Tom Thorn's business, also known as l'affaires or simply "the business", is the criminal syndicate which has controlled Lowtown for the past sixty-five years. Within Kieselburg, l'affaires is immensely powerful: its tendrils stretch into almost all aspects of trade and government, and three-quarters of the goods moving through Lowtown, licit and illicit, are said to move through the fingers of Thorn and his cadres first. It has long since moved past the point of the law moving against him, and most have come to even cautiously view him as a positive, a source of stability and, if not moral behaviors, then at least predictable ones.
HistoryThe office of tÍte d'rue far precedes l'affaires. Street gangs, and street bosses, had existed in Kieselburg since it was Lakehaven, as they had in cities across Earth for centuries. There had even been bosses who briefly achieved greater areas of power and influence. Tom Thorn's business is notable mostly for its stability and longevity.
Thorn himself started out as an ambitious tÍte in the Oldbarracks. He took over the territories of several nearby tÍtes, as per the standard pattern -- and then, not as per pattern, he proceeded to give them back, demanding only that the defeated gangs pay him a tribute, a "beef", in money, goods, or manpower. Using this method Thorn was able to expand his influence rapidly, using tribute to lock down bigger markets or fund ambitious smuggling schemes, which in turn gave him the muscle to bribe or bully more tÍtes into submission. Those unwilling to go along with the tribute scheme found themselves on the receiving end of Thorn's vicious temper and even more vicious sense of humor. One unfortunate was skinned and hung, still alive, to bleed to death; another time Thorn rolled the entire gang in flammable powder before lighting them off one by one. At the same time tÍtes who proved their loyalty were showered in gifts and wealth. It was a brutally effective combination.
By the time he was twenty-five Thorn controlled the entirety of the Oldbarracks along with wide swathes of Lowtown, including his newest purchase, a somewhat run-down but still famous club called Autour du Monde. This he handed over to his old friend and trusted lieutenant, Antone DeBours, with instructions to make it as profitable as possible. Antone exceeded expectations by a substantial margin, revamping the club into a "hotbed of perversion", as one irate commentator put it, capable of drawing in business from Porttown and Uptown. Aside from the girls, boys, and in-betweens, the club catered to all sorts of tastes and drew all kinds of business; money laundering, slave trading, and gambling rings were the least of it. Other clubs quickly began springing up around the Monde, all following its model and all paying beef to Thorn.
If anything, the Autour du Monde was too successful. In 2371, an emboldened Antone attempted a coup on Thorn. The resulting gang war was spectacularly ugly and raged for nearly three months before a victorious Thorn had Antone dragged from the lake's edge to the highest point of Porttown, where what was left of him was dropped from a five-hundred-meter tower.
It was not Thorn's first underling problem, nor would it be his last. The curse of finding suitably bright and capable minions with an equally suitable lack of ambition had brought down many crime lords before him, as Thorn was quite aware. At the same time his little empire was expanding so fast that Thorn struggled to keep up. In 2376, he apparently decided to kill two birds with one stone and went on a brief promoting rampage, appointing not one but six new lieutenants and assigning them each sections of the city. Rather than discouraging ambition, he encouraged it, spurring his new appointees to annex new territories.... and to compete with each other for his favor. A skilled manipulator, Thorn proved very adept at keeping his hungry cadres focused on each other, on their own underlings, on anything but him. His fits of petty rage, always notorious, grew increasingly spectacular from this point on, as did his inventive cruelties.
Thorn can never be said to have been beloved by his people. He is feared, admired, and possessed of a certain raw charisma and charm, but most who deal directly with him find him vicious, spiteful, and temperamental, character traits that have worsened as he grew more secure in his power. He is prone to over-the-top punishments and en masse rampages when crossed, as happened in 2406 when his elder and favorite son, Tommy, vanished. Tom Jr's disappearance is still the subject of hushed speculation. The only one of the cadres who regularly dared stand up to his father, the two had been frequently at odds, and many wonder if Thorn did not have his son killed. Others suggest that Tommy chose to vanish himself from the family business and leave his father to rage himself out uselessly. Further speculation adequately covers the ground of family enemies, deals gone sour, Imperial involvement, government conspiracy, alien abduction, etc. Tom Thorn Jr. has not been heard of in over twenty years, so it seems the mystery will remain mysterious.
