearance.
"Terry tells me you want to start a mint, and actually have the resources to start one," Hardin said. He had a husky voice, as if he was suffering from a hoarse throat.
"Yes," said Jake. Li Yang nodded. Hardin's huge eyes made him feel uneasy. They were very intelligent, calculating eyes. He was sure the mayor will quickly succeed in trapping Jake in a lie.
"A couple of kilos of gold and silver, am I correct? I assume it's mostly silver."
"We've got a quarter kilo of gold," said Jake. "And ten of copper. It was all we could carry, and we figured it's enough to get started."
"You've got more?"
"We got a stash."
"How big is the stash?"
"About five times as much as we have," Jake said smoothly.
Hardin considered this with pursed lips.
"That's not a lot," he said finally.
"I'm also a partner in a mint in New York. Here," Jake said, digging in his pocket. He pulled out a silver coin and offered it to Hardin.
Hardin examined it with a small smile and passed it to Morello. He said:
"Nice. Solomon Mint, eh? Like in King Solomon's Mines?"
"That was the inspiration," Jake agreed. He glanced at Morello, who was smiling at the coin in his hand, and added:
"My two partners in Solomon Mint will likely move down here to join me if I'm doing well. If they do, they'll be bringing the entire stock with them. Not a lot of gold or silver, but they've got over a quarter ton of copper. And they've also got a lot of tin, I actually brought some, too. The plan was to build a small furnace, and smelt bronze. Bronze goes for twice the price of copper."
'Your partners seem to be doing nicely where they are," said Hardin. "Why would they want to move here? Why do YOU want to settle here?"
"We all want to settle somewhere where there is peace and quiet, and where we can do a bit of farming. A safe base from which we could launch a colony in the New World."
"That makes sense," observed Morello. He seemed to have fallen in love with the coin in his hand.
Hardin gave him a contemptuous glance.
"Give me that thing," he said. He gave the coin back to Jake and said:
"I'll be honest with you guys. You're young. In my experience, young guys are usually wankers who think they're gods because they did well in some stupid video game. Do you play video games?"
"No," said Li Yang.
"Very rarely," said Jake. "Never had the time to get into video games."
"That's good," said John Hardin, mayor, governor, and god. "That's very good. It means you have an idea what real life is like. No saves, no reloads when things go bad. You get a single shot to score and if you fuck up that's it, goodbye. I'm willing to give you this shot. I'm willing because you got down here from New York, and that means initiative and at least some brains. Problem is, we're short of land. Lots of people want the same thing you want: a nice, quiet spot to found a colony."
"What about that place we talked about last week?" said Morello.
"Old Fred's cabin?"
"Yeah, that's it."
Hardin frowned and refreshed himself with a big swig from his glass. Then he said:
"There's one thing you have to understand, guys. I run a tight ship here and in the New World. That means no fighting or territorial grabs or any stupid violence at all, in either world. If there's any conflict, it's brought to my attention and I decide what's to be done. If anyone disagrees, they're out. You understand? Out of the New World and out of here, by any means, including clever use of violence."
"I think you'll find we're both peaceful and reasonable," said Jake. "Both here and in the New World."
"Fine," he said. "Like I said, I'm willing to give you your shot. A spot has been vacated by the sad death of someone I personally liked a lot. Make an appointment with my secretary at my office. not tomorrow, because he'll be busy like hell tomorrow. You'll register your mint and sign lease of property papers and pay for your licenses up front, if you like. But you won't be getting any implant kits just yet. I don't want you starting a colony earlier than June, maybe late May."
Both Li Yang and Jake looked really stupid when they heard that, so Hardin added:
"You'll just have to wait your turn. But you can move into your property as soon as you've signed the lease papers, and paid a deposit. You can use the next few weeks to settle in, and get the mint up and running."
"How much is the deposit?" asked Jake.
"One hundred new or ten thousand old dollars."
"Sounds good," he said.
Li Yang didn't think so. He thought it sounded more than bad. But he knew better than to say it.
"All right," said Hardin. He pulled out a card and offered it to Jake.
"Address of the Government House and my secretary's name, at the bottom," he said. "Go and see him early next week. I'll tell him to expect you."
Jake took the card and looked at it. He nodded, and put it away.
"Thank you very much," he said. "We're really grateful."
"Thank you," mumbled Li Yang. He felt Irina's eyes hit the back of his neck like two daggers, so he repeated:
"Thank you very much. For everything."
They were both shuffling to the door when Morello said:
"Hey. You two. I want to see you later. Maybe you can do something for me, and in return I'll let you stay until you can move into your new place. Irina?"
"Can you bring them in at, uh, ten thirty?"
They left the room; Irina stayed. The moment they were outside, Jake said:
"We're in, man. We're good."
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