Karl looked out of the greenhouse at the back of his home and ran the numbers. They did not add up. The greenhouse was breaking even, but it was not making much of a profit if any at all. If it were flat instead of running up a steep hill, and if the owner cut out the cost of labor, it could bring in more as storage. Building it where it was built was not the best use of the money. The two new bathrooms, one on top of the other, were recently added on and came with a rent increase but nothing like what the increase should have been.
Something was fishy. Something was going on. Things were just not right. Karl was sure he was missing something. For the life of him he just could not figure out what.
Peter sounded wistful. “We need to build a helicopter.”
Paulus shook his head. “Forget it. You need aluminum, titanium and gyros.”
Peter countered, “Therese says her father heard they could make gyros where he works.”
Paulus shook his head again. “You still need aluminum and titanium. Iron is too heavy and wood won’t handle the stress.”
“How do you know so much about it?” Peter demanded.
“I had the same science class you did. I paid attention. We could build an airplane, but the Monster is already running commercially and airports are starting to pop up all over the place. We’ve missed the tide. By the time we could get into the business, there’s going to be too much competition.”
Peter answered, “Which is why we need to build a helicopter. It doesn’t need a runway. It can land anywhere.”
Ludwig spoke up. “Peter, you just want to fly and they told you not to bother applying for pilot training until you had a G.E.D. or a diploma, which you don’t want.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a diploma,” Peter said.
“Not badly enough to buckle down and learn what you need to pass the tests. You’ll get a certificate of attendance instead of a diploma, because you can’t pass the exit exam.”
“I don’t need a diploma,” Peter said.
“You need one when you go looking for a job,” Ludwig said.
“Shoot, Ludwig, when it comes to job hunting if there’s a high school diploma involved, I’m going to be the one asking for it, not offering it. I don’t need a diploma.”
“Peter,” Ebert said in a sad voice, while shaking his head, “You’re an idiot.”
In a much repeated mantra, Paulus said to his younger brother, “Shut up, Ebert.”
“Besides, math is boring,” Peter said.
“Maybe to you, but you got to have it to fly. Ebert has volunteered to tutor you,” Ludwig said.
Peter frowned in response. “A helicopter would be a good investment.”
Ebert chirped, “No, it wouldn’t. Basic research and development is expensive. Second wave development is much more profitable.”
Ludwig weighed in. “Get your head out of the clouds and talk about railroads.”
“Up-time the railroad companies were dying. The lecturer on railroads said so,” Peter argued.
“And when he did he was talking about long range passenger service. Short range passenger service and long range hauling of bulk items like coal and iron ore were completely unaffected by air travel, but you weren’t listening to that part of the lecture,” Paulus said.
Ludwig pushed his idea. “You’ve had the class on old American history. You remember the teacher talking about the railroad barons and the oil barons. I know you do, because we’ve talked about it before. There are fortunes to be made in railroads. We need a railroad.”
Ebert frowned. “Ludwig, you’re right. There are fortunes to be made in railroads. But we don’t need one of our own. We just need shares in a lot of different lines as they grow. We need to put in a buy order with Joshua for railroad offerings. But we need to keep it down to five or ten percent. We don’t need controlling interest. We can’t really afford it, anyway. If we could, we would be putting all of the eggs in one basket. Five percent is all we need. Like the merchants in Venice. Don’t buy a boat. Buy five percent in twenty different boats. Look, that Dutch outfit has announced three more airships. We need to buy a piece of each of them.”
“Yeah, but, a helicopter would be so neat,” Peter said.
Ebert agreed. “Yes, it would. When someone has worked out the kinks, we should talk about it. Until then, table it. We can’t do it ourselves and we sure can’t hire it done.”
“Look guys, as chairman of the McAdam’s Mining Company, I called this meeting for one reason.”
The four of them were sitting in the tree house behind the dwelling their three families shared, a house which the boys had purchased unbeknownst to their parents. As the landlord, they put in some major improvements. They added two more bathrooms so every family had one of their own. Then they bought a washing machine and clothes dryer. When they did, the parents were frantic. The rents were going up, maybe even double, they feared.
Ludwig’s mother, puzzled, proud, and a little bit shocked, pulled the gang of four aside. “Did you boys come up with enough money to buy the house?”
