City Renewal

tpsdave / Pixabay

Dennis Darling, dressed in full business attire, sat at the corner table of Old Joe’s. It was a quaint little coffee shop with more patrons than table space. Quaint, in this case, also meant fashionably dilapidated. The local photos on the wall were badly faded, the paint chipped, and Dennis’s table, at least, had shims wedged underneath to keep it from wobbling as badly as it might. He took another sip of his mocha, which was surprisingly good, and tapped out an email to his subordinates on his phone.

Seven minutes late, Mayor Robert Ryland sat down across from him, hiding his discomfort tolerably well.

“Aren’t you going to order something?” Dennis asked, checking Twitter.

“I thought this would be quick.”

“It’s a business meeting. Get something. It’s a work expense.”

“Just get on with it.”

Dennis pocketed his phone. “Give me your elevator pitch.”

“Me? You’re the one selling.”

“Offering,” Dennis said. “This is one city. There are hundreds like it. Why should we work with you?”

Robert stared at him then shrugged. “All right. Factories made this town. They moved overseas or went bankrupt. Half the family businesses have been wiped out by regulations and Amazon, except for niche holdouts like this place. We’re a dying town. People need work, but there’s nothing here. In ten years, we’ll be gutted. Just like a hundred other towns.”

“Not just like. You were wise enough to contact us.”

“I’ve been rethinking that.”

“Have you?”

“Your boss has been in the news again.”

Dennis retrieved his phone and pulled up a photo from CNN of police pushing a business-suited man into his car. The headline read “Doctor Destructo’s Minions Foiled in Jacksonville.”

“This?” Dennis asked. “You saw the report on the TV?”

“Yeah. Everyone did.”

“How many casualties?”

“None, thanks to Teflon.”

“That’s a horrible codename, isn’t it?” Dennis said, laughing.

“Bullets bounce right off him.”

“How much damage? Did you hear?”

“I don’t remember,” Robert said. “Millions of dollars.”

Dennis nodded. “Millions of dollars of damage. One thing you don’t know: Mayor Daniel Yellin asked us to be there. Being caught was part of the plan. We can do the same thing for you.”

Robert shook his head. “You’re as insane as your boss.”

“How many acres of abandoned industry do you have in the city? How many deserted neighborhoods? Say we set up base in an old warehouse, and we let it slip through the right channels that we’re here. Teflon shows up. Or Victoria. Or even Justice James. A whole section of town goes up in flames, superhuman fisticuffs, and ray guns. No one’s hurt. Everyone’s relieved. Insurance kicks in. Better yet, the whole country sees it on TV. The money starts flowing in. Charities, churches, everyone’s fighting to help rebuild. You see?”

Robert studied him. Dennis could see him slowly understand. “And no one gets hurt?”

“No one. Human resources are a vital commodity. You arrange some fair or festival, something exciting. Something with fireworks and free food. If a few remain home, the good guys are there to protect him. That’s what they’re good at.”

Robert kept staring, bewildered. “What’s in it for you?”

“My boss is a business man. We have a tech company we’d like to start in the area. We’d like your cooperation, tax abatements, that sort of thing. A willing and happy workforce. A friendly face in the government. Et cetera.” Dennis stood. “Think on it. Here’s my card. Call Den Yellin, ask how Jacksonville’s recovering.”

Robert stood, too, in a daze. Dennis extended his hand and shook firmly. “I’ll call you in a few weeks. Just let us know how we can help.”

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