A very short story.

Second Time Around

The best negotiator ever to work for the American oil giant stumbled as he slowly walked across the boardroom carpet. He swallowed nervously as he prepared to deliver the extraordinary news about the latest prospect which had been given him as his target. Waiting impatiently for the good news from their feared financial hit-man were the assembled heavyweights of the largest of the global multi-national energy corporations, and they did not expect any bad news this morning. But they waited, and waited, as their employee seemed to be tongue-tied.

Finally the Chief Executive Officer, Gordon R. Strachan, could wait no more; “Grant, how did your negotiations go? Do we have a deal? Did you come in under budget, or do we have to pay a premium? Speak up, man, every one is waiting on your every syllable!”

The voice which finally emerged from Grant Tallant’s throat was not the same as that which everyone knew from before. It was distant, hedged with doubt, and it began with the simple words, “He didn’t, he wouldn’t; it was awful! He didn’t know how to negotiate, there were no lawyers on his side of the table; we could have walked all over his company, and he wouldn’t have stood a chance! Don’t get me wrong, sir, we got the deal, we now have the rights to operate, on all our gas stations throughout the United States, at least four pumps under the brand name ‘Sought and Found’ using the technology which has become so famous throughout the British Isles. All we have to do is build and install the fresh water tanks, pumps, pipework exactly as specified under the franchise, and the deal is done.” The negotiator’s voice faltered, then rallied again,”it was when we started talking about the money that it all started to, well, not exactly fall apart, but descended into a sort of parallel universe! Before our team managed to open their lap-top computers, even before we put our documentation down for the Sought-and-Found team to examine, their boss, this JayC guy, just simply smiled this wide beaming smile and said, “I know that whatever cost you propose will be suitable, as we trust you! Honest, Mr. Strachan, I must have bent the desk with my jaw; we could have named our own price; we could have taken the name, and the option, and walked out having paid absolutely nothing, and this guy just stood there, with this big trusting grin on his face!”

The room grew very still, as Strachan levered himself to his feet, “What did you do, Tallant? Did we get the best deal for the corporation which pays your salary? Did we screw this guy into the dust? Does he still trust us? What happened?”

“Mr. Strachan, directors of the board of Supreme Energy, I am happy to announce that we came in at a total cost, in royalty payments, of fifteen billion dollars, which sum, if you check your costing sheets, was exactly at the lowest end of our predicted range of payments. All we have to do, in order to comply with the franchise requirements, is to put up the pricing signs, exactly as the British guys have done it for over two years now. All the price signs are to be the same, and have the identical wording: ‘Just pay what you feel is just!’ The forecourt pumps have to have J. 2:1-11 painted prominently on both sides”. The negotiator felt every pair of eyes zero onto his face simultaneously, “I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but it seems to work for the Brits. Their main company profits, posted online some five weeks ago even though they aren’t compelled to do so, placed them in the top ten most profitable companies in the world, and this from a private, family-based and -owned outfit, is just plain incredible! Their employees all earn top dollar, their loss through in-house theft rate is zero, and all the gas station people have been with the company from the word ‘go’ On ordinary gas, both petrol and diesel, sales have of course slumped to around five per cent of their previous record totals, there appears to have been the normal numbers of thefts, with drivers just speeding away from the pump line without paying. But here’s the crazy thing, on all, not most but all of the pump sales which get loaded with the treated water, there hasn’t been one instance of some asshole driving away without paying something! Nada! Nix! Obviously, the Sought-and-Found guys have kept real shctum on the technology transfer which happens before, after or during the pumping into the gas tanks, which is what we expected. Hell, every molecular chemist, bio-scientist and engineer on this planet has tried, and failed, to discover how they do it; so you really shouldn’t expect early news from that quarter, and it is the opinion of this negotiating team that maybe we should stop trying, as maybe they might get uptight, and review the agreement terms! Gentlemen and ladies, we appear to have a deal!”

As the assembled financial heavyweights of Supreme Energy Corporation applauded, and Gordon R. came around the table to hug his best sales negotiator in an exuberant bear-hug, the only thoughts which revolved around Tallant’s mind was the memories of a smile which seemed to pass right through him, and a knowledge that he had treated the British company fairly, and no-one had got screwed!

As the Iranian Minister and petroleum executive passed through the Heathrow jetway on to the big 747 aircraft, and without thinking turned to his left to head towards his accustomed first-class seat, he remembered the fierce eyes of his religious leader as they bade him farewell before his mission began. “Remember, my friend, you deal with an infidel, an unbeliever. He cannot be allowed to further his undermining of the Islamic stranglehold on oil! We depend upon the cash from oil to finance the terror groups, the fundamentalists in the West Bank and Gaza, we need the oil money to further the spread of Islam through preaching to the foolish believers who would grasp the sting of a bomb wrapped close to their chests because Allah demands it!” He had nodded in acceptance of the statement, as it was rather foolish for any to disagree with the most powerful cleric in Tehran.

