After the War, government was in chaos. Tempered glass was in high demand, but bulletproof glass often made the difference between life and death for the public official. In the USA in particular, millions of citizens had gotten used to fighting their own battles against neighbors and Twiggies alike. One President, Pensive Norado, tried to throw Federal weight around by dispatching a full brigade to quell the secession of Nevada from the Union in 2130. Fewer than three hundred soldiers survived Norado’s Folly, and the monolithic power of the Feds was broken for once and for all. After Norado was assassinated by his own daughter in 2131, politicians learned to walk small; they no longer dared bully the States but had to negotiate just like anyone else. The alternative was death.____Thompson Getty, The Postwar Fall Of Tyranny.
“Okay. Good.” Sven Jensen shifted a bit on his chair, finding a more comfortable position. The left knee was starting to ache a little after all. “Well, to start with, I just moved to town a couple of months ago. I’ve got a little money I inherited when my Dad died, nothing like millions, but a little. If I could get an option on the Mizpah Hotel building, or a long term lease, it occurred to me that I’d love to live in ghost country on that fifth floor.”
Gene Trask stopped him with a raised eyebrow. “Living with a ghost doesn’t worry you, son?”
The former Seeder shrugged. “Not so sure I’d like the idea if the spook was a nasty one, a murderer who got caught and hung or something, but as I hear it, she’s nothing like that. Besides, my Kate is a bit of a ghost whisperer; she might like the company.”
The old man nodded, leaning back, sipping his Mountain Magic coffee, listening. He really was a good listener.
“But of course to do that, I’d have to put the rest of the old girl to work earning her keep, so to speak. Uh, the Hotel, not the ghost. Although the ghost was a working girl, they say.”
“So they say.” No one really knew for sure. It was often that way with things that went bump in the night.
“So the question was, what kind of business would fit in there and suit my personal code of ethics without working me to death? For the longest time, I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t have a ton of drawbacks. Sure, it was a casino and restaurant at one time, along with the hotel rooms, but without gambling you’ve got nothing. My wife is a bit of an addict in that area, and besides, why would I ever want to deal with the Gaming Commission? Sounded like more trouble than it was worth.”
“I agree.” Sven’s host shook his head in disbelief at the hassles of dealing with the bureaucracy. “Even in a rich town it’d be a pain in the tush, and this ain’t no rich town by a long shot.”
“Two long shots. And what have we got to attract business owners? No cultural activities, no real shopping, nothing within a hundred miles worth spitting at.”
“Then one day I remembered seeing a news story on a little company in Reno called Sandfire. Family owned outfit. The Daddy invented a new way of making glass. Didn’t patent it because the Feds or whoever could reverse engineer his process that way. It’s a kind of tempered glass, apparently. At least reporters and pundits have run headlines calling it things like Tempered Glass Turbo or Tempered Glass In A Teapot. I know,” he grinned at Gene’s cocked eyebrow, “I think the writer was trying to reach with tempest in a teapot. Quite a stretch.
“Anyway, so far the family has been able to hold the secret of Sandfire Tempered Glass as closely as Kentucky Fried Chicken held the secret of its however many herbs and spices. Now, about the end product. It takes a lot of a certain kind of sand, and some high temperatures; that much is public record. I guess that’s true for making any kind of glass, come to think of it. But this guy figured out a couple of different ingredients and most likely a few processing twists to boot. What he ended up with is tough enough to be bullet proof–and I don’t mean just bullet resistant, either. Tough as plasteel and absolutely beautiful at the same time. Collectors claim it puts leaded crystal to shame.
“If all that weren’t enough, it’s musical. Tap it with a silver spoon and it chimes the prettiest notes imaginable.”
He took a breath, glugged down a bit more coffee, ignored the protest emanating from his bladder. The discomfort might as well have belonged to someone else. This was getting long winded, but Gene didn’t comment, just waited quietly for him to continue.
“Well, small as our library is here, I did manage to find that article in the holo files. Sandfire may not be in business by the end of the year, not because there isn’t any market for turbo tempered glass but because the owner won’t let the venture vultures in the back door to steal his creative output. He doesn’t want to lose his baby, you know. There’ve also been Feds sniffing around trying to persuade him to throw in with them, even showed him a fancy demo for a company they wanted him to run called Tempered Glass Turbo USA. Trying to appeal to his patriotism, I guess.
“He didn’t fall for that, either. Ran ’em off at gunpoint, if the story can be believed. Man’s got a temper.
“So they’re ganging up to squeeze him out, the big boys are. I can see a lot of potential for Sandfire glass, tempered or bulletproof or whatever you want to call it. Even without the military applications–and I’m thinking the family is right to run the Feds off–it could be a billion nud market or more. I know my wife wants some. She’s epileptic and arthritic and drops stuff on a pretty regular basis. Beautiful drinking glasses that she couldn’t kill if she jumped up and down on ’em…she’d like that.”
