Short Story: “Business Decision”

It’s been said that there is only communication between equals, and that’s when they’re both speaking the same language.

Business Decision
by P. Orin Zack
(June 2003)

Evan studied the portly man standing in front of the curved dais for a moment before answering.

Jason Sweeney had attended Council meetings before, a silent but imposing presence brooding in the far corner. A curious glance was enough to influence the more convivial constituents in the room, causing them to stay well away lest they become enamored of whatever unsavory business had paid for the custom woven fabrics of his business suit, and led him to wear such uncomfortable-looking shoes. But something was different today. Something had driven him to exchange the shadows at the edge of the room for a brightly lit moment at the center of attention.

“I can offer this Council the means to retire its debts,” he had said. “It’s just a simple business transaction. What harm can that do?”

Megan Fury, the Council member to Evan’s right, leaned over. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she whispered.

He nodded, and then looked up at Sweeney. “In exchange for what?”

“Control. Better control over what goes on within your jurisdiction. More knowledge of what scofflaws might be planning. In short, a way to do your jobs more effectively.”

“More effectively?”

Evan focussed on Sweeney’s eyes, letting the rest of the Council chamber – the pictures and tapestries on the far wall, row upon row of concerned citizens – fade into a soft blur of light and color. The man wore contacts, but the bridge of his nose said glasses.

“That’s right. The Council was elected to oversee the business of the community, was it not?”

A rustle of groaning chairs pled the gathering’s unease. Evan scanned the crowd, took in their collective body language. Then he nodded subtly. “I feel I’m being led somewhere with your answers, Mr. Sweeney. Would you care to jump ahead to whatever point you rose to make?”

Sweeney straightened slightly, his pose transforming from that of a concerned newcomer to one more suitable to an experienced leader.

“If you wish. I believe that this is a troubled community, saddled with obligations and responsibilities for which it cannot pay. You have no major industries to provide stable jobs, nor reasons for outsiders to spend their hard-earned money here. I would like to help you to change all that, to transform this sleepy burg into a bustling center of business. There is a great deal for you to gain, and the cost is minimal.”

Muttered responses swept the room.

Evan raised an open palm to the crowd. “I’ll have quiet in the Council chamber, please. It would appear, Mr. Sweeney, that your characterization of our situation does not meet with universal approval. If the rest of the Council have no objections, I would like to speak privately with Mr. Sweeney about this matter, and then return to the topic at our next session.”

* * *

The following day, in the rapidly heating aftermath of a morning thunderstorm, Evan welcomed Sweeney into his office and asked if he’d like some tea.

“I’ll get right to the point, Mr. Wolfe,” he said after gulping half a glass of iced jasmine. “I represent a community of business leaders that have the means to turn your community around.”

Even looked out the window of his cluttered office and smiled at the sight of a few suggestive clouds – one that looked like a hare in full gallop, and the other a rapidly decaying eagle — remnants of the brief downpour that had soaked him during his mid-morning walk.

“I take it then that you disapprove of whatever direction you believe it is headed now?”

“Don’t you?”

A curious question. “Are you hoping for confirmation of your opinion, then?”

Sweeney lowered his glass. “I don’t understand.”

“You came to the Council yesterday and proposed a particular way of experiencing this community, one that serves what I assume to be your own ends, or at least those of the group you claim to represent.”

He reddened. “Claim to?”

Evan didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he waited while his visitor regained control of his twitching ring finger, and the incessant rattle of gold against wood finally subsided.

“I’ve never met any of these people you speak of. I don’t know what their agendas are, or how they feel about our community. All I know is that you claim to represent them, and I don’t have a good reason to believe what you say about them.”

Sweeney white-knuckled his glass against the table and released it. “So you doubt my word? On what basis?”

Evan chuckled. “Doubt you? No, of course not. I have no reason to doubt your word. In the six months since you moved here, you’ve proven yourself to be a man of honor on many occasions. Several members of this community have spoken to me about the way they were treated in your store, and about how you offered to help the school.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s not your word that we’re talking about here, but that of your alleged associates.”

Sweeney stood up, thrusting his chair into a bookcase, where it knocked over a psychology reference. “Alleged associates? Are you accusing me of lying?”

“Of course not. And I really don’t understand what you’re getting so upset over. Please. Sit. Talk. Have some tea.”

He stared out the window for a moment, head twitching gently in reflection of whatever was going on in his mind. Finally, he drew a noisy breath, grabbed the chair roughly and returned to the table.

“Thank you. Now if you don’t mind, please explain why you think I’ve accused you of lying.”

“I’ve just about had it with you, Mr. Wolfe. Why do you insist on playing these mind games with me? Can’t you just have a civil discussion and leave it at that?”

Evan shook his head in confusion. “Mind games? I’m doing nothing of the sort. I just have no direct knowledge of the people you keep telling me about. What reason could I possibly have to trust them?”

Sweeney’s eyes bulged, his cheeks twitched from the strain of clamping his mouth shut. “You trust me, don’t you?”

“Of course. I already told you that.”

“Then why don’t you take my word about this?”

Evan turned his palms up. “Because there’s no reason to. It’s their word that concerns me, and I’ve never met them. Now if you want to bring your associates to the next Council meeting, we’d be more than happy to hear what they have to say.”

Sweeney’s face pruned. “Bring them here? But they live on the other side of the world, for heaven’s sake. Why would they want to come here?”

“Well, you seem to think they have an interest in us. Why wouldn’t they?”

He sputtered wordlessly. “It’s business. We’re talking about business. An exchange of money for goods and services. They don’t have to come all the way here just to do business with you people. What is wrong with you?”

Evan though for a moment. “Oh… I think I understand, now.”

“You do?”

“Sure. You’re talking about commerce.”

Sweeney stared.

“At the meeting, you wanted to talk about commerce, but you kept using the word business. Then you asked me to confirm that we’d been elected to look after the business of the community.”

“Well, weren’t you?”

“Their business, sure, but not their commerce.”

“What?”

Evan laughed. “You must have gotten the words mixed up. The Council exists to preserve the integrity of the community, to look after the social transactions that keep it healthy. We have nothing to do with commerce.”

Sweeney rocked back in his chair and gazed up at the ceiling. Then, without a word, he rose and left.

A moment later, Megan walked in.

“Well?”

“I think that should have the desired effect. Sweeney was so tightly focused on his need to expand the control of his masters that he didn’t even notice that the whole point of the exercise was to introduce him to the concept of attribution strength.”

“How long do you think it will take?”

“That’s hard to tell. Their cancerous control meme has been running the world for a few thousand years now. There’s a lot of people involved, a lot of governments, religions and businesses, and we’ve only infected Sweeney. But if he begins to doubt things that he doesn’t know firsthand, it will spread. Given enough time, the Illuminati will be wiped off the face of the Earth.”

THE END
Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack

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