Now in his eighties, Thorn continues to rule his cadres and his empire with an iron fist from the comfort of his gaudy Uptown mansion, though he takes time out in order to gleefully torture the (rather numerous) Uptowners who hate having a filthy rich gangster as a neighbor. His cadres encourage this hobby, finding it considerably easier to maintain a sense of loyalty to their patron when he is comfortably absent.
The CadresAt the present time Tom Thorn has eight lieutenants: Eva la Fluer, Ilya "the General" Roberts, Ethan Raven, Lou "Dragonkiller" Dubinsky, Bruce Albier, Jacob "Jackal" Sieber, Athen the Boneman, and Tristan Thorn. Between them they handle the majority of l'affaires and the tangled mass of business deals, obligations, and politics that surround it with only sporadic interference from their patron.
Most of the cadres have a huge spread of territory over which they have oversight (the exception is Jackal, who controls only the lucrative Rue del Monde.) Within this territory they are a quiet but immensely powerful force. Each cadre will have their own network for smuggling, producing, or otherwise acquiring goods, most of which will pass into the hands of their tÍtes d'rue and from there to the public: they will also have their own "contacts" with large corporations, the police, local politicians, and any other force, public or private, that operates within their territory -- people who provide or negotiate with the cadre for goods, services, and information. They set a regular beef for their tÍtes to pay (above and beyond the price of goods the tÍtes buy from them), collect it, and deal with any deadbeat or aggressive tÍtes: negotiate cease-fires; coordinate the occasional large-scale operation; put down riots, alleviate shortages, issue loans, organize celebrations, and generally keep their fingers in everything, large or small, that happens under their roof. It is a rare (and usually short-lived) cadre that shirks any of their territorial duties.
Beyond their own borders, the cadres cultivate profitable relationships with other cities, organizations, and even the occasional government. Most, but not all, involve smuggled or purloined goods, everything from guns and slaves to underpriced lots of clothing or food. Several of the cadres have a specific area where they have particularly deep ties -- Tristan within the New Ozark government, Raven with the Worker's Collective, and Ilya with the Army, to name a few. In those places where a cadre does not have good relationships, they may instead have informants and saboteurs. Their fellow cadres are far from exempt. The cadres are constantly jockeying for position and power, and on the rare occasion when peace seems likely to break out Tom Thorn is quick to stir them up again. Open hostilities are uncommon, but not unheard of. Several standing alliances between cadres also exist, though they tend to be cautious and quiet ones; friendship is a risk, and Thorn is highly unlikely to approve.
To accomplish all this a cadre will generally maintain a household of about fifty bodyguards, accountants, money collectors, negotiators, assassins, and other specialists, headed by anywhere from one to four lieutenants. A cadre's lieutenant -- still sometimes called the "main droite", the right hand, though in common use this has been corrupted/Anglicized to "droiteman" -- has considerably less freedom and leeway than a cadre, as Thorn's lieutenant, has: they are essentially extensions of a cadre's will. They run much of the cadre's daily business and, like the cadres, will see a prodigious amount of money and power pass through their hands, but in the case of the droiteman little sticks. Everything they have is dependent on the cadre. This can cause a certain amount of tension within a cadre's household, and provides the most common source of betrayals and coups.
The attrition rate for cadres, while nothing like that seen in the tÍtes, is still significant. A cadre faces pressure from three directions: from below, in the form of ambitious droitemen or even a particularly successful tÍte; from all sides, in the form of their fellow cadres; and from above, in the form of Tom Thorn, their patron. No cadre can ever forget that they serve a vicious, petty old man who responds to failure with outrage and success with mistrust. The cadres exist in a state of controlled paranoia as a result, and pass it on to their droitemen, their households, and to a lesser degree their more distant employees -- the tÍtes d'rue.
The TÍte D'RueIf l'Rue del Monde is the heart of Tom Thorn's business, the tÍtes d'rue are undeniably its backbone. The nebulous, ever-shifting network of gangs, bosses, territories, deals, and wars provides l'affaires with most of its ready cash, muscle, information, and power. To ordinary Lowtowners, beat cops, government officials working at street level, and even, increasingly, Midtowners, the tÍte is l'affaires, the final word on what will and will not be.
Despite this, Thorn has deliberately chosen to exert little control over the tÍtes. Cadres step in from time to time when a war in their territory gets out of hand or a tÍte grows too bold. TÍtes must pay beef, and they are also subject to the muster (the cadres do not traditionally maintain a large force; on those occasions where they find they need an army, they simply round up their tÍtes and order them to provide one.) Other that, the gangs are largely left to organize and police themselves. Onlookers have long since switched from labelling this Thorn's eventual downfall to calling it one of his greatest strengths.
