tagNovels and NovellasMaragana Girl Ch. 13

Maragana Girl Ch. 13

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 13 -- The American Financial Expert

Kim always marveled at the ability of her friends to bounce back after each punishment. The very next evening all 15 members of Eloisa's musical group were at rehearsal, following an ordinary day at work for each of the band's members. It was no surprise that the women should be ready to rehearse, given their switchings had been extremely lenient. However, the band's ten male members all were viciously marked up; with the passage of 24 hours only making the marks appear darker and more severe. But they all were present, all with their instruments, all following the direction of the lead singer. It seemed that once they started with the rehearsal, they were able to step out of the pain and humiliation of their lives and enter the spiritual world of song.

On May 1st there was an International Labor Day celebration in Danube City's Central Plaza. Eloisa's group received prominent billing, performing in front of an audience of 22,000 people. The country's Prime Minister and many deputies from the Parliament sat on the building's main balcony, enjoying Eloisa's talent and attractive figure as much as the crowds in the plaza below. Eloisa's group was only one out of six that performed that afternoon, but it clearly was the crowd's favorite.

The May 1st concert also was the first concert in which Kim sang with Eloisa for more than just one or two songs. The American stood with her Danubian friend at the main microphone for 9 out of a total of 22 songs performed by the group. Once the final song was completed and the group knelt in appreciation of the applause they were receiving, Eloisa brought Kim foreword and had her kneel up front along side her. At that moment Kim realized that Eloisa considered her an equal partner at the microphone.

In the US, and in most other countries, the popularity of Eloisa and her companions would have encouraged their fans to pressure the government to commute or shorten their sentences, or in some other way try to ease the burdens of their lives. In Upper Danubia the public's mentality was very different. Most of the people in the crowd saw no contradiction between the group's popularity and their status as criminals. To the contrary, the performers were held up as examples of how successful the Duchy's justice system truly was at forcing violent offenders to reform and lead productive lives. The public would applaud and honor the group, but at the same time would expect them to complete their sentences.

How Kim's friends saw themselves and their situation also differed tremendously from how a group of people in the US might react to a similar situation. Kim knew that Eloisa never stopped blaming herself for what happened to her friends, but how she dealt with that guilt was extremely productive. She believed that if the others had been so willing to sacrifice for her, it was her duty to be as successful in her personal life as possible, so the others could feel good about the sacrifice they had made. According to Eloisa's line of reasoning, had she failed in life or led a mediocre existence, the others would have sacrificed for nothing. It was her duty, her social obligation, to make sure the sacrifices of the others had been meaningful.

As for the others, there was neither regret nor resentment, not against Eloisa nor the Danubian government. They viewed what happened to them as inevitable. A friend's honor had been violated; it was their social duty to restore her honor and face the legal consequences. There was no choice in the matter, because Danubians believed that a person who had lost his honor was nothing more than a living corpse housing a dead soul. There was no "what if" in any of their minds. Keeping their souls alive was more important to them than evading the suffering they were enduring now.

May progressed with an important development in Eloisa's personal life. She had recovered enough from her experiences that she now was able to hold hands with her boyfriend. Her progress was slow, but it was real. At the Socrates Club Kim noticed her friend's hand constantly resting in Dima's hand on the table, as she nervously forced herself to confront her fear of being touched. One night Kim noticed Eloisa actually walking down the street with her boyfriend, holding his hand as they walked.

Kim could tell that Eloisa was uneasy, but at the same time she was living a real adventure, confronting the demons that had taken over part of her soul. Eloisa was happier than she had been at any time since Kim had met her the previous year. Maybe, just maybe, she had been wrong about herself. She was indeed broken, but, with time and patience from Dima, perhaps the damage could be fixed.