His journey to that very strange office, set in one corner of what was a rather large house in a tiny Dorset village, had been without incident, although he had felt, more than once, the keen scrutiny of British Intelligence operatives who had never attempted concealment, but openly followed his steps from the time he walked through the Immigration desks at Heathrow. As the Iranian sat back into the cosseting comfort of the first-class seat, he remembered his welcome from the middle-aged lady who had arisen as he stepped across the threshold. He had blinked in surprise to find she had covered her hair, although quite obviously not of the Faith, but discovered that she was only showing good manners to her son’s guest. She sat him down at a side table, swiftly arranged thick, welcome arabic-style coffee plus cups and a selection of deliciously-crumbly biscuits, all of which the visitor had swallowed as though he had been fasting for a fortnight. A slight smile crossed the woman’s lips as she spoke, “If your Excellency would wait perhaps two minutes, my son will be with you. He has just returned from completing a small job on a piece of farm machinery, and is busy washing his hands. Please forgive him for his tardiness!”

He had nodded acceptance of the apology, but no sooner had his gaze moved from the door than it was pushed open to reveal a tall, heavily-tanned individual, broad-shouldered and rangy in build, with big hands which looked as though they were best set around some fractious farm animal. Wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, together with white trainers, he definitely did not look as though he controlled one of the largest private fortunes in the western world, more likely to be a driver or perhaps a builder. The one thing which the Iranian noticed immediately was the striking eyes of the man who approached him, hands held out in a gesture of welcome. “Your Excellency, my apologies for keeping you waiting, I have a very unfortunate habit of wanting to repair everything which breaks down on the farm, instead of leaving it to the people who are supposed to look after the machines. However, as my mother has given you coffee, I hope that you will forgive the wait!” The fierce nature of the Iranian, used to having opponents cower at any meeting, was disarmed by the frank friendliness of his host, and relaxed as the two casually talked of the burdens of travel, of business trends and of the nature of the weather. Finally, after some five minutes of inconsequential talk, the tall Westerner took the wind straight out of the Iranian’s sails by bluntly asking, “Why is Iran so dead set against my company’s progress in America, in Europe and in the Far East, your Excellency? Why are your friends in Tehran and in Qom preaching so virulently against an energy company whose very existence is based upon an ethical foundation?” The blue eyes of his host bore straight into the mind of the Iranian, as he went on; “My guess is that you are upset because your revenues have been badly hit by the take-up of ‘Sought and Found’ power and energy products, and as a result, your backing for the militarists and fighters has had to be curtailed. Has it not occurred to any of the minds which control your Islamic Republic that maybe they are mistaken, and the true path to the increase in Islam’s reach is by preaching and good works alone?”

The shaken Iranian, unused to hearing a western man stating exactly what he had considered many times inside his own mind, commenced arguing that his country, and the revolution which it espoused, would not be bankrupted by a corrupt western company, and would continue to preach all over against the very existence of ‘Sought-and-Found’ anywhere within the Middle-East. But once more he was silenced as JayC, as the man was called by all, simply handed him a single page, upon which was written a franchise agreement which would allow Iran to build and equip, all over the country, the fresh water tanks and pumps which would carry the “Sought-and-Found” fuel to the millions of vehicles which travelled the streets and highways of Iran. The space which detailed the royalty cost had been left blank. The oil executive pointed at the omission, and JayC smiled a wonderful smile, and replied, “We know that we can trust you to make a suitable royalty payment arrangement, so we would prefer to leave the sum entirely up to you and your Government!” The tall westerner once more took his guest completely by surprise as he made a full arab gesture with his hands, saying at the same time, “Salaam aleikum!”

The Iranian managed an automatic “Aleikum Salaam!” in reply, as he considered the fabulous gift which had been bestowed upon his country. The oil which would have literally gone up in smoke could now be used to transform his nation’s industries, make plastics, electronics and much more. He would have to alter the mindset of an entire ruling class to achieve this, but with the munificent gift from this Englishman as his own armour, he found that the way forward towards a peaceful expansion of Islam became possible! As the jet’s engines boosted the huge aircraft towards the taxiways of the second-busiest airport in the world, Hakim Allahdi gazed out at the country which had given birth to such a strange un-worldly and supremely devious businessman such as this JayC obviously was. Then shrugged as he determined to set his own country on a course of change which would challenge it’s very existence!

Back in the Dorset village headquarters office, the man known as JayC nodded appreciatively as he drew the plate of casserole towards him, and then looked up as his father, an equally tall man whose hands and fingers showed the many small cuts of a carpenter joined the family table for the evening meal. His father also commenced his meal, then slowed and asked “How did your meeting go with the Iranian?”

