Authors: Michael Bray
LOMAR CORPORATION TOWER
NEW YORK CITY
The private Lear jet had flown him in from his business trip in Dubai, dropping him at the airport at the private terminal reserved for the wealthy. The trip had been cut short, something which still irked him hours after the event. He liked it there. He liked the heat. The wealth. It was like no place on earth, and about as far from his current location as it was possible to get.
Thirty-three-year-old Damien Lomar sat in the back of the limousine and stared out at a city which was dying around him. He sipped his bourbon, good quality stuff that cost more than a lot of the citizens of the broken city made in a year. He looked at the decaying bricks, the filthy windows, the garish neon signs advertising the latest snacks or soft drinks, and wasn’t the least bit surprised at the mess it had become. The city had expanded far beyond its means and could no longer sustain its populous in either housing or employment. The official line was of course that there was nothing to worry about, and that although unsettled, everything was under control. That was all the politicians could really say if they wanted to be voted into another year in office. Their slick lies and greasy handshakes would likely see them stuff their pockets for another year and give a little glimmer hope to those people who put their faith in them. Damien, however, knew the truth of just how serious the problem was. He played golf with the mayor’s son every second Sunday. He was a snivelling brat who favoured pressed tennis shorts and polo shirts, and could always be guaranteed to spill a few pertinent details once his tongue was loosened with a little alcohol. The truth was that the economy was broken and those in power knew it. They were just trying to squeeze a last few dollars out of what was left before fleeing to their big houses with their big wallets, and sitting by their big swimming pools and working out the next way to make themselves even richer. He sighed and sipped his drink, watching a woman lead her scruffy, wretch of a child down the side of the street, her face an expression of absolute hopelessness as she dragged the snotty brat along.
Yes. The city was going to shit alright.
He checked his watch, the forty-thousand-dollar Rolex telling him it was a little after three in the afternoon and he was late for the meeting, not that he cared. The beginning was always filled with the boring run of the mill shit he didn’t care about. Share prices, stock flotation. All the things which gave him a headache if he thought about them too much. He stared out of the window, letting his eyes tune out of the pitiful wretches in the streets and focus on the ghostly image of his reflection. The golden hue of his tanned skin, the piercing blue of his eyes, the jet black hair swept into a side parting. He wondered how they, the poor and the destitute, the hungry and the desperate, would view him. He was sure it would be at first with hope that the rich man might give them something – food or money – then, when he refused their request, the mood would change. Anger. Hate. Frustration. All good reasons why he didn’t mingle with the poor unless he could help it. And why should he? He had made something of himself. Scratched and clawed to get where he was, or at least, that’s what he would tell them. The reality was that he was born into his wealth. Forget the silver spoon. The one he was born with wedged in his mouth was made of solid gold and encrusted with diamonds. He peered up the street, pushing his cheek towards the window. A snake of cars, mostly yellow taxis, had gridlocked the road as far as he could see. Ahead, he could see the edge of the building his father had built. Lomar Tower, which now proudly boasted the honour of being the tallest building in the city, glittered in the early morning sun. One beacon of light in a city of ruin. Prior to its construction, the second World Trade Center held that particular honour after its predecessors fell in two thousand and one. At just a shade over six hundred meters tall, Lomar Tower now stood head and shoulders above the rest, and rightly so. Damien sighed, growing impatient. For as much as he was vice president of the company and could afford to be late if he wanted to, he didn’t want to completely piss off the rest of the board before he had shown them his proposal. His eyes went to the leather briefcase on the seat beside him. Even his miserable old fuck of a father couldn’t fail to see its potential, as long as he could get to the building before the whole thing was over. He leaned forward in his seat, pressing the controls to roll down the divider between himself and the driver. “What’s taking so long?”
“Traffic, Mr. Lomar. There’s another protest about the state of healthcare. The city is gridlocked.” The African American driver looked over his shoulder, nervous. He was young, and looked absolutely terrified of his powerful employer.
