Previous, Next, Numerical Index, Chronological Index.
For All Nails, pt. 1

JEFFERSON CITY, JEFFERSON, July 1957

Robert Contreras was a happy man.  A very happy man.  He had just
married the most beautiful woman in Jefferson City.  His contacts with
his old college buddy, a North American named Julian Scherer, were
paying dividends.  Julian had gotten into the oil industry up in
Manitoba.  Robert had gotten his start supplying Julian with pumps and
tubings from a factory in Guajaca, where wages were but a tenth of
their level in the CNA.  The fall in transport costs engendered by
Mercator's superhighways --- plus the ludricrously low wages down in
Guajaca --- more than made up for the Confederation's tariff walls.

Still, that was not going to last forever.  Wages were rising fast
down in Guajaca, and it was by no means certain that easy access to
the CNA would last forever.  So it was time to look for new markets.
Pemex --- the company formerly known as P.A., but now the property of
the federal government --- was the obvious place to look.  Oil
production was booming, especially now that the new deep drilling
techniques had opened up the Tabasco fields.  And he had a lock on the
best technology, licensed from his friend's company up in Manitoba.
Oh, yes, life was good.  And he was only thirty-seven years old!

His secretary buzzed.  "Sir?  Your one o'clock is here to talk to
you."

Right on time.  Not usual for someone from Viejo Méjico.  Contreras
liked that.  It meant they might finish before lunch.  Which was
vital:  he was scheduled to meet with someone from one of the new
state steel companies, Sipacsa, about the quality of the raw steel
they were delivering from their Valladolid plant.

"Send him in," he responded.  Robert's desk faced a window overlooking
the Jefferson City skyline.  Behind it was a small circular table,
which was where he talked to visitors.  He was only a small fry, just
getting started, riding some lucky breaks and lucky enough to get some
big fish to meet HIM in HIS office --- better to not appear
presumptuous.

Franklin Malvaez didn't look like a government bureaucrat.  His suit
was cut in the latest Italian style.  It just looked expensive.  He
also had that typical foppish --- well, "foppish" wasn't the word that
went through Contreras's head, but the word that did cannot and should
not be used in a family forum that disapproves of homophobia --- look
associated with rich Hispanos from the capital.  He even wore an
ascot, whereas neckware had disappeared from the wardrobes of Mexican
men north of the tropic of Cancer decades ago.  This kind of Hispano
style had always been rare in government officials, and more so now
that General Mercator was running things.  So who was this guy?

Robert stood up and grasped Malvaez's hand in a typical Jeffersonian
grip --- that is, tight enough to cause gangrene to set in if
maintained too long.  Malvaez didn't flinch.  "Mighty pleased to
meetcha, Señor Contreras," he said, the smile on his face belying the
struggle of their hands.  Good, thought Robert, under that joto
exterior we got someone who thinks he's a real chingón, and he talks
like a born-and-bred Norteño.  I can do business with him.

"So, Señor Malvaez, what can I do for you today?"  He motioned towards
a seat around the circular table, and sat down himself, a carefully
measured sixty-degrees away.

"That'd be Colonel Malvaez," he said, grinning, "but please, call me
Frank."  He paused for a second.  "Mind if I smoke?"

"Go ahead," said Robert.  "Can't be any worse than that soup out
there."  The sky was a typical summer brown.  The USM had the worst
air pollution of anywhere on the planet, although he'd read somewhere
that Persia was catching up fast.

Malvaez took out a cigarette, put it into a small gold holder, and lit
up.  But he held the cigarette the way a soldier would, or one of
those goddamn annoying Californio teenagers, the kind who thought he
was much more duro than he actually was.  Strange combo, here, the
body language of a Norteño naco with the accessories of a Central
aristo.  "I hear that you're pursuing a contract with Pemex, Señor
Contreras."

"Hey, call me Bob, please.  That's right.  But what does that have to
do with the Intervened Goods Administration?  Your secretary said this
was about our lease on the old K.A. plant in  Tapachula."

Malvaez smiled again, like the two were old friends.  Definately a
Norteño.  California, Sonora, México del Norte maybe, but clearly
Norteño.  "That's right, Bob, I do work for the IGA, but I'm not here
to see you in an official capacity."

Robert raised an eyebrow.  "No?  Then why are you here?"

"Well, you see, Bob, you want to do business with Pemex.  Now, Pemex
is a big organization.  And now that it's been nationalized, you not
only have to go through the typical procurement mess that you have at
any big company, but you've got to deal with federal bureaucrats and
federal procedures."

Robert immediately knew where this was going.  His face turned hard.

Malvaez picked up on it immediately.  "No, Bob, you misunderstand me.
You have a signed contract with Pemex, right?  Well, this is Mexico,
guey.  Contracts are contracts.  You think Pemex wants to get dragged
in front of jury in civil court?  No way!"