None of them said anything. They were all busy looking anywhere but at her. She was the only one of their six parents who had any idea that the boys had more money than they made doing odd jobs and raising mushrooms for Lyndon Johnson and she had no idea just how much more. They had to have an adult sign for them to open the bank account. She was the one mother who was arguing with her spouse against going back home since things had quieted down.
When no one answered, she actually swatted Ludwig on the rump, hard. “You young fools! You’ve scared the life out all of us. Peter, your father has another room lined up and he is going to move while it is still open, since the rent here is going to go up. Ludwig, if we have to move, your Papa says we might as well move back home and he’s making plans to do it and he might not wait for the rent increase either.
“Get in touch with your renting agent and have him tell us the rent is going up ten dollars a month per family to pay for the improvements. We save that much not going to the Laundromat. And while we’re talking about money, Paulus, if buying the house didn’t completely wipe you out, give your mother enough to buy those new winter coats she’s been wanting. Yes, the old ones are still warm, but she’s right. Your whole family looks like beggars and it’s embarrassing to have you coming and going out the front door.
“You should have set your father up in a shop with your half of the money instead of buying the house. Working in the mine is killing him. He’s a cobbler, not a miner. He is not used to the heavy work of shoveling coal. Not that all three of them aren’t coming home half dead from being buried under ground all day.”
Late the next morning the rental agent came around.
“The rent’s going up ten a month per room. Next, the owner is going to put a stove in the garage. Do you know anyone who might be interested in opening a shop?”
Ludwig’s mother spoke up. “Arnulf is a cobbler.”
“Yes,” Arnulf’s wife said, “but you need more than shop space. You need a work bench and tools and supplies. Making enough to pay the rent at what rent costs here in Grantville, I just don’t know . . . “
“Well, talk to him about it. Figure out what all you need to get started. The landlord will buy it and then we can include it in the rent,” the agent said.
“But, with people buying shoes from the Wish Book, do you think he can make the rent and make a living?” she asked.
“Hey, your boys are part of the mushroom company right? I heard about them. Tell them to start getting orders for shoes. If anyone can find enough business to keep a shop busy, it’s them.
“The other thing I wanted to tell you—I think your landlord is just plain crazy. You know the cliff face behind the house?” The hill behind the house wasn’t a cliff face. It was a sixty degree incline with a southern exposure. It was all second growth brush from being clear cut five or six years before. “Well, he wants it cleared, and terraced. Then he’s spending a fortune to build a greenhouse. Like I said, I think he’s nuts. But you know up-timers. They want fresh vegetables year around. And even with what the grocery store is charging for winter tomatoes, I figure it will take him years to recoup his costs but . . .
“Anyway, with you living right here and all, he said to tell you he’d pay the going rate for miners if your three husbands want the job of clearing the land and running the greenhouse. Of course, if they’d rather play it safe and stick with the mine, I sure wouldn’t blame them. Talk it over and let me know.”
When the boys got home from school, Ebert’s mother raised an eyebrow at them and shook her head in wonder, but never said a word.
The boys barely looked the idea over when they ran the numbers. A greenhouse was as close as they could come to a farm without having to move. If it didn’t work out, the glass would sell second hand for just about the same price it would new and if they had the frames made up right they could sell them as ready-made windows. They already owned the land. A deciding factor was the size of the greenhouse. It would barely keep two men busy so there would not be any call for them to help out.
Both projects should at least break even. It should put a stop to any more talk of leaving Grantville, which was worth taking a capital loss on an investment.
The improvements wiped out the savings account. They even had to draw a bit of money out of a mutual fund. But the mutual funds were turning a consistent profit and the high-risk, high-gain ventures which now made up twenty percent of their portfolio were mostly doing very well.
That was several months ago. Now, once again, Ebert was agitating about the evils of idle capital.
Paulus said, “I’m sitting on the door and I’m not getting up until we’ve settled the only item on the agenda. Ebert claims we have too large of a surplus in our savings account. I am sick and tired of my kid brother whining about it being too big. Do we tell him to shut up or do we put some if it to work?”
“I think he’s right,” Peter said. “I think we need to invest some if it in a helicopter company.”
