Compromising Situations: Episode 23

Cox is busy in his office, wrapping up the day's work. His balance sheets are showing a nice profit, which puts him in a ~ good mood ~.

Coleman is actually in something of a good mood too, which is why he's here. Cox really set him on the right track that day without meaning to.

Coleman has his feelers out in all directions and is especially hopeful about some folks he's heard about off in Simeland who actually seem to have something of a proper business attitude. He expects to get an introduction to someone who can introduce him any day now.

Coleman whistles a little tune that probably comes down from the Ancients as he approaches Cox's outer door.

Cox hears a whistled tune with that particularly annoying off-key tone that can only mean one thing. His good mood evaporates. He reminds himself that the man was his daughter's choice, even if she is far less convinced that it was a good idea than she once was.

Coleman goes into the outer office, waves to the receptionist, and goes into the inner sanctum. He doesn't need an appointment, he's family.

Cox looks up.

Cox: Coleman. You're early.

Coleman: Why? This is the right day.

Cox checks his calendar.

Cox: So it is.

Cox sits back.

Coleman: Well, the usual is the usual.

Coleman makes his usual dismissive gesture.

Coleman: No changes there. But I've got plans, yes indeed, hey?

Cox: What now? Did you ever get your mine running again?

Coleman: Sure. That wasn't really in doubt, once the union started to be reasonable with me. Then I could afford to be reasonable with them, once the mutual -- what did that Sime fella call it? Mutual assured destruction, that's it. Once that option was off the table, everything was fine.

Cox: Good. Did you ever get that Debree fellow?

Coleman: I got him. Quite a clever man for someone of his class.

Cox: Really? He sounded like the worst sort of anarchist.

Coleman: Even anarchists mellow as they get older. He was quite instrumental in brokering the deal along with the Simes.

Cox: Now that I hadn't expected.

Coleman: Nor I. But there he was, large as life and twice as natural, working hand in glove with the Simes like he'd been born to it. Which come to think of it, maybe he was.

Cox: I'd have thought he'd side with his fellow miners. I guess you can't expect loyalty from the lower classes.

Coleman: Nope, well, some. I think they expected total support from him. But he was an honest broker, or seemed to be. Anyhow, the question is, will the new deal hold. I'm optimistic. Guardedly so, but optimistic.

Cox: My daughter will be pleased to hear that. She could use some new clothes. So could the children.

Coleman: I'm not saying the profits won't drop for a while, mind you. It takes time to recoup something like this in reduced turnover, higher productivity -- oh yes, that was part of the deal -- and other such investments. But the kids'll get their clothes all right.

Cox: Good. I'm glad to hear you weren't forced to make concessions.

Coleman: Some, some. But I extracted some too. That's what negotiation is all about, hey?

Coleman says this as if he had been born knowing it, which he definitely was not.

Cox: Huh. What'd they make you do for them?

Coleman: Recognize the union. Hire a safety engineer -- good idea, really, should have done it before. And, of course, tolerate the Simes.

Cox: They're staying? I wouldn't have thought they'd be interested in such a small, isolated community.

Coleman: This bunch, no. And who knows if there will be more. But I've agreed not to oppose a Sime Center if they petition for one. As you say, the Simes may not give a damn.

Cox: If you're lucky, they won't. Interfering snakes. So what are these grand plans of yours? And how much are they going to cost me?

Coleman: Nothing, right now. I'm well on my way to hiring one of those walking lie-detectors we talked about. And I don't think he'll be so interfering when I'm the one paying his selyn taxes, hey?

Cox: ...Huh? Hiring? A lie-detector?

Coleman: Oh, didn't I tell you? I'm getting myself a tame Sime to sit in on some of my business meetings.

Cox: Scare the opposition into submission?

Coleman laughs.

Coleman: Maybe. But above all, Simes know when you're lying or telling the truth. And if I have one on my side, and the other side doesn't, why, they're an open book to me, hey?

Cox: Maybe. If you can get them to talk about whatever you want to know.

Coleman: Sure. Let's say we're negotiating on the price of sprockets. He offers a figure. Is it his real cost plus? Or is it just his first offer and he expects me to cut it in half? The Sime gives me a hand signal to tell me if the offer's sincere. Easy, hey?