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For all the performing they were doing, it seemed to Criminal # 98945 that she and her companions were receiving very little money for their efforts. In many cases, such as holidays, they performed for free, expected to do so as their contribution to the celebration. However, the group also performed in theaters where the public did pay. The only money she ever saw for all her efforts were incidental funds for meals. She also received money to compensate her bosses at the music store and the courier service for her absences, but that was it. When Kim approached Eloisa about the issue, the lead singer simply responded.

"We've been getting a lot of money for our concerts. You haven't seen it because we're not allowed to use it. It's being held in trust by the Spokesperson's credit union until we finish our sentences."

"But how do I know it's even there, if I never see any of it?"

"Is there anything in particular that you need and don't have?"

"Well, no...but..."

"So what's the problem? We'll receive our compensation when we're no longer criminals. Of course, if you have a pressing need...for example Valia..." (who was one of the back-up singers) "...lost part of her family's house in a fire. Our Spokesman released the money she needed to give her parents so they could rebuild."

"And how do you know he didn't keep any for himself?"

Eloisa gave Kim a puzzled look. "Why would he do that? He's adequately paid by the government. He doesn't need our money."

Kim was troubled by her friend's nonchalant attitude about the band's earnings. She decided to bring up the matter with Vladim Dukov. The first thing she wanted to know was how much money she had earned herself. The Spokesman opened a filing cabinet and pulled out her criminal's file. He took out a small bank book and handed it to her. There were various entries with a final sum of the Danubian currency equivalent for $ 14,500.00.

"I understand all of you have the same amount in your accounts, the active band members, that is. Eloisa has paid your songwriters and assistants half the salary the stage performers receive."

"So she's just splitting the money evenly among us?"

"That is correct."

"And you know for a fact that...I mean...are you sure the others are getting their full amount?"

"Of course they are, Kimberly. Why would they not? Anyhow, the compensation is in their bankbooks."

Kim was not satisfied and decided to ask Sergekt for his opinion. He seemed every bit as oblivious as the others. She tried to make him understand why the financial arrangement worried her.

"Look. In my country there's no way a group of people like us would just let a bunch of money come in and get divided up without someone taking a look at the books and seeing what's going on with it. How do you know $ 14,500 is what we all should be getting? What if it's more, and we never saw it? How would we even know?"

"Spokesman Havlakt is a man with honor. I can tell you he wouldn't take our money."

"Sergekt, when it comes to money, no one has honor."

Sergekt gave Kim an offended look, irritated at her questioning his Spokesman's intentions.

"Well, he does! He's not a capitalist! What is it that you want? Do you want to take control of our finances? Maybe you could talk to him and work out an arrangement."

When Kim brought up the issue with Spokesman Havlakt, her concerns were put at ease to some extent. Yes indeed, all his clients had bankbooks in their folders with the correct amount. There was a separate folder with the band's pay receipts and everything looked in order when she tallied up the income and outgoing expenses. The Spokesman addressed the young criminal when she returned the folder.

"Kimberly, I want to tell you that I understand your concern and I am not offended. But there is something you should know. Eloisa is in charge of arranging contracts between your group and the concert halls. Up until now that has not been a problem because they pay standard compensation to performers. By American standards it is not much, but by our standards it is fair. Remember, the Duchy's yearly per capita income is only $ 5,500. My concern is what will happen when Eloisa tries to negotiate recording contracts. She is quite naive on the matter and the assistance I can provide is rather limited. Maybe you, with your American capitalist background, can help?"

Kim sighed. Spokesman Havlakt, just like everyone else in this country, seemed to assume that she was a business genius just because she was from the US. She wasn't, of course, but at least she knew what questions to ask.

It was obvious anyone negotiating a contract would run circles around the band's naive lead singer. The only answer was for Criminal # 98945 to step in and help out with the finances. So, as though she already did not have enough going on in her life, Kim found herself assisting the Spokesman Havlakt with the band's records. The next day he took her to the bank and gave her authority to collect and deposit money into the band members' accounts. Then he drafted a power of attorney to allow her to sign contracts on behalf of the group.

