A correct connection and a line that
was working: hooray for Ngombia Telecommunications.
"Charles, you know that road-striping
machine Nagbeh's ordered?"
"I've been doing some calculations."
"By the time you add them all up,
there are about two hundred and fifty miles of roads in Tuehville."
"Just proves how much Nagbeh needs
"That's not the point, Charles."
"So what is?"
"Two hundred and fifty miles of centre
lines and side lines means seven hundred and fifty miles of stripe."
"Like I said, James, just proves Nagbeh
needs the machine."
"Charles," James was trying very hard
to keep his voice even, "Have you any idea how much paint that
Charles sucked loudly through his
"Come on, man, you're supposed to
be the brains of the outfit. You tell me."
"Seven hundred and fifty miles of
four inch stripe," He spoke carefully,
"Would need around a hundred thousand
gallons of paint."
There was silence at the other end
of the line.
"And the same again when the roads
are repainted." James added.
"I'm thinking man."
"Charles, do you know what sort of
profit Tuehville Paint makes on a gallon of paint?"
"Doesn't matter what they make; they’ve
got a monopoly. That's what I'm thinking about."
"They've only got a monopoly on paints
that they manufacture; anything else is freely importable. Tuehville
Paint don't manufacture road marking paint."
"Not now they don't, but there's nothing
to stop them from doing so if they wanted to."
"No, Charles, there isn't; that’s
why you and I need to sit down and negotiate a deal with them."
"James, Tuehville Paints is owned
by Aloysius Sharman."
"I know that."
"Aloysius is old enough to be my grandfather
and rich enough to buy the half of Ngombia he doesn't already
own. How're we going to sit down and negotiate with someone like
"Phone him and ask to see him."
"To tell him what?"
"To tell him all the reasons why it
would be to his benefit to let us handle the road paint business."
"You know I don't need you, don't
A patrician, silver-haired elder statesman,
Aloysius Sharman enjoyed the easy imperturbability that comes
with advancing years and great wealth. He had listened goodnaturedly
to Charles and James throughout their presentation.
"If I wanted to add road paint to
my production schedule, a simple phone call would arrange the
appropriate import embargo." Aloysius gazed unblinkingly at James, "The
business would be mine; untouchable."
Charles scratched the back of his
head; James stared at the rosewood pipe rack and tobacco pot
that sat, side by side, on Aloysius' enormous mahogany desk.
He sensed that what little time they had was running out.
"Mr Sharman," James decided on one
last-ditch effort, "May I ask you a question?"
"Your monopoly extends to every paint
that you choose to manufacture, yet you don't manufacture vehicle
"Simple. Colours don't always match
"That doesn't seem to bother the average
motorist in Tuehville."
"It is not the average motorist who
bothers me, Mr Davidson," Aloysius sucked quietly through his
teeth, "It is the one with authority."
"Yes," Said James, "I'm familiar with
Aloysius raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure
you are, Mr Davidson," He said, "And I'm sure you can also imagine
the reactions of a minister if one of my paints did not match
exactly the original colour of his limousine."
James had his opening.
"Yes, Mr Sharman, I can. The minister
would probably demand to know why you should enjoy a monopoly
when your product was inferior."
Aloysius Sharman said nothing; he
was watching James carefully.
"And suppose," James continued,
"Suppose he demanded the withdrawal of your monopoly concession.
"I'd have competition," Agreed Aloysius, "But
I could still produce."
"Mr Sharman, we all know it costs
more to produce paint locally than to import it; you’d
lose money on every gallon you made. A factory that can only
produce at a loss is worthless; you’d have lost your entire
"My Goodness, Mr Davidson," Aloysius
raised an eyebrow, "You do paint a gloomy picture."
"Just illustrating a point, Mr Sharman."
"And what point is that?"
"That if a mistake on one single can
of car paint could cause that kind of problem, imagine what the
consequences might be of a mistake on the supply of special paint
to mark the highways for the OAU."
Aloysius smiled quietly to himself.
"My wife said she'd enjoyed doing
business with you."
He reached out and withdrew a pipe
from the rack beside him.
