A Tale for the Modern Attention Span
“Uh, ahem, thank you, Mr. Bolt.”
Aha, the boy is nervous. Advantage, Steel. “I’ve been watching your progress across the street. Things are happening very quickly.”
“Yeah, they are. So far we ain’t—sorry, haven’t had any serious delays in renovation or construction.”
“Good, good.” Steel paused. He pretended to look for something on his desk. He knew silence would make the young man more uncomfortable, thus granting himself an even greater advantage. “So,” he finally continued after grabbing a pencil, as if that’s what he’d been searching for all along, “I suppose I don’t have to explain why I invited you here?”
“I guess, I mean, I assume it’s because you want to know why I’m starting Hard Hinges.”
“Yes. Do you mind telling me?”
“No. I, ahem, basically feel there is a great deal of money to be made in the fastener business. Bolt Fasteners has been operating as a virtual monopoly for years now, and that simply isn’t fair.” Burl said all of this like someone reciting a speech he'd memorized.
“We have that monopoly because our excellent products, low prices and incomparable service drove our competitors out of business.”
“Well then, you shouldn’t be worried about my little company, should you?” Burl replied quickly.
A little too quickly, Steel thought. “I’m worried because you have a billion dollars at your disposal. You could use that war-chest to undercut me and thereby drive prices down across the board.”
“Yes, I could.”
“I’m also confused about your motivation. I mean, why are you bothering to do this? You could’ve bought yourself an island somewhere and lived an indolent, decadent life. Why take on the headaches and risk of starting a company? Is this part of some elaborate ploy to get Viveka back?”
Again like a man recounting something he’d been taught, Burl said, "Frankly I don’t think my motivation is any of your concern.”
“It is if you’re going to be fucking with me!” Steel shot back quickly. Then he calmed himself: “Mr. Hard, I have a proposition for you. Would you like to hear it?”
“In exchange for putting ideas about Hard Hinges to rest, I will allow you to purchase 10 percent of Bolt Fasteners. If it’s a job you’re after, I’ll give you one. And an office—a corner one even. We can do whatever you like,” Steel said magnanimously.
Perhaps Burl didn’t realize the significance of Steel’s offer. He had no way of knowing that no one other than a Bolt had ever owned part of Bolt Fasteners. He certainly wasn’t aware that Steel had left all the corner offices vacant, lest one of his underlings start feeling high on himself. He probably didn’t even realize that Steel was swallowing a great deal of pride just to offer his erstwhile stableboy a job.
No, he must not have known any of these things because he stood up and said, “No thank you. I am not interested in Bolt Fasteners.”
“What?” demanded a now enraged Steel. “You’re such a hayseed that you don’t realize what a deal you’ve just turned down? Well fine, be that way. I promise to bury your pathetic company in no time. And take you down with it.”
“Mr. Bolt,” said Burl as he stood by the door, “there’s no need to get nasty. Remember, in a market economy ‘every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man.’ See ya later,” he added before he left.
Steel walked over to the window and watched construction of Burl’s plant. He scratched his chin. What the hell is going on here? The man who used to shovel my horses’ shit is quoting Adam Smith to me. Someone else is behind this. Yes, without a doubt there is an invisible hand at work.
Continue reading: Episode 39: Burl Want Girl