Jack was already running late for work as he stepped off the El train at Adams and Wells in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Not that he was terribly bothered by the time. As a graphic artist, the clock was a malleable alloy. Jack Murphy was a deeply focused guy who brought an almost obsessive quality to his work. Lucky enough to work in a firm that appreciated talent, a rarity this day and age, and a blessing he never took for granted.
A breath over six feet, Jack was thin, with focused blue eyes half hidden beneath the brim of a tan canvas cap. A matching shoulderbag, holding an ipad and a cucumber sandwich was draped across one shoulder of an Urban Outfitter’s army-style jacket. Lengthening straight golden-brown hair poured from beneath the cap. The cap and bag were emblazoned with the logo of Jack’s Avant-garde band, The Exponential.
All around the towering skyscrapers glistened wet in a moment of morning sunlight. There was a strengthening wind, rushing through the canyons of tall buildings. It threatened rain. The moment of sunlight was quickly lost to a canopy of slate gray clouds.
The train bell sounded hollow and flat as the doors closed and the train began to slide away from the station. Jack joined the wild rush on the platform, streaming towards the steps to Wells Street below. Even among the chaos, the shuffling of feet, the hum of the city and rattle of the departing train, he could hear the throng of protesters on the street below. Commuters, blocked by the protest, backed up on the caged steps, some already grumbling.
“Don’t these deadbeats ever work?” snarled a middle-aged lawyer-type in a million dollar suit on the steps below Jack. “The rest of us have jobs!”
He sort of did a quick double-take somewhat uneasily to Jack, growing red-faced, seeming to figure that Jack, dressed as something of an urban counter-revolutionary might be a part of the rabble on the street that was keeping him from over-billing a client.
Jack hardly gave the guy a second thought and changed his watch. The lawyer-dude was right in one regard. Jack was indeed a veteran of a daunting list of activist efforts, from women’s rights issues to anti-war, social justice and environmental issues. His wife Eva, son Jeffrey a new mortgage, the band and a demanding job had merely limited the time he could devote to those causes, while hardly tempering his passions. If anything, the world he expected for little Jeffrey had only made those passions all the more urgent.
Jack could feel the lawyer-guy seething, like standing a bit too close to a campfire. He could feel the grimace as the guy cringed at the idea of having to mingle with all those “smelling hippies” as the Right-wing media called them. Jack thought to say something like “freedom ain’t free,“ or something, but felt the futility of that gesture. In his hand-tailored suit and Underwood leather briefcase, freedom meant excess and privilege, and that any limitations to that excess were tantamount to fascism.
The protest swung into a fever pitch as two big black SUVs screeched to a hard stop at the curb Private security men in suits with ear pieces spilled from the vehicles, joined in rapid coordination by a half dozen-no bullshit looking Chicago cops. They swarmed around two tall figures, each emerging from the vehicles, shielded, mostly, by the throng of agitated citizen activists. A chant of “who’s county? Our country was lost to cries of “corporate criminals” and outlaw ALEC!”
Jack was out of the steps and into the melee at once. Through the swaying and pumping of protest signs he recognized one of the figures. Tall and silver-haired, hunched slightly beneath the protective arm of a security guard was Tom Koffer, who along with his brother Jeremy ran Koffer industries, which had become, of late, synonymous with ever sort of corporate excess and the worst sorts of political influence.
Industry was hardly the proper description for what the Koffer’s did. More they were a couple of rich boys who strategically monopolized markets, keeping just ahead of the legal side of anti-trust laws. And when those laws encroached just a bit too much, they bought up politicians and legislators to craft the laws to suit their business interest.
Someone banged into Jack, nearly slamming him to the sidewalk. He spun reactively, surprised to find a familiar face. Jack knew the guy, who’d begun showing up at Occupy actions and assemblies a month or so before. Jack knew little about the guy, but then, people came and went from the movement. He was stocky and well-built and at time overly curious, but Jack fought the urge to be suspicious. Jack only knew him as Angelo.
“What the fu…!” Angelo turned to Jack, just as suddenly, and instantly ready for a fight. His temper softened when her recognized Jack. “Jack, what are..”
“I’m late for work,” shouted Jack above the din.
“You picked the wrong stop to get off,” he smirked.
“What’s all this about? I didn’t see anything on the OccupyChi. Org announcements.”
“Last minute thing,” Angelo replied. “The Koffer brothers are in town trying to shore up ALEC.”
“The American Legislative Executive Council,” said Jack. “What are they doing in Chicago?”
“All the press attentions, there’s been an exodus from the council; Coke, Intuit, Pepsi, Kraft. Seems all the corporate cockroaches are scurrying from the light.”
“Cool.” Jack checked his watch. “I have to go.”
Jack pressed through the crowd, reaching the corner. He paused and looked back at the adhoc protest. Through the mass of bodies he caught sight of Angelo. From the corner of his eye Jack spied a figure slip from a nearby parking garage. It might has been far less suspicious if the man hadn’t slipped easily through the police cordon. Jack lost sight for a moment until he reappeared, quietly slipping something to Angelo before disappearing again in the crowd.
Look at them down there,” Jeremy Koffer said smugly from the 18th floor conference room. “If they only knew a million assholes could be out in the streets and it would count for shit.”
He was the younger of the two brothers, but Tom was definitely the leader. He always had been. He’d always called the shots, which was fine with Jeremy as long as checks cleared, or so to speak. Tom downed a glass of straight Kentucky bourbon. The others were late. He was anxious. The media attention had turned up the heat on ALEC and threatened the entire network of well-place legislators.
“It’s that fucking Ed Schultz!” Tom snapped, flinging the glass across the room. It bounced off the table and should have shattered before coming to rest in the corner. “Cheap goddamned glass.”
Jeremy frowned. “So we slip back into the shadows and…”
“There are no shadows.” Tom grabbed Jeremy by the tie and dragged him back to the window. “See those scum down there? They are not going away, not until they are taught a lesson.”
Jeremy straightened his tie, feeling the warm flush of embarrassment in his cheeks. “How much does his hurt us really?”
Tom leaned close, his face animated and twisted. “I don’t lose, and I don’t lose to these liberal freakin losers.”
“We lost here, Tom. So what? There is the bigger game, and we are in it to win. Who cares about this one little battle?”
“Because I have spent decades creating all this, and there is no second chance. Do or die. They think this is a game, that a bunch of no job, workingclass losers and college kids can challenge what runs this country? The clock is ticking on this little street revolution.”
Jeremy stepped forward, finding his brother’s eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m done playing. Occupy Chicago will make headlines at the NATO summit in 21 days, but it won’t be for the reason they think.”