He paused a second.  "What I mean is, certainly policies will be
changing in the near future.  You've heard President Mercator's
speeches.  I can tell you, our beloved President is very serious about
Sharing the Riqueza."  You could hear the capitals as Malvaez spoke.
"More will follow.  And there is no guarantee of future contracts with
Pemex, or sweetheart deals on intervened properties."  He paused
again.

"But ... our dear President has no desire to wreck the economy, or
destroy the hard work of Mexican patriots such as yourself.  There
will be loopholes in the legislation, for those who know how to work
them.  And there will be endless work from the national companies.
And, should you run into trouble, there will always be the option of
having some of your own problematic investments being nationalized
themselves.  Talk to most of the expropriated yourself.  For every one
who complains, there are three who are very satisfied.  Me explico,
Bob?"

"Yeah, te explico, Frank."  [1]  He frowned.  "So what's the saldo
here?"

"Simple.  I'll handle any problems you may have with Pemex.  In fact,
I'll keep any problems from developing.  And I'll keep you abreast of
any, ah, regulatory changes that may effect your personal income.  In
return, you'll retain the services of this law firm," he presented a
gilt-edged card listing an unknown firm in Mexico City, "and I'll get
a 5 percent cut of every contract."

Bob was no rube.  He knew this was how things worked in the Brave New
Mexico, but he also knew that he was not powerless.  Things hadn't
degenerated that far yet --- Mercator hadn't been able to dismantle
decades of the rule of law in less than a decade.  So he had some
bargaining power.  If this deal didn't produce benefits for him, he
could screw Malvaez as badly as Malvaez could screw him.

So he said, "You've got huevos, Frank."  Frank smiled and nodded.
Definately a Norteño.  "How do I know you can deliver?"

"Simple.  First, I'll double the value of your contracts within a
month.  After that, I guarantee you as much new business as you can
handle for as long as Pemex is growing.  You won't get all of it, but
you'll get lots.  Second, I guarantee you that when the new laws come
on down from Chapultepec Castle, that law firm will know EXACTLY how
to protect your assets and income.  If I don't come in, you can nail
my piel to the wall."

The two men looked at each other.  They were both soldiers.  They were
both chingones.  And they were both about to chingar the other ... and
come away happier for it.  It was a crazy world.

"You got a deal, Frank."  They stood up and grabbed each others hands
again.

MANITOBA, August 1969

"No.  No!!  You can't.  It's evil.  I forbid it.  Final."  Mark
Stapleton banged his hand on the table.

His daughter took his outburst about as well as he would have at her
age.  Or even now, come to think of it.  "Fuck you, Dad.  Fuck you!"
She crumpled up and threw the slip of paper down right down into his
plate of sausage.  "Fuck you!" she yelled again as she stormed out of
the house.

Stapleton buried his face in his hands.  Oh, Christ, this would be
much much easier if Marie was still here.  But Marie had left him two
years ago, after that affair with her boss.  Now his daughter was
leaving, too, for the godbedamned Royal Confederation Air Force
Academy, of all places, which had just begun admitting women.  The Air
Force Academy!

He pushed the food away from him, standing up from the table with a
groan.  Damn.  Damn. What had he done to deserve this?  Nothing.
Nothing at all.  All his life he had worked and campaigned for peace
and progress.  As a young man, he'd been active in the Brotherhood
League.  He actively worked in the New Day movement. When he accepted
the teaching job here in Manitoba, hemet his wife at a meeting of the
National Coalition for Women's Equality.  He'd travelled to Tanganyika
with his young family and helped dig wells in the fifties. When the
tourists were killed in Morocco, he'd actively demonstrated against
intervention or reprisals.  He'd demonstrated against the Bomb.  He'd
practically organized the Peace and Justice Party here singlehandedly!
 He was a good man!

And what happened?  His wife leaves him for her boss, some smug oilman
from Mexico.  And now his daughter leaves him too.  For the military!
He snorted, then muttered to himself, "At least she learned the
lessons I taught her."  But the incipient smile didn't last.  The
military!  The warmongers!  He stopped his pacing, and without
realizing it, picked up and hurled the plate of sausages against the
dining room wall.  It made a satisfying smash, but Stapleton's
shoulders sagged as he realized that he would have to clean the mess
up alone.  He stared at the shards of the plate, and the mess on the
hardwood floor.  Instead of cleaning it up, he went to the vita room
and sank into the couch, staring at the flickering images on the
screen but seeing nothing.

FN [1]:  "Te explico" is, of course, horribly ungrammatical Spanish.
Spanish is not, however, what Contreras and Malvaez are speaking.
Rather, they are speaking the heavily Hispanicized colloquial English
of Jefferson, in which "te explico" is the correct affirmative
response to the interrogative "me explico?"  Think of it as the
equivalent of an OTL Californian saying "No problemo" instead of "No
hay problema," or two OTL New Yorkers saying "Ya kapeesh?" followed by
"Yeah, I kapeesh."  Kapeesh?