It is difficult to generalize about the tÍtes d'rue; with an estimated several hundred different small gangs in the city and no central authority, they defy easy compartmentalization. In general, however, the tÍte is street-born, poorly educated, and young -- rarely older than mid-twenties. He is three times more likely to be a man than a woman (though he will frequently have a woman as his lieutenant or money-handler.) He will boast of his combat prowess, but rarely rely on brute force to hold power; instead he will employ a mix of charisma, fast talk, threats, and bribery to keep his gang and his street in order. He will almost always have a criminal background, sometimes including jail time, but this will again usually involve property crimes rather than pure violence -- he is more likely to have been a smuggler, con man, or B&E specialist than a mugger or murderer. He will not necessarily understand money, but if he is at all successful he will have a top-notch grasp on managing and manipulating people.
A tÍtÍ's gang will generally follow a vaguely hierarchical pattern: the tÍte at the top, surrounded by an "inner circle" of people he trusts absolutely. Often these will be childhood friends, lovers, or family members, people with strong emotional ties to the tÍte and also people he will fight to the death to protect. Outside this inner circle is the rest of the gang, people trusted to be loyal and handle daily business but not always admitted to the inner council or allowed to handle sticky situations. Finally, there is a loose outer circle of people dependent on the gang -- prostitutes, non-gang lovers or family members, junior gang members, and those the tÍte hires but for various reasons (often drug addiction or mental instability) considers too unreliable to allow full member status. The final, outer circle contains all the people living in a tÍtÍ's territory, to which he will feel a varying level of responsibility. Some tÍtes take their promise to "protect" residents very seriously; others use protection money merely as an excuse for bullying. The majority fall somewhere in the middle, protecting people when it reflects well on them or when it's not too much trouble and otherwise looking the other way.
The tÍte collects protection money -- called "easy money" among the gangs -- and possibly engage in other shakedown schemes, such as financing gambling rings or complex cons; depending on the tÍte, he may dabble in prostitution, kills-for-hire, forgery, hacking, or anything else he sees profit in. The majority of his cash, however, will always come from goods. An average tÍte is estimated to have over a million doles worth of trade goods pass through his hands every year, everything from the actively forbidden (guns, certain drugs, slaves) to the mundane-but-overpriced (food, clothing, and simple luxury goods -- all sharply inflated in New Ozark due either to tariffs or to the complete lack of government oversight over producers.) The majority of these goods he will buy from his cadre, mark up, and resell, but most tÍtes will cultivate independent lines of supply as well -- a nurse willing to pocket vials of vaccine, shoplifting rings, small rooftop growers, basement "copy men", and a variety of others depending on the tÍtÍ's contacts and ingenuity. These are desirable both for redundancy and because the cadre will not necessarily know how much a tÍte brings in from alternative sources, giving the tÍtes a cushion against the sometimes-crippling beef leveled against them. Established tÍtťs may "brand" the products they handle, usually with their initials or a crude design; if the tÍte has a reputation for fair dealing, for selling uncut drugs or culling damaged goods, he will be able to charge a premium price.
Human goods, such as prostitutes, may also have a "brand" in the form of paint or necklaces, but in this case it usually serves more as a warning: damage the goods, and there will be retribution.
The turnover rate for tÍtes is high. Those who fail to grasp the basics (such as "don't annoy more people than you can beat up," and "don't stiff the cadre") rarely last three months. Others fall to overconfidence, overreaching, overspending, inability to control their gang, or the thousand other mistakes that kill most tÍtes within the first year. Survivors still must contend with ambitious or dissatisfied gang members (the prime source of replacement tÍtes) and their fellow tÍtes, most of whom will be hungry for territory and alert to the smallest sign of weakness. Occasionally a tÍte will come along who can successfully balance all the competing demands, seemingly indefinitely, but almost all of these fall to the fatal flaw of ambition: they will expand their territory until it becomes more than they can manage, they are a threat that the other tÍtes will unite against, or they become a threat to their cadre. Rarely, such tÍtes can pull off a coup and replace the cadre: more often they die. The "old men", the tÍtes that can hold their territories for more than three or four years, are not unheard-of, but they are far from commonplace. In general, those dealing with tÍtes don't even bother to learn their names until they've been around for at least a year: this leads to the common practice of calling a tÍte by his street's name, not his own. The street isn't going anywhere. The tÍte probably is.