"Mr Davidson," Aloysius lifted the
lid off the rosewood tobacco pot and began to finger soft wads
of tobacco into the bowl of his pipe, pressing them down with
careful deliberation, "Mr Davidson, if I were to permit you to
handle this business, would you be prepared to effect suitable
royalty payments to Tuehville Paints?"
James was nearly home.
"That is what we came to negotiate,
An hour later, they had their deal.
"Congratulations," Aloysius walked
with them across the echoing, marble-floored hall, "It's good
to see that your head came to no lasting harm."
He leant forward to push open the
massive wooden double front doors, ushering Charles and James
through before him.
"Your defence of my wife's driver
was commendable," Aloysius smiled, "It is good to meet someone
who does not simply trample on the little people of this life.
I wish you well."
He walked with them down the broad
flight of steps to the gravelled driveway that curved gently
in front of the Sharman family mansion.
"By the way, Mr Davidson," Aloysius
held open James' door for him, "Did you find your street maps
"How on earth....?"
Aloysius smiled again, a twinkle in
"The little people, Mr Davidson, I
listen to the little people. They tell me what is really happening."
He closed James' door and stepped back from the car, "Ask your
friend, Mr Nyamplu, he is one of the few who knows my story."
"So," James turned to Charles as they
swept down Aloysius's driveway, "What is his story?"
Charles told the tale as he drove.
Many years ago, as Aloysius' political
power and personal wealth had grown, so he had felt an increasing
need to share at least some of it with those less fortunate than
himself. Eventually, without fanfare, he and his wife had set
about providing a refuge for some of the vagrant children with
which the streets of Tuehville teemed.
"They looked after thousands of them
in their time," Said Charles, "With no official backing or outside
Aloysius and Gertrude had provided
basic food, basic clothes, basic education, and a roof over the
"It wasn't much," Charles continued,
"But it was all those kids had and, to all of them, it was home."
Aloysius had shamelessly and tirelessly
badgered his contacts to provide his charges with employment.
Almost invariably, the positions had been humble, but they had
provided young adolescents who would otherwise have faced a lifetime
as beggars or prostitutes with a vital first foothold on the
ladder of life.
"There are hundreds of Sharman kids
all over town," Charles stared straight ahead as he drove,
"Only some of them aren't kids any more; they’re middle-aged
men and women."
James thought back to his outburst
outside the telecommunications centre, the day he'd met the crippled
leper. He remembered Charles' words 'You don't know anything
about him except what some other foreigner told you over cocktails...’
"Why didn't you tell me any of this
before?" He asked.
"Aloysius has always wanted to keep
it quiet; he’s just that kind of man."
James was silent for a while.
"But how did he know about our map
"That's another story, James. I only
found out when I asked Aloysius if we could see him. I'll tell
you over a coffee."
They drove to Willie's where Charles
found them a corner table. James waited, bristling with curiosity,
whilst Charles folded himself bonelessly into his chair. Comfortable
at last, Charles began his tale.
Thirty-two years ago, he told James,
Aloysius and his wife had gone out for the first time to search
Tuehville's nighttime streets for stray children. It had not
been long before they’d found the first of their emaciated
waifs. Huddled at the back of a garbage-strewn alleyway, he was
filthy, starving, terrified, and utterly alone. They guessed
him to be about ten years old, but nobody ever found out for
"He'd never had a day in school,"
Said Charles, "And years of severe malnutrition meant he'd be simple-minded
That first child stayed with Aloysius
and his wife for years, clinging with complete devotion to the
only people ever to have shown him any kindness. He stayed with
them until he was a grown man, when Aloysius had managed to find
him a job as a watchman.
"The boy's name," Said Charles,
Aloysius smiled to himself: he’d
enjoyed the negotiations; there were all too few opportunities
these days to exercise his wits. It had taken skill to ensure
that that young Mr Davidson felt he'd won a victory. Normally,
Aloysius would never have let such business go but, if the murmurings
he was hearing these days were true…. What was it that
old sparring partner of his, George Sanders, used to say? 'If
you want to join the game, you have to play by the rules of the
table'. True, Aloysius thought to himself; but you also had
to know when to fold.