Eloisa and Dima came into the office that afternoon and gladly co-signed the permissions allowing Criminal # 98945 to negotiate the recording contracts. Kim did not fully understand what was happening until it was too late. It was obvious the Danubians did not know anything about contracts and were nervous about their lack of knowledge. Up until that point it had not been a problem, but it would be shortly. Rather than confront the problem themselves, it would be so much easier to have the American handle everything, since everyone knows that Americans are good with business.

The only problem was that Kim was only 19 and had barely managed to finish high school. She was not qualified to negotiate anything and she knew it. That night she made a panicky phone call to her father, begging him to get her some assistance.

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Vladim Dukov faced a test of his honor. He was sworn to uphold a legal and judicial system that dated back to the Middle Ages. His goal in life was to uphold the Danubian justice system and through his position do his part to assure social peace and tranquility. He took his obligation very seriously, because Danubians believed that if a person pursues a profession, especially a public profession such as Spokesman for the Criminal, the spirits of the dead predecessors in the field watched the actions of the living. A person who failed to uphold his profession to the standards of the Guardian Spirits faced punishment from those spirits, who would return to the world to wreck havoc in the lives of the incompetent and the malicious. That belief was not just superstition, it actually was incorporated in the country's religious practices, the most important of which was the Day of the Dead in September.

Spokesman Dukov saw nothing wrong with the over-all method of punishing criminals in Upper Danubia. Criminals had to be punished somehow, and kept under control for a set period of time. The only two ways to accomplish that goal was to jail them, or sentence them in the Danubian fashion. Dukov reasoned the Danubian way of punishing criminals was far superior to jailing them, because from the very first day of their sentences criminals returned to society and were forced to re-build their lives. Reform and redemption started from day one of the sentence. On top of that the government was saved the expense of maintaining jails and prisons.

Dukov knew that Upper Danubia's system of corporal punishment was in deep trouble, in spite of his belief in that system's benefits to society. Over the last couple of years he had talked at length with his son, and fully realized just how abusive the younger police officers were becoming towards criminals. He had battled with enough police officers himself to know that things in the courtroom and the punishment chambers were headed in a very bad direction.

The older police officers viewed both themselves and the criminals they punished as having specific places in society with specific duties. The officer had his role in society with its obligations and rights, and the criminal also had his position in society with its obligations and rights. Those obligations and rights had to be respected, even when a police officer needed to whip a criminal. The judicial code of 1780 clearly laid out a system of corporal punishments designed to be painful, but not cause permanent injury. Unfortunately, the code said nothing about preserving the criminal's dignity, but for generations it had been taken for granted that a police officer should never derive sexual pleasure from his position and power over a criminal.

Over the past decade the values within the police sub-culture had changed in Upper Danubia. The concept of social responsibility had greatly diminished, replaced with the idea that police officers needed to make punishments as hellish as possible to frighten the public into not committing crimes. Because of the change in over-all values, many of the younger police officers saw nothing wrong with sexually tormenting criminals as part of their over-all punishment. They were not violating the Code of 1780, nor causing any permanent injury, so what was the problem? Given the hostility from the over-all population against criminals, most of the public saw nothing wrong with sexually humiliating them. Besides, it was fun to watch.

Dukov had struggled with the issue since Kim's first switching. When she was stretched out on the punishment table last July, a terrified foreigner who only half understood what was happening to her, Dukov's heart went out to his client when she was fondled and he stood by unable to help her. His doubts about the system intensified over the winter as he conversed with Vladik about his fellow officers. Dukov finally was convinced that concrete reforms were needed when his son decided that he needed to put his own career at risk just to protect a group of female criminals from being sexually abused by his co-workers. The entire system clearly was broken and needed to be repaired.