Coleman is winging it here, but he doesn't see any reason why that can't work. He's had the difference between lying and not knowing the truth explained to him carefully.

Coleman: In a few years every businessman on this side of the Territory will have his own "special negotiator", but until then ... Well. First-mover advantage, hey?

Coleman laughs triumphantly.

Cox frowns.

Cox: Are you sure that the Sime can tell anything more than that he really is willing to sell the sprockets at the price he's mentioned, if you're fool enough not to make a counteroffer?

Coleman: So I ask him, "Can't you do better than that?" Straight yes or no.

Cox: Or have they been kidding us, and they really can read minds?

Coleman: I'm sure not. Pretty sure, anyway. If they could, they could have pressed me much harder, I think. It's hard enough to control your feelings while one of them is around. Controlling your thoughts would be hopeless. It would be flat impossible to do business like that. And there's no doubt that they do do business, over there in Simeland.

Cox: So what if the guy won't answer yes or no, but instead says something like, hmm, "Now, you know I have expenses I have to cover."

Coleman: Trust me, I know how to press people to answer -- properly. It's just that there wasn't much point before. If I didn't know the man that well, he might fool me. He can't fool a Sime.

Coleman: Anyhow, I'll have to figure it out as I go. The principle, that's the thing.

Coleman says this with no irony whatever.

Cox: Humpf. I doubt it'll be as easy as all that.

Coleman: Nothing worth doing is, hey? I didn't get where I am without taking risks. Sensible risks.

Cox shrugs.

Coleman thinks that it's easy for Cox to shrug. All his wealth is inherited.

Cox: I suppose a Sime would be a different sort of employee.

Coleman chuckles.

Coleman: Probably. But we'll work it out.

Coleman doesn't even notice that he's talking about an employee -- and a "demon Sime" -- as if they were partners.

Cox: What sort of concessions do Simes demand? A right to your stuff?

Coleman: Nope. All he wants is money, like anybody else. Instead of going for groceries, it goes for his Sime taxes that pay for every Sime to get the stuff he needs

Cox: He'd have to go back to Simeland for that, right?

Coleman: Nope. Sime Center round trip, one day. I won't need him every day. It's on the passenger railroad, so they can bring their human tanks in and out.

Cox: Huh. I'd be careful. If you give one guy a day off, the rest may want one, too.

Coleman: That's another concession. One day a month off to visit the Sime Center for any who want. Without pay, of course. The Sime I'll put on salary, so it won't matter.

Cox's jaw drops.

Cox: Have you lost your mind? What happens to the company store if they can leave and buy things elsewhere?

Coleman laughs yet again.

Coleman: That old coot could use some competition, I think. It's good for him. And anyway, most won't be bothered to go all that way. Just having the option, though, makes them feel and act less like trapped weasels.

Coleman: In the long run, it's not good to have your workforce feeling trapped, it seems. They get -- ideas.

Coleman is repeating what Seruffin told him.

Cox: That's what the company police are for. Beat the wrong ideas right out of them.

Coleman: Oh, and that worked so well this time. Damn near brought the Territory government down on my head. Two Territory governments.

Coleman: Times are changing, y'know. We've got to change with them if we want to stay firmly in the saddle. And I do, sir. I do. Sometimes holding on to a thing, just for the sake of holding on to it, gets to be more trouble than it's worth. I decided to try a more flexible attitude.

Cox: Sounds to me like you've given away your saddle. Your reins, too.

Coleman, still smiling, shakes his head.

Coleman: I won't argue with you, sir. I have to do what I think is best for my own line of work. Your daughter and my children will have nothing to worry about, I assure you.

Cox: Humpf. Well, let me know how it works out.

Cox is pretty sure his son-in-law will, when the whole scheme backfires and he needs a bailout.

Coleman doesn't have to be a Sime to figure out what the old man thinks of it all. But he'll find out the truth, even if not the Sime Truth, in his own way and time.

Coleman doesn't realize it and would repudiate it, but Craig may be well on his way to making an actual convert, not just a pragmatic fellow traveler.

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