“No. Absolutely not.” Ebert was adamant. “I’d let it set there at zero interest before I agreed to a helicopter company. Let’s get the whirly-bird off the table. Do we need to put it to a vote?”
Peter looked sour.
Ebert shrugged, “It might be a good idea later, Peter. But not right now.”
With three to one against, the item was dead. If the votes had been three to one in favor, they would have tried to argue or browbeat the fourth member into agreement. Without consensus they would not spend a dime. Twice now the only thing between the gang of four and a substantial loss had been Ebert’s stubbornness.
“So,” Paulus said, “do we let the savings account sit or do we invest some or all of it?”
“Guys,” Ebert spoke up first, “the idea was to have some emergency cash on hand as a cushion. Ten percent of the profits from the mutual fund go into savings and the rest turns over. I have gotten used to having money and what seemed like a big enough emergency fund when we started doesn’t seem so big any more. On the other hand, the cheese and mushroom mine have been cranking out a steady return.
“I’m getting sick and tired of getting up in the dark and making early morning deliveries of the cheeses and mushrooms we picked the night before. Let’s quit living like paupers and hire some more help. Besides, we are going to have some competition for both the cheese and the mushrooms before much longer anyway.
“We’ve been putting the rents, cheese and mushroom money into the savings. This is the money I think we should do something with.”
“What?” Peter sullenly demanded. It was clear he was ready to argue against anything at all since he couldn’t get them to even consider a helicopter.
“If we can’t agree on anything else put it the mutual fund,” Ebert said.
“But Ebert,” Ludwig said, “we need some spec capital for odd lots like the things the other kids at school come up with.”
“That’s small change and you know it,” Ebert said.
“So are the mushrooms,” Peter said in what amounted to an aside which was overlooked by Ludwig and Ebert.
“True,” Ludwig answered. “It’s usually little stuff, but some of them are paying off and could pay off big. The money we fronted to that guy to build a push cart to deliver milk, eggs, bread, and the newspaper is up to six carts and he has over two dozen kids working mornings before school. We own fifty-one percent of it.
“When most people figure the mine is Lyndon’s and the school house investments are ours, we get some respect but no one is bugging us. Our big ticket items go through Joshua and no one is asking him where the money is coming from. It’s good camouflage. We don’t have to hire body guards and worry about being kidnapped like what almost happened to Judy. If we ever have to hire bodyguards, our fathers are going to ask why. You know they will want to run the business and none of us want that.”
“So?” Ebert asked, “Are you against tapping the overage in the savings account or not?”
“The overage? No. Just make sure the base is large enough.”
“Vote,” said Peter.
With three ayes, Peter said, “I still think we should start a helicopter company. Okay. I vote aye. Now, how much do we take out and what do we do with it?”
Paulus got up off of the trap door. “That is a question for another day. We’ve settled whether or not to tap the savings account. We can decide what to do with it later. Right now, if we hurry, we can make it to the ball field before they pick sides for the afternoon.”
Two days later, Monday in school, a science teacher hailed Peter in the hall. “Peter?”
“Yes, Mister Beckworth?”
“Could you round up your three accomplices and meet me in the lab right after school? I want to talk to you.”
“Sure. What about?”
“A business proposition.”
“I know there are a lot of wild rumors going around, Mr. Beckworth, but we don’t really have anywhere near the amount of money some people think we do. Mostly we deal with students.”
Tyler Beckworth smiled a smile which Peter read as “save it for the tourists, I know better.” “Oh, I think you will be interested in what we have to share. See you in the lab.”
When the lads arrived, Tyler was waiting with a fellow too young to be a teacher, but not by much.
“Awstin, these are the boys I was telling you about. This is Peter, Ludwig, Paulus and Ebert. And don’t think Ebert is here just because he’s Paulus’ little brother.” With the identical hair line of their white blond hair there was no doubt they were related by blood. “Ebert is the one you have to sell since he is usually the holdout, and you have to get them all on board or the deal is off. Fellows, this is Awstin Jones. He’s from Wales. His brother sent him here to study.