“Another one? Isn’t that the third this month?” Lomar grunted.
“It is, sir,” his driver said, staring at the traffic ahead of him.
“They should be out working for a living instead of holding up people like me who have things to do.”
Lomar knew his driver didn’t agree. He was only slightly higher up the chain than the poor and the hungry, and knew well enough to keep his mouth shut and his job secure with it. Even so, Damien enjoyed teasing him about it, even if he was new. He knew people thought he was an asshole, which was fine with him. It was the truth. “Is it worth waiting in the car or should I just go the rest of the way on foot?”
“We might be here a while yet, sir,” the driver said, cold and robotic, not wanting to offer an idea that might be wrong and could get him fired.
“Right, mingling with the peasants it is,” Damien said, grabbing his briefcase and clambering out of the car. He walked briskly towards the steel and glass building, trying to ignore the acrid sting of the smog in his throat. It was becoming a real problem. Even as he looked up at the tower, the top of it was shrouded in a thick pollution-laced fog. It was little wonder the frequency of respiratory illnesses was on the up. He snaked through the endless throng of people, ignoring their envious stares, and arrived at the building. He strode across the expansive foyer, marble floor echoing underfoot as he made for the private express elevator tucked away at the rear of the building. He breathed in the clean, filtered air, trying to shake the feeling that he was dirty now that he had mingled with the poor. He inserted his special key into the slot in the elevator control panel and turned it, the doors closing and taking him towards the roof of the world. He tightened his grip on his briefcase, confident he would get what he wanted.
Jackson Lomar sat at the head of the boardroom table, listening to his director of finance go through the balance sheets. He wasn’t really paying attention. He had already picked up on the fact that, all facts and figures stripped aside, they were still making a healthy profit year on year. He flicked his eyes, an almost translucent grey in colour, towards the vacant seat to his right which should have been occupied by his son and felt the familiar anger he had grown accustomed to where Damien was concerned. Jackson had worked his entire life to build their business from scratch, first in export, then in telecommunications. He was aware that as he was just a year shy of his seventieth birthday, he needed to make sure the company was in good hands when he decided to retire. The issue was that despite doing all he could to prepare him, Jackson wasn’t entirely sure his son was the right man for the job. It was little things like this – the board meetings where none of them really wanted to attend but had to – which rubbed him up the wrong way. The ambition was there, that had never been an issue. His son had always had a competitive edge with anything he set his mind to, and the drive and determination to pull it off. It was just that if there was something he wasn’t particularly interested in, he wouldn’t show any aptitude for it. Jackson looked around the table, people he knew and trusted with the running of his multibillion dollar business, but could see it in their eyes all the same. The empty chair was an embarrassment, the elephant in the room which he was about to address when the boardroom door opened and his son walked in, his face showing the smug self-appreciation which was the root of all their issues.
“You’re late,” Jackson said, for the time being able to control his temper.
“Traffic is gridlocked. Another protest backing everything up for miles. I had to walk the last block,” Damien said as he slumped down in his seat and brushed hair out of his eyes.
“That healthcare protest has been planned for weeks, which is why the rest of us left early enough to get here on time.”
“Don’t start with me, Dad, I’ve had a long day. Those pricks on the street are to blame. Not me.”
“Those ‘pricks’ are people. They’re just trying to get the assistance they deserve from the city,” Jackson said, ignoring the awkward body language of the other board members as father and son conducted in their very public disagreement.
“They don’t deserve anything. If they were too lazy to work for a living like the rest of us, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Work for a living? I was already a multi-millionaire by the time you were born. What do you know about work?” Jackson grunted, embarrassed at his son’s behaviour.
“I work damn hard for this company, not that you’ve ever noticed i–” Damien cleared his throat and took a second to compose himself, remembering why he was there. “I actually have something I’d like to discuss.”
“There’s a first time for everything. What is it?” Jackson said, unsure if he was proud or surprised that his son wanted to do something other than just sit and go through the motions. Damien opened his briefcase and took out several identical laminated booklets. He walked around the table, giving each of the fifteen board members a copy the returning to his seat.