Vladim Dukov wanted to restore the values of the Danubian National Police back to the way they had been prior to the recent change. He wanted the system to be returned to its original goal, rehabilitation. In the past the police officer was a key figure in the criminal's rehabilitation process and fully cooperated with the Spokesman. Today the Spokesman and the police officer were enemies in court, with the Spokesman desperately trying to protect the criminal from abuse and the police officer desperately trying to outwit the Spokesman. Because of the change, the entire system was breaking down and criminals were being unfairly treated. They were being turned into entertainment for both the punishing officers and for on-lookers.

Dukov's goal was to re-establish the spirit of the Code of 1780 by changing its text. He wanted to carefully define what exactly a switching was, how it was to be administered, and define limits of severity. Most importantly, Dukov sought to create strict sanctions against any police officer who sexually abused a criminal as part of his punishment. There would be no touching, no fondling, no sexual jokes permitted, nothing that might be considered to give sexual pleasure to the officer. Dukov's legislation stipulated that any police officer who sexually abused a criminal would face the same sanction as one who drew blood during a punishment, the officer would lose the right to switch criminals in the future. Dukov planned save the system by reforming it.

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Sweat trickled down Dukov's face as he stood in front of the National Parliament to present his bill at the end of the first week of May. Behind him stood 37 Spokespersons, 19 from Danube City and 18 more from the provincial capitols. Their support was the first surprise to the nation; that all of Upper Danubia's 37 Spokespersons agreed on the need for Dukov's bill and were standing behind him as he spoke. There was no doubt about their support, because they all saluted Dukov before he began his speech.

The Spokesman began by presenting three petitions, the one from Eloisa's old school, one secretly passed around the National Police Headquarters by Vladik's friends, and one from several religious leaders who were offended by the open display of sexuality during corporal punishments. Dukov then spoke to the stunned Parliament about the need to re-impose morality into the system of judicial punishments and restore harmony between the country's Spokespersons and police officers. A punishment code with clear rules and restrictions would help restore that harmony.

Dukov's proposal immediately proved unpopular among the legislators, as he had feared. It was attacked by numerous deputies who argued that it undermined both the authority of the police in general, and the right of the individual police officer to determine what was best for the criminal. At first it seemed that the support from Dukov's peers and other social leaders did not matter to any of the deputies. However, a deputy from the main opposition party finally broke ranks with the rest of the Parliament and spoke in favor of the proposal. Quickly two others seconded the dissident's position and also gave statements in favor of the reform. A group of deputies filed out in disgust as two others, this time from the governing party, raised their hands in support of Dukov's proposal. There was whistling and hissing from the deputies directed against each other and the Prime Minister shouting to restore order. With that the long debate over reforming Upper Danubia's criminal justice system began.

As the Spokesman stood sweating at the main podium, he was fully aware of the long difficult months that lay ahead because of his actions. He would have to defend his proposal day in and day out, argue continuously with adversaries and ex-friends, and justify over and over why a law that had worked admirably since 1780 no longer was serving its purpose. The debate would go on for a long time before finally being settled, because nothing in Upper Danubia's National Parliament ever got resolved quickly.

Dukov continued to stand in front of the cameras of the nation, unsure whether to leave the podium or not. Finally he directed a question at a deputy Prime Minister.

"Sir, may I be dismissed?"

"Spokesman, do you withdraw this piece of treason?"

"No sir."

"Then you stay there, at that podium. Look into the camera. Let the nation see you for the subversive that you truly are."

The term "subversive" stuck and appeared in the nation's newspapers the following day, under a picture of Dukov's sweating, nervous face. As the debate raged about the need to pass the reform, Kim's Spokesman became known as "Vladim the Subversive". Over the next few months the Spokesman and his supporters eventually took the nickname as a badge of honor.

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May of that year was abnormally hot throughout Central Europe. Kim enjoyed the hot weather, the high temperatures reminding her of a summer in the United States. However, for Upper Danubia the hot temperatures were a concern. Recently planted crops struggled in the heat, farm animals were under a lot of stress, and the population of Danube City was forced to shed much of its clothing.

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