“About a month ago,” Tyler continued, “a billet of copper he asked for in a letter home caught up with him, two actually.” Tyler lifted one end of a cloth which was covering lumps on the table. “This is one of them.” Then he uncovered the rest of the table and pointed at each item in turn. “Those five blooms looking like little Christmas trees are pure copper and they are most of what is left of the other billet after we electrically refined it. We took a sixth bloom out to the power plant to the wire pulling line and they tested it. They’re ready to buy as much as we can deliver. Then there is the silver, zinc and nickel. There are some other traces in the anode slime which we are still working on.”
Tyler flipped over an up-time green board on a rollaway frame. He took a pointer, “This is the price of the billet at the mine. This is the current price on the dock in Amsterdam for the same billet. Here is the price of the same weight in pure copper here in Grantville. You can see the difference in the price of the copper will pay for the refining and shipping. This leaves the trace elements as a clear profit. These are the current value for nickel and zinc dockside in Amsterdam. So the value of what is on the table is . . . ” Tyler paused for effect and pointed, ” . . . here.”
Tyler tapped the bottom line and his presentation ran down. He was waiting like he expected some sort of response. Finally he asked, “Well, what do you think?”
The older boys looked at each other.
Brilliant—and rude—little Ebert blurted out, “What do you want?”
“We thought you would be interested in a business opportunity,” Tyler said, a bit taken back. It was clear he had really expected, at this stage, for them to be enthusiastically offering to throw money at the project.
“Of course, we’re interested in a business opportunity,” Ebert said. “But what you’ve showed us is a lab exercise. They’re already doing something just like this at the power plant.”
“But the point is this particular copper is rich in silver. There is a lot of money to be made refining it out.”
“So,” Ebert repeated, “what do you want?”
“Awstin needs a loan to go home and set up a refinery.”
“If you need a business loan, why come to us? The Abrabanels make business loans. Other People’s Money front venture capital. Why come to us?”
Tyler looked startled. Awstin looked like he was on the verge of tears. Then, trying to answer the question, Tyler said, “Well, you’re here, and I guess I thought we could get a better deal from you. The Abrabanels and OPM only want to loan a percentage of the project and we don’t have any money to invest.”
“If you want a loan, forget about getting a better deal from us. We are going to charge the same rate of interest you would get from anyone else. Actually, we are going to be higher because a good risk will go to the established lenders. If you want venture capital, we’re going to want a slice of the company. For something like this, with the facility being somewhere where we can’t keep an eye on it, we’re going to be reluctant to put up more than five or ten percent of the capital. If we’re putting up all of the capital, then we’re going to want ninety percent of the stock. At fifty percent of the capital, we’re going to want forty-five percent of the stock.” Ebert pulled the numbers out of thin air, but none of his partners contradicted him.
“You gave Hans a much better deal than that. You put up all of the capital for fifty percent,” Tyler said. It was clear from his demeanor that the conversation was not going anything like he expected.
“Actually,” Ludwig answered, “we took fifty-one percent and the company is right here in town. It was small change and low risk. If it didn’t work out, we could sell the cart and get most of our investment back. On this we could lose our shirts. It would be so far away we wouldn’t even know it until it was too late. Five percent is about all the risk we would be interested in taking on for a project like this.”
Peter got a gleam in his eye. “Look, Mr. Beckworth, Awstin, give us a few minutes to talk about it, okay?”
The boys moved to the far corner of the room and huddled.
There was a lot of head shaking at first but it slowed down and turned to nods.
Peter looked up and said, “Mr. Beckworth, Awstin, Ebert is right. What you have here is a lab exercise. Next you want a full-fledged production company. Let’s set up a pilot program. We’ll provide the site, pay for the equipment, and for having a ton of copper shipped in. You and Awstin will set it up and Awstin will work it. Then you will have something to show to prospective investors besides a lab project, and we can talk about investing when we’ve seen a pilot project up and running.”
The boys watched as Awstin and Tyler consulted.
Peter whispered, “See, I told you, they didn’t think of it; they really did think we would just throw money at them.”
Tyler nodded and then looked up and asked, “How big of a pilot project.”
“Two or three commercial sized tanks,” Peter said.
Paulus elbowed him.
Peter put in a quick save with hardly a pause between the two sentences, “Sounds about right to me, but give us a minute to talk about it.”
When the crew came up for air, Peter said, “We can talk about two or three tanks for the pilot project, but we need one for a prototype first.”
Tyler glanced at Awstin, who nodded. “Sounds okay,” he said.
