"How long do you think he'll keep us waiting, Mr. Tomason? I'm a busy man, and I'm sure Mr. Gernsdotir is, as well. The world does not revolve around your employer."
Roger Tomason bowed slightly and replied, "I apologize once again, Mr. Larik. You're absolutely correct, the world does not revolve around Mr. Smith. Nor does it stop for him, I'm afraid. He's a busy man, too, and... well, he has many places to be, and certain things are beyond his control. Traffic being one of them. But he is most anxious to be here as soon as he possibly can. However, if you'd prefer to reschedule..."
Lucien Larik heaved a heavy sigh and said, "No... not yet." He looked at his watch. "I'll give him another fifteen minutes to show up, then I'll have to leave. I have places to be, too."
"Thank you. Now, is there anything else I can get you while you wait? Either of you?"
Larik and Gernsdotir both shook their heads. They'd been made quite comfortable already. "Well then," said Tomason, "I'll leave you alone. I'm afraid even a person of such little import as myself..." he grinned, "has places to be." Bowing again, he turned and headed for the door. "Please be sure to let Miss Hawk know if there's anything else she can do for you until Mr. Smith arrives."
The two men turned their heads to look at the door at the sound of it closing behind their host, or rather their host's assistant. Then they turned to look at each other. "So," said Larik, "you have any idea why he wanted to see the two of us together?"
Gernsdotir shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know any more about Mr. Smith than does the general public. Never met him or anything. How about you?"
"Not in an official capacity. I knew him as a child... his family and mine have been close for generations. In fact I was named after his grandfather. But... I haven't seen him for years. In essence, I don't know much more of him now than you do. And I can't really see what the three of us have in common, business-wise."
"You know I'm not a businessman, of course, just a humble writer of science fiction. I don't see it either. I mean, what my profession has in common with yours, or his. In fact I'm not altogether clear on exactly what it is his company does, all I really know is he has more money than God-"
"Not yet," said a voice from behind them. And as the door they hadn't heard open quietly clicked shut behind their host, arrived at last, he added, "but I'm catching up! Greetings, gentlemen. I apologize for the delay. Lucien, good to see you again. It's been far too long." He walked to his desk, and sat down, facing his guests.
"Bit familiar, aren't you, Smith? We were never really friends, you know. Just acquaintances. I've never been into the whole family connection thing, you know."
"Yes... sorry. I should say, Mr. Larik. ...And, Mr. Gernsdotir. I trust you've all been well looked-after in my absence?"
"Your man Tomason knows his job," said Larik.
"Actually, I'm afraid I asked him to perform tasks a bit outside his job description. He's not really an assistant, you know. My company doesn't have anything quite like an executive vice president, but if it had, he'd be the one closest to it. He understands, however, the importance of this meeting, and was quite good to make my excuses for me..."
If Larik felt any discomfort at the realization of his misunderstanding, he didn't show it. "Well then, what is this meeting about, if I may ask?"
"But of course. Best to get down to business. I'm looking to acquire your companies. Keeping you both on in your current positions, of course, but with a slight raise..."
"Um, excuse me," interjected Gernsdotir, "but, um, I don't actually have a company..."
Smith closed his eyes and bowed his head momentarily, before raising it again and looking at the writer. "Sorry, yes. Sorry. I get so ahead of myself, sometimes, I tend to forget about... you know, real time. I should have said, I recently acquired a publishing house, and wanted to make you its managing editor. With a slight raise over the previous editor's salary. Sorry."
Horace Gernsdotir sat stunned, mouth agape. After half a minute he managed to say, "But..." and that was about all.
George Smith grinned. "Yes, I can well understand your confusion. And perhaps misgivings. I mean, obviously your calling is writing. And to be sure, I don't want you to stop doing that, you're so good at it. So good, in fact, that I can't help but be interested to see what your taste in fiction would lead you to publish if you had the chance to select among various submissions from other authors. Particularly new authors looking for a break, which other houses might not give them. You yourself, I think, had some experience with rejection before your first success."
"I... well I mean, of course. That's just the nature of the business."
"Some authors may end up getting earlier works published after they become famous, so their name alone is enough to ensure good sales. Rather fewer turn out to have written things which deserved such sales all along. I think you should've broken into the business far sooner than you did. And perhaps you could see such potential in other artists."
When it became clear that Gernsdotir was lost in thought, Larik said, "Okay, so we know what he's doing here. Now what's your interest in my company? And why would you think I'd be interested in selling? I can give myself a raise, if I want to. I hardly think it's worth giving up any degree of control..."
Smith sighed. "Mr. Larik... Lucien... I must apologize. And let you in on a little secret. I don't have complete control of my company, myself. Day to day, sure, I'm in charge. But ultimately, my grandfather still holds the real power. He doesn't use it much, he's happy with how I run things, for the most part. But every now and then, he has some idea he wants me to implement. This is one of those things. It's not really about business, at least not principally. He explained the business sense behind it to me, and I must say, I agree with him... I think all of us stand to become a great deal richer by this deal... However, Grandfather's chief reason for this deal is not financial, but personal. I know you're not that into family connections, as you reminded me earlier. But he is."
"Um," said Gernsdotir, "okay, but... I don't think my family has any connection with yours."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Smith. "My grandfather has a very long memory, it goes back even beyond him, oh, many generations before his time. I assure you, if you're here, it's because we're connected, or have been at some point in the distant past. True, you'd be hard-pressed to find any evidence of such a connection, but my family's records go back farther, and are in many cases more complete, than public records. I think you'll find the Smith family is connected to most of the people who work with us. Why, even my assistant, Miss Hawk, is related... I think her great great grandaunt was married to my great great grandfather. Or maybe they were great great great, it's hard to keep track past a certain generation. I've never been quite as into it all as my grandfather is... In any event, she and I barely share any blood at all, now, but..." He shrugged.
"So are you saying" asked Larik, "that the old man just wants us all to be one big, happy family?"
"Eh... not precisely. The fact is, my family is not actually related to either of you by blood. At least not that I know of, and if there ever was any intermarriage, it would have been far too many generations ago to matter now. But he does want to reassert the connection between our families. However, he fully understands this is one of the things beyond his control. If you agree to the deal I propose to you today, he's perfectly willing to keep it strictly on a business level, if that's what you prefer. But hey, if you come to the annual company picnics, I think my aunt's potato salad will totally win you over..."
Larik grinned, shook his head, and said, "Okay. Why don't you just make your proposal? If it makes good business sense, I'll be happy to bring the matter before my board."
Smith nodded. "Glad to hear it. Horace, what about you?"
"I, uh..." he lifted his head for the first time in several minutes. "I think I should've been published sooner, too."
Smith smiled, and said, "Well, then, gentlemen. Allow me to explain just what a publisher, an applied sciences research firm, and whatever the hell it is my company does, all have in common..."
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