His son replied, through a mouthful of steak, “I reckon things will work out nicely, especially since I gave him and his friends the choice of how much to pay us in royalties. I really would like to be a fly on that particular wall; watching as they twist and turn, arguing that if the sum is too low, we’ll just send word out on the grapevine that they’re really stingy, and the others arguing against paying too much because they’ll be trying to portray us as greedy, grasping and un-Islamic, and everyone knows that just isn’t true! I liked that young American, he came prepared, with a good business plan and a fair idea of the correct size of royalty payment. Okay, he chose a low figure, but since it was agreed with his own board, I thought it was a good choice. Good for us, and good for them because it won’t push them towards cutting any corners with the service. No, I’m happy with our progress so far, and once we get a full corner on all fuel, we’ll be going after weather modification techniques, slowly at first, and increasing gently, to blank out the famines and the hunger.”

Joseph, his father smiled over the table at his mother, and quietly asked, “Did you ever foresee our only son doing quite so well in business, Mary?” , waiting for her wonderful smile as she replied.

Meanwhile, a sleepy American oil executive had just finished keying in the letter/number combination which was now to be a feature of all his company’s new gas pumps. He had repeatedly hit the combination J 2:1-11 into the search engine, but every time received the same reply, which was “The Wedding Feast at Cana”.

In between two heartbeats…..

Long time back, I was flying in a Boeing 707 jet towards New Delhi, enroute to Hong Kong in order to join my new ship, as I was an Engineer Officer in the British Merchant Navy. The time was around two in the morning, and I was standing at the rear of the aircraft, trying, and it must be admitted, failing, to chat up the stewardess. It was a hopeless cause, she was smart, svelte, pretty and, I suppose, sufficiently bored to kill time with yet another passenger caught in her orbit.

I was leaning against the rear access door, smoke in one hand and a drink in the other, facing her across the window inset into the door. I glanced out of the window just as the silhouette of another aircraft whipped across my sightline before dissappearing into the night sky, the only thing left to show it’s passage was a fast dissappearing con-trail outlined by the moon.

The stewardess, reached back and flipped out the intercom phone, called the cockpit, and with what I can only describe as a controlled voice, asked the pilot if there had been any traffic advised in the area. The reply came back, “Nope, Helen, the sky’s reported as clear. Why do you ask?”

“Nothing too important, Captain. I’ll speak to you later!”

We shared another, but much larger drink, and another smoke, in perfect silence before I returned to my seat!

Funny how things sometimes stay in your mind long after the event!!

Book and Author review

We in this United Kingdom are particularly close to the source of all reading material, both from a technical viewpoint, and from an imaginative outlook as well! William Caxton didn’t invent the printing press, but published the first printed book in English, ‘Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres’, and we hold some of the finest authors and lyricists in the entire world as primarily British. From the first country song summer is a-cummin in, through the glories of Shakespeare, Bacon and Marlowe, the finely drawn family portraits of Austen, the social commentaries of Dickens to the multitude of writers extant today, we have a veritable harvest from which to inform or relax within, for there are few things better than a good book to rest both mind and body!

Writing from my own aspect, I would like to draw your mind’s eye towards some of my own favourites such as the political and social writer Howard Spring, and his commentary on ambition named ‘Fame is the Spur; the Yorkshire industrial and mining chronicles of Thomas Armstrong, the modern political/action epics of Tom Clancy, the naval ‘Hornblower’ classics of C.S. Forrester, the action novels of Gerald Seymour , inclusive of possibly the best detailed novel about a long-range sniper ever written, the early books of Alastair Mclean, ( the later ones were rubbish!); three novels by an American named Ellis K Meacham, in the spirit of ‘how not to do things’ Jeffrey Archer, the novel, “The Killer Angels, from Michael Shaara, an American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner; and finally, my own literary hero, the books of Nevil Shute. The last named, to my mind was truly the modern giant of literature, but largely forgotten these days in favour of contemporary writers with less than one percent of his talent. His was the magic of painting, in a few sparse lines and paragraphs, a growing picture of a story which would reside in the reader’s mind, to carry that same reader along the path which was painted, and to conclude that story and painting in such a way as to ensure that the reader was always wanting more! I make no apology for my liking for this Englishman, as his writings gave me the spur to try and produce my own. His early training as an aeronautical engineer, so vividly described in “Slide Rule” gave him the grounding from which sprang his masterpieces such as “Round the Bend” and “Trustee from the Toolroom”, and the world is the lesser place for his passing in 1960.

Whichever book you pluck from the shelves, whether to buy or borrow, be it a new book from a new author, or an old favourite to be re-visited, is always an adventure in mind and memory! Please note that I specifically do not say that my choices are those which everyone should follow, or use, or even adhere to; simply that the printed word is truly vast, and to read is to enhance your very being!

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it!

I note that Capita, the (in)famous IT firm who is the main contractor at the Home Office, also known as the shadow behind the London Congestion charge amongst others, is in the headlines for blocking the job prospects of about fifteen hundred people for the WRONG REASON.

I wonder if those fifteen hundred unfortunates would be able to sue the Home Office, or Capita, for loss of income or prospects?