“Fine,” Peter replied. “You guys put together a list of what you need for the prototype and we’ll get a contract drawn up. Why don’t you plan on being at the Abrabanel’s office at four on Wednesday?
On Wednesday, Tyler and Awstin showed up at the Abrabanel offices. The boys were not there. Joshua Abrabanel was authorized to sign contracts for the McAdam’s Mining Co. After the school teacher looked the contract over, he objected. “You’ve got this set up where they own the pilot program lock, stock and output. Awstin and I don’t get a thing out of it.”
“Yes, you do,” Joshua Abrabanel said. “Awstin gets to use their equipment and shop space to work out the process and acquire marketable experience. You get a resume as an experienced consultant. You also get the right to show the facility to prospective investors until Awstin has raised his capital. The boys are putting up the space and the equipment. They are covering the overhead and they are buying the copper. You are going to get what you want. It is just going to take a little longer. I will set it up for you if you like and I can probably see to it you are fully subscribed. But we are going to want to see the system in production.”
Tyler frowned. “It sounds all right, I guess. But it feels like we are doing the work for free. Shouldn’t we get paid for our time?”
“If you want to sign an employment contract with a non-competing clause, I’m sure I can get you reasonable wages. Is that what you want? Look, you’ve got to be putting something into this and that is your time. It’s a damned cheap investment on your end.”
Awstin spoke up. ” Tyler, don’t screw this up. Sign the contract and then give it here so I can sign it. This is a dream come true! We can work out the kinks without having investors looking over our shoulders making suggestions about something they don’t know anything about. So it takes longer than we thought. We won’t have anyone screaming about our not paying dividends while we work out the kinks.”
After the papers were signed, Joshua said, “We’ve arranged for you to inspect the copper wire works out at the power plant and to talk to the staff. We also asked about their policy, and you are right. They will be happy to buy our purified copper at a reasonable rate. I’ve checked. They’re offering to pay us what it cost them to buy the raw copper and winnow it. Of course, your copper is going to be shipped in from Wales so it will cost more. But the high rate of silver will make up for it.
“Gentlemen, if you decide to have me draw up the paperwork and find you your start up money, let me know.”
“Why rent space when we don’t have to?” Peter asked.
“That is the point. We do have to. We’re raising mushrooms in most of the mine,” Ludwig countered.
“But you’re missing the point. There are two other mines now starting to sell mushrooms. The price is going to go down. If we cut production, the price stays high. We’ll make the same income off of the reduced production rather than being forced to sell at the new lower rate in an over-supplied market,” Peter said. “Besides, Ebert has been yapping for months about putting shelves up in the mine so we can raise more and we’ve been voting him down because we’ve already met market saturation.”
“Hey,” Ebert said, “We could lower our prices and put the new mines out of business.”
“Sure,” Peter argued, “and when we raise the price after the new outfits shut down, everyone will know what we did. Then, when the price is back up, the new mines will go back into production because they will already be set up for it. And we’d get a lot of bad public relations. Right now everybody thinks we’re teddy bears. I’d like to keep it that way. We are going to see a drop in income off of the mushrooms. I’d rather see us lose money because of lower production than lower sale price.”
“Point,” Ebert said. “Besides, the loss in mushroom production would still be cheaper than renting a building in Grantville. I like the idea.”
When Tyler saw where they wanted to put the pilot project, he said, “It will work but you will need to put in a good vent fan. I don’t know what the fumes will do to the mushrooms. Maybe you should put the electrolysis tank nearer the opening.
“You know, if you put shelves in here you could greatly increase your production,” Tyler observed. “You could be raising four or five times what you are.”
“We’ve talked about it,” Peter commented. “But the fresh mushroom market is pretty well saturated and we pretty much had all we could look after. Besides the bottom is about to drop out of mushrooms with new sources of supply coming on line.”
“Look, your blue cheese is mostly going out of town. Have you asked the cheese buyers if they would want a line of dried mushrooms?”
“That might work,” Peter said.
“I’ve been saying so all along,” An exasperated Ebert complained like an oppressed and tortured heretic who was suddenly reveled as a glorified martyr.
“You never said anything about an export market,” Peter corrected.