“So would I,” Gene agreed. “Tend to drop things myself on occasion these days. Do go on. This is the best story I’ve heard since the Tonopah Chief of Police got caught in bed with the Mayor’s mother last year.”
“No kidding? I missed that one.” Because he hadn’t been in Nye County last year.
“Yeah, no kidding. Just about eleven, twelve months back. The woman is over seventy and uglier’n a toad caught in a nuclear blast, which was what made it so all-fired funny. Most figured the Chief ought to’ve just been committed for bad taste. Matter of fact, word is somebody hung a bad taste award on the PD bulletin board one morning.
“The Chief woulda fired the guy who’d done that, ‘cept nobody fessed up. The award mighta been overkill, though. He ain’t really no prize either.”
“Same Chief we’ve got now?”
“Same one. If you’ve got your Mom living with you, keep her locked up and outa sight.”
Sven laughed. “I’ll do that and then some. Except she lives out of state. Hey, if we can ID the guy who did that plaque maybe we could sell him an upgraded version made of tempered glass. Watch the Chief try to bust it and go nuts. Heh. Guess you can tell I don’t like police chiefs in general….
“Well, back to the Mizpah Hotel vision. I did a little more checking. Seems the kind of sand that Sandifre needs to make its glass is quite specific but not really all that uncommon. In fact, that old sand and gravel outfit east of town a few miles would do just fine. I slipped out there, scooped up some, had a lab in Vegas run a quick analysis for me.
“The gravel pit’s been shut down for a while, but maybe I could secure an option before talking to Sandfire’s owner. Not that I feel much like taking on the whole world in this fight, but if I’m going to deliberately tick off the major corporations and the Feds all in one shot, a little sneakiness could be a good thing.”
Gene snorted. “The whole world is sneaky, son.”
“I noticed. Anyway, they’re squeezing Sandfire hard up in Reno. He’s got the equipment to operate in just about any building and do it relatively pollution free, the very latest stuff plus a few things I guess he had to invent and build himself. But he’s in a rented location right now.”
“Let me guess.” Gene’s voice was dry as he rose and shuffled over to the coffeepot to pour their fifth cups of coffee. “Rent is going up.”
“You got it. He only needs about ten thousand square feet, apparently, but the rent’s been tripled in three months. He has to pay it or move, and suddenly no one in Reno or Sparks seems to have space available, if you know what I mean. Plus his suppliers are jacking prices, especially the sand, of which he has to have a continuing supply.”
“I kin see why you’re interested.” Trask placed the freshened cups on the table and sat back down gingerly. At his age, he’d learned to do pretty much everything a bit gingerly. “Sounds like a noble cause.”
Sven remembered his early schooling in Sales, some of the elective classes he’d taken at the Guild Academy. If you want the sale, you have to ask for it. The principle applied to every transaction, be it a barrel of apples or a building in which to manufacture tempered glass. He took a deep breath, ignoring his increasingly urgent bladder, and took the plunge.
“So, Gene…would you consider giving me an option on the Mizpah?”
Jensen’s heart sank. He’d thought it had been going so well. “Maybe? You have questions? Or need to think it over? I can surely understand that. I–”
“Stop! You’re a good salesman, kid, almost as good as I was forty years ago. You’ve already got the sale. Don’t muck it up by running on at the mouth when your prospect’s trying to say yes!”
“I’ll do better than give you an option. I’ll sell it to you complete, free and clear for practically nothing except you gotta visit me once a month and bring a fresh can of that there Mountain Magic with you when you come.”
The fugitive Seeder turned would-be entrepeneur stared, speechless. He didn’t dare move. Might break the spell. Dreaming? He must be, except his dreams were never this good. The girls were that good, but–
“You’re staring, kid. Back to Earth, boy, and shet your mouth. You’re catching flies.”
“Um…yes. When shall we draw the papers?”
“You don’t mind shooting the breeze with a nasty smelling old codger?”
“No, of course not. I mean, I don’t smell anything bad–” He broke off in confusion. The old man cackled gleefully.
“Gotcha, boy. Don’t you ever think I won’t be getting my price out of you, all right?”
“All right. I believe you. Now I’ll have to find out who owns the sand and gravel outfit, see if I can get something done there. But the Hotel had to come first.”
“The quarry, eh? Where the sign says Rockfit Sand and Gravel, ‘cept it’s so faded you can’t hardly read it?”
“Yeah. That’s the one. Gotta have the sand.”
“Well, kid, I can’t wait to see the sour looks on the faces of our hoity toity elite types in town if you’re able to pull this one off under their coke-sniffing noses. Tell you what, you throw in a new set of six coffee mugs made out of that there Sandfire tempered glass, and maybe I can help you a little with the Rockfit outfit.”
“Fair enough,” Sven grinned. “I reckon if you’ve lived here your entire life, you would know who’s who and how best to approach them, wouldn’t you?”
“Might just,” Trask agreed, “Them sand and gravel owners also being me.”