“I got the idea when I was over in Dubai on business.”
“What is it? A theme park?” Jackson said, leafing through the booklet.
“An island,” Damien replied, unable to help but grin. “A man-made structure, the biggest of its kind.”
“The cost of this would be astronomical. Why would you want to even build it? For what purpose?”
Damien could feel it slipping away. The sour-faced old fucks around the table didn’t get it. They didn’t see his vision. It was going to take a bit of hard sell. “I have contacts,” he said as he stood and walked around the side of the table. “Construction companies who specialise in this kind of work who are willing to do a deal. I can build the entire structure, including terraforming it in full for maybe, a billion five.”
“A billion five?” Jackson repeated, tossing the booklet on the desk. “Have you any idea what that kind money could do to help the city? To fix some of the problems with it? We have a proposal in line to develop a new clean air filtration system as well as building low-cost housing for those in need over the next ten years. We don’t have the resources for this pipe dream of yours. If you want to use your own money then that’s fine. But you won’t burn through the resources of this company on stupid pipe dreams. Not while I’m in charge.”
Damien walked back towards his father, lowering his voice. “You always told me to think outside the box. To look at the bigger picture. This is exactly what I’m doing. Think about it. The jobs it will create. The positive business impact for the company.”
“You still haven’t said
you want to do this.”
“It’s all right there in the proposal. Our genetics research has started down some very exciting and ground breaking paths. Our telecommunications business is thriving. What if we combine the two? A nature reserve, untouched by man, a natural habitat for the creatures of the world to exist in peace. That’s P.R. you can’t buy and you know it.”
“A billion and a half would buy a hell of a lot of P.R. son. You have to give me more than that. How would you expect to make our money back?”
“We can do tours, the world’s biggest safari park. We could even go further. The Island hotel, a breath of fresh air away from the pollution of the city. It’s perfect.”
Jackson took a deep breath and put his palms flat on the table. “No.”
It took a second to sink in. Damien had played it out in his head countless times and it always ended with his father agreeing to the project. Now, with this unexpected scenario, he had no idea how to react. “But it makes business sense. You must see it.”
“I see nothing but a wild idea to do some kind of idiotic, poorly thought out publicity stunt. On one hand you’re saying we should build this place as a sanctuary for local wildlife, in the next breath you see hotels and tours for the public. It’s all just too wild. Too improbable. It would be a financial black hole and I think you know that.”
“Father, please, how can I be expected to run the company one day if you won’t even trust my judgement?”
“This isn’t about judgement. This is about business. You’re asking for a huge amount of money for something that is an outlandish pipe dream. The dimensions alone of this proposed structure would mean a construction unlike anything ever seen before. You say a billion five, but I know it would cost more. A lot more.”
Jackson raised a hand. “Now I appreciate you trying to take the ball and run with it, but in this instance, you have it all wrong. True enough, one day you’ll sit in this chair and make the decisions, and whatever you choose will be on you. It won’t happen on my watch though. That I can promise you.”
“Just take some time to think it over, i–”
“I’ve heard enough. That money is going towards helping this city get back on its feet, not funding some stupid, half-assed idea. Now I won’t hear another word about. Gentlemen, if we can move on to the next order of business please.”
Damien sat as the proposals were passed back down to him. Anger bubbled in his stomach, a molten ball of frustration and hatred. He couldn’t understand why none of them could see he was a visionary, that the plan to try and save the city was even more doomed than the plans to build The Island. He suspected it was the old school mentality of the board. Not one of them was a day younger than sixty. All of them had their eyes on a cosy retirement and healthy bonus package. They didn’t consider what kind of long-term direction the company would take, especially when he was holding the reigns. He made himself a promise as he shoved the proposals back into his briefcase. Even if it took until his dying day, he would prove the old man wrong and makes sure he apologised for ever doubting him.