“I didn’t realize I needed to. It was obvious. I didn’t tell you to breathe either!” Ebert said.
“Shut up, Ebert!” Paulus said a little more harshly than usual. “If we put the electrolysis tank out at the cliff face, we will want to close off the opening to keep the weather out, which is going to stop the air flow through the mine.” The mine opened onto the cliff face in two places, so the wind blew in one opening and out the other. “So there’s another reason to put in a big vent fan. We need the air flow through the mine to scatter the spores. We can leave some windows for natural light and which will cut down on the cost of light bulbs.”
“The way those things cost, I still think we need to open a light bulb factory somewhere,” Peter said.
“We’ve talked about it already,” Ludwig replied. “It’s been done, the set up cost would be high, and the trained personnel would be hard to come by. The margin doesn’t look so good.
“If we need the cliff face boxed in we can hire my father and your father. Both of them are complaining about the lack of overtime and the greenhouse is slack right now.” Ludwig said. “Let’s go look at the open end.”
Karl and Manfred, Peter and Ludwig’s fathers respectively, walked home from a day of framing the enclosure at a cliff face opening of the mine where their sons worked for Lyndon Johnson.
“Manfred, let me ask you something? Have you noticed Ludwig acting strange since he started hanging out with Arnulf’s boys?”
“What do you mean?” Manfred asked.
“Well, before Peter started hanging around with those Catholic kids, he’d tell me everything that was going on. Now he doesn’t talk to me at all,” Karl said.
“You mean like they’re keeping secrets?” Manfred asked.
“I guess. But it’s more than that,” Karl said.
“They do spend a lot of time together. I wouldn’t say Ludwig was acting strange. But, still, have you notice how many odd things have been happening to us lately?”
“Maybe. Like what?” Karl asked.
“Like our landlord putting in two more bathrooms not long after we had a big argument about someone taking too long in the shower and someone threatened to move out. Then the landlord sinks a lot of money into the house and he hardly raises the rent at all when he could be getting twice what he’s charging us. Then he turns the garage into a shop for Arnulf and puts up a greenhouse for you to farm and pays us to work in it year round. Almost like he was afraid we’d move out or something if we had to keep working in the mine. But why should he care? He wouldn’t have had any trouble finding new tenants.”
Karl nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Well, part of it anyway. We all talked about going home to get out of the mine. But like you said, why would he care?” Then Karl looked thoughtful, “Have you been watching what the crops are selling for out of the greenhouse?”
“No,” Manfred said with a rising inflexion which made it a question, or the next thing to it.
“I have,” Karl said. “Some months, especially in the summer, he’s not even breaking even. Over the course of the year, if he’s turning a profit after paying us, it isn’t much. He sure isn’t paying himself back for building the greenhouse very fast. The taxes here in town have got to be eating him alive. And he’s left what we grow strictly up to us, and there is no mention of what we carry into the house, like he really doesn’t care.”
Manfred grunted. It was a thought he hadn’t considered. Not being a farmer, he didn’t think about things like that.
“And when things get slack the boys always seem to find us some other work.” As Karl continued his face wrinkled up just a bit. “You know, my wife told me, when the landlord’s agent offered the garage shop to Arnulf, Arnulf’s wife said she didn’t think he could make a living at it and the agent said to ask the boys. She said he said if anyone could find enough business to keep a shop busy, they could. She was proud of them. But they aren’t just keeping the cobbler busy. They’re keeping us busy too. I guess that’s part of what I’m talking about besides keeping secrets. Some people seem to think the boys can get about anything done. Boys their age don’t have any business doing things like that. It feels like they know everything that is going on and can always find us a short-term job when the greenhouse is slow. Like they had their hand in somebody’s purse, or they know a Hochadel who is willing to hand out money like it was candy. Or like they’re part of a secret society, like the Masonic Lodge or something, and it takes care of looking out for them.
“I mean,” Karl continued, “It’s almost like magic. It’s as if whatever it takes to keep things going and keep the three families happy and in Grantville is what happens. You don’t suppose those two Catholic kids have gotten our boys involved in something they shouldn’t be doing, do you? I mean, just how far is it from being Catholic to making a pact with the devil?”
Manfred snorted. The thought of the boys being involved in witchcraft or, just as bad, the Masonic Lodge was completely ludicrous. He glanced at the man walking next to him. The glance said, “sometimes farmers can be so . . . rustic? Superstitious? Just plain dumb?” The roll of the eyes said, “You stupid clod, after all these months of living under the same roof with a Catholic family, you can still come up with something like that.” “Karl, I wouldn’t worry about it. I really can’t see Peter or Ludwig doing something like that. Besides, this is Grantville and while they will let anybody go to any church they want, or no church at all for that matter, the police department keeps a pretty close eye on what is going on around town. I can’t see somebody sneaking something like that past them.
“Shoot, Paulus and Ebert are good kids. Arnulf is all right for a Catholic. He struggled to pull his weight in the mine. He was always dragging worse than we were on the way home, but he didn’t whine about it. We got along with him okay, didn’t we?” Manfred asked.
“Besides,” Manfred said, “our wives get along even better than we do and they have to share the kitchen and now the laundry. You know it can’t be easy.
“But you are right about one thing. Everything seems to be going our way. We all talked about going back home. We don’t anymore. It’s enough to make you wonder what’s going on. You don’t really suppose the boys have something to do with it? Do you?”
“I don’t see how,” Karl replied. “It sure looks like it. But I don’t see how, and that’s what’s got me worried. Just what have they gotten into?”
“But, we’ve got electric lines for lights. Why do we need batteries to run the electrolysis tank?” Peter asked.
“Because. The power lines are one hundred and twenty volts AC and the tanks need to run somewhere round six or seven DC. It’s cheaper to use batteries than it is to buy a transformer and make some kind of rectifier,” Tyler answered.
“So when you’ve got the batteries, everything will be ready?”
“As soon as the copper gets here from Wales, we can get started. You ordered a ton, right?” Tyler asked.
“Sure. But if everything is ready, let’s run some local copper through the process while we’re waiting. There’s no point in letting it sit idle and we can have any problems worked out when the copper from Wales gets here.”
“Copper which you will sell to the power plant at a profit,” Tyler said. “That’s what this is really all about, isn’t it?”
Peter did not say anything.
Tyler was forced to carry both ends of the conversation. “Yes, Awstin gets the experience of working a small production operation and a hand up on getting the capital. But when it’s all over and he is on his way home, the four of you will still be here sitting on a refining plant with an established market. I heard you boys were pretty slick. Now I see what they were talking about.
“But . . . okay. I guess you’re right, I don’t see why we should wait.
“One thing, though. I really do think you should give some serious thought to paying us a cut of the sales.”
Peter did not blink an eye or make a sound.
“Look,” Tyler said, “at least pay Awstin a little something for running the local batch for you. He’s staying longer than he planned on and he’s trying to make his money stretch.”
At last Peter said something. “I’ll talk to the guys. If we can’t see our way clear to pay him for doing the pilot project, maybe we can find him some part-time work of some sort. I mean, it’s not like someone has to be here watching it all the time, is it?”
“No. Not really. Once you’ve got it set up and running, if you check on it once a day or so to make sure nothing has gone wrong, there really isn’t anything to do for a couple of weeks until you pull the anodes and cathodes to put in new ones. Then in a week or so when the anodes quit growing you pull them and drain the slurry off the bottom and start over. So if you could find him some work you can pay him for, it would be a nice thing to do.”
“I’ll talk to the fellows about it. We can probably use him in the mushrooms. As soon as we get the shelves built in the mine, we’re going to have to hire some help anyway.”
Peter continued, “You certainly made Ebert happy. He’s been bugging us to expand the mushroom crop almost from the start. He should have said it was for the export market.”
“I guess you just overlooked it,” Tyler said.
Peter chuckled. “Maybe. And maybe part of it was just a way to take the little pipsqueak down a notch. You can’t let him get his way about everything. He’d get intolerable. He’s always right, you know. If you don’t believe me, then just ask him. He’ll tell you all about it. He gets to be annoying and I guess we just kind of picked this topic to slap him down a bit to keep him from getting too big for his britches.”
“Karl,” Manfred said on their way to the mushroom mine to work on building shelves, “remember what we were talking about last week, about what the boys were into? Well, I had a very interesting conversation with my wife the other night.
