The corporate offices of Midamerican Defense, Inc. took up the top five floors of the historic Hancock building in downtown Chicago. They were extremely impressive, in both form and function. The Chairman Founder's office was, of course, the most impressive.
It mostly annoyed the Chairman Founder himself.
"You are being irrational." Paul Davies said, his tone blunt but not angry. It wasn't actually possible for him to be angry at his Boss. Paul Davies was 24 years old and the man that he was now calling irrational had been more of a father and friend to him than any human being on the planet. He had rescued him, through an arm of the company, from the squalor and hunger of the refugee camp just outside the city where he'd been born and spent the first six miserable years of his life. This was the man who had fed and clothed and educated him until that education took and he started to fly. This was the man who had noticed that first awkward flight and offered him an apprenticeship.
This was the man he owed his life to.
But goddamit right now he was being irrational!
William J. Benton, Chairman and Founder of Midamerican Defense, Inc. just grinned at his young foster son and executive assistant. The boy was incredibly sharp, nine ways to Sunday, but dull when it came to real bullshit like this.
"By strict definition, you are right. As usual. But the real world pays very little attention to strict definitions, Paul. You should know that by now."
Paul sighed. The same man who had introduced him to the glory and power of rational thought would abandon those principles when matters such as the one that confronted them now cropped up. From what he could gather, it had to do with a sense of 'honor' and a sense of 'justice' that moved beyond logic into the tangled wilds of emotion. A very controlled emotion, no doubt -- and highly situational. Still, it struck the younger man as wrong.
Benton, 10th richest man in the world, stood up after a moment, the tall, thin frame impeccable in Armani that seemed to nevertheless lie uneasily on him, as if he had never shed the burning steel of a childhood on the South Side of Chicago, or the equally unyielding spirit born during the Second American Revolution, which Benton had fought on the blasted streets of his city for a decade. His Boss was a hero of that great conflict; one of the 10,000 that had, in the end, stormed the Cheyenne Mountain complex -- shedding lives like a snake sheds skin -- to pull the last surviving powerwhores from their nest to try them for the crime of transforming the once great experiment of America into a jackbooted police state. "What exactly troubles you about my decision, son?" the Boss asked finally, taking in the grand view of the city he'd also helped rebuild. His ebony skin gleamed in the late evening sunshine, and he was perfectly calm and content.
"The client was offered a generous settlement. The largest ever offered for such a transgression..."
Benton turned on him, anger in his eyes.
"Generous, Paul? Transgression? Our client, son, lost his two granddaughters. The pig who raped and murdered them wants to buy him off. Let's not play doublespeak."
"One hundred and seventy five million. Gold dollars." Paul said, as if those numbers held magic.
Benton brushed them away. "Meaningless if it's not accepted."
"But the precedent..."
"It's a precedent I've been waiting to set. For years. Tell me something, son. Do you think our society -- the wealthy, free, unabashed human society we fought to create in the Second -- is a just society?"
"Of course." Paul replied, more than a little annoyed. He didn't feel up to a lecture. "It's just because we no longer allow such emotional nonsense to..."
"NO!" Benton stated, loud and angry, turning to punctuate his refusal by slapping the mahogany desktop. "It is just because we no longer allow a cadre of parasitical powerwhores to tell us the meaning of justice! That we no longer let the worthless determine what life and love is worth. We facilitate, we aid, we make simple, we obey our promise to back up our clients in their pursuit of individual justice!"
Paul was quiet a moment, unused to anger from his hero and friend. He pulled his last play, suddenly tired and sick of the debate.
"What about the money? We are entitled to ten percent. For the good of the company..."
Benton just shook his head. The sadness in his face was more of a rebuke than any angry tirade could ever be.
"I thought I raised you better than that." he said. That hurt. Paul gave up. But he had another question. One word.
Benton sighed. He collected his thoughts. After a moment, he answered.
"We call our social system 'The New Law.' That's not correct. It's actually run by the OLD LAW, a law as old as the human race. The law the states perverted and warped into a symphony of control freakery. It's been called the common law, the people's law, individualistic social parameters and a billion more names. My favorite term is simple, and singly worded: JUSTICE."
He paced a moment, then continued.
"I watched the trial. I saw the gruesome and incontrovertible evidence presented. At one point, during the videos, I had to leave the court room to vomit. So did many others. I'm ashamed of that. Because the grandfather of those two girls sat there like the very eye of justice himself, absorbing that evidence, eyes on the smirking pig who thinks his wealth gives him free reign to abuse the innocent. He sat there through the unabashed confession, as that same pig so 'charitably' offered to triple the normal restitution amount."
Another pause, as the old man fought tears.
"Then he rose up, when the arbiter asked his response and he flatly refused. 'I don't want your money, killer. I want your life. You are a mad dog, boy, and you need killin'. I intend to kill you. I challenge you to a duel'."
Benton finally smiled. "You should have seen it. You should have seen the look on that pigs face. And the arbiters. But the arbiter -- good man, ol' Johannsen -- turned it over to the defense agencies for final decision." "Maybe it should have been a hard decision. They are both clients. But it wasn't. The confession changed it all. That's when I sent you the wave, told you to immediately cancel that very profitable account and refund the past year fees." Benton smiled wider, and Paul knew he wasn't seeing the smile of a multi-billion dollar businessman, but the smile of a half-starved 18 year old ex-gangbanger who took on the most powerful nation state in the history of the world and won. He shivered under the raw power of that smile. "That's when I broke protocol and walked into the courtroom, and told the world that a duel was accepted and arranged. Then I turned to that brave old man and offered to be his second." Paul sighed. "And tomorrow you will carry it through."
Benton nodded. "Damn right."
"What if he runs? The killer." It was to be his last question. "Then I will use every single penny of my personal fortune to track his murdering mad dog ass to whatever hole he runs to. He's a rich bastard, but I'm richer -- not to mention meaner and a damn sight smarter. Don't worry son, I won't touch company funds. Those belong to the stockholders and clients. I'll leave the company in your capable hands and devote the rest of my life to finding him. I don't take my promises lightly. You know that. Justice, boy. Plain justice. It's what I fought for and what I live for now. And justice means shit if it ignores the individual. Otherwise, I'm just a fucking state -- telling people what justice is, and what the lives of the people they love are worth. I didn't watch all those good folk die, didn't take a solemn vow to uphold justice, just to turn around and spit on it when it got complicated."
Paul just nodded, and asked permission to leave. It was granted, of course. But just before he left he turned to speak: "I love you, Dad." "I love you too, son." Benton told him, surprised. Paul had only called him Dad twice in his life. It was a good feeling. "You be careful." "I always am." Paul managed a slight smile and was gone. In the empty, ridiculously massive, opulent office, the old man spent a few minutes looking through a tattered photo album. He looked at the faces of long dead friends, most of whom he had watched die on various battlefields decades ago. Watched them die for the same ideals he was willing to die for. Watched them die to bring justice back into a corrupt and stinking world. After a bit, he closed the album and put it away. From the same desk he withdrew a holster that contained the same gleaming blue revolver he had carried on his side during those years of hell and blood. He strapped it on, chuckling at how incongruous it looked against the five thousand dollar suit. He began to practice his draw, annoyed at the crack of joints and the under pain of the arthritis the drugs kept at bay, even more annoyed at his rusty lack of speed. But as he drew and drew again, he could feel it coming back -- through the pain and stiffness. He could feel it coming back. Some people need killing, he thought, and drew. Justice must be served, he thought, and drew again. And as the sun died over the glorious expanse of city, and washed flames into the grey mirror of that great lake, he prepared to serve it.