“When the boys went off after dinner, I followed them. They’ve been going somewhere every Thursday night since school let out. They told me they had someone who was getting them into the Thursday night movie for free. Well, I’ve been wondering about what was going on ever since we talked it over the other day and, like I said, I followed them.
“They went to the Higgins hotel all right, but they were a half hour early for the movie. When I asked about it last week they told me they needed to be there early to sneak in the back door. Well, instead of sneaking in, they went into a side room off of the lobby and one kid after another went in looking hopeful and came out looking disappointed. The desk clerk saw me looking, so I asked him what was going on. He told me it wasn’t anything to be concerned about.”
“It’s just the McAdam’s Mining Co. holding Thursday night court before they go to the movie.”
“What’s the McAdams Mining Co?”
“It’s the name of the company that owns the mushroom mine. They deliver fresh mushrooms every morning to the kitchen here.”
“I thought the mine belonged to Lyndon Johnson?”
“He told me he’s just a silent partner. The boys run it.”
“Really? Well, what’s going on in there?”
“School kids, mostly. Anybody with a money-making scheme can come in on Thursday evening just before the movie and pitch their idea. Occasionally the mining company will put up the capital.”
“They’ve got that kind of money?”
“Shoot, I heard they could buy half of Grantville if they wanted to.”
“Hey, it’s what I hear. I don’t know if they do or not. I just told you what I’ve heard.”
“Well, just before the movie started, the boys paid the teller and went in and I went home.
“That’s when I squeezed some answers out of my wife.”
“Madde, do you have any idea just what that son of ours and his friends are up to?”
“What do you mean?” Madde asked.
Manfred got suspicious real fast. “Okay, Madde! What is going on?”
Madde lied, or tried to anyway. “Nothing is going on.”
“Madde, I’ve known you since you were in diapers and we both spent our summer days in the kitchen garden. You can’t tell a lie if your life depended on it. So what is going on?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Yes, you do. Our son has a lot more money than he’s letting on. Now what is going on?”
“Well, he’s paying half the rent and half the groceries,” Madde said.
“He is? Where’s the other half of the money I’ve been giving you?”
“In a sock in the springs under the mattress.”
“Is Ludwig putting any money in the sock?”
“Why not? If he’s got the money to go the movie every Thursday night he should be putting some money into savings.”
“Oh, he is.”
“But you said he wasn’t.”
“I said he wasn’t putting any money in the sock. But I know they’re putting money into a savings account.”
“You know? How do you know? And did you say they?”
“Yesss.” Madde hesitated. When she spoke it was in response to her husbands glaring eyes. “Ludwig went into business with the other boys in the house and they opened a savings account. I know they did, because they had to have an adult sign for them to open it and to let the Abrabanels invest some of it for them.”
Manfred looked at his wife without saying a word. For once she kept her mouth shut. Finally he asked, “What kind of business did they go into and why are they letting Jews invest it for them?”
“Mining, I guess. You know about the mushrooms and the cheese.”
“I thought it belonged to Lyndon Johnson and the boys were working for him.”
“Oh, that nice Officer Johnson helped them get started and I guess he’s part owner in the mushrooms, but the cheese is all Ludwig’s . . . well Ludwig and the other boys.”
“Is that it?”
“I guess they’ve got some other investments.”
“You know the delivery cart that brings the milk and the newspaper?”
“They own it.”
Manfred looked at her and waited. Finally he said, “And?”
“Well, I think maybe they own some property they’re renting out.”
“They’ve made enough to buy property! No way! What property? A dog house?”
Madde did not answer. Manfred stared at her again.
Finally she said, “Here?”
“What? You mean to tell me they own this house!”
Manfred started laughing with a chuckle which grew into a roaring belly laugh and ended with him gasping for breath with tears running down his face. “Well, if it’s true, and I said ‘if,’ mind you, it explains a lot doesn’t it? But Madde, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because when they opened the savings account and had that nice Joshua Abrabanel invest some of their money on shares in Abrabanel projects, if you had known your son had that much money, you would have moved back home.”
“Would that have been so bad?” Manfred asked.
“Yes, it would have. Now they have a savings account, mutual funds, a mushroom and cheese mine, a milk delivery company, they own the house they live in, the cobbler shop and greenhouse their fathers make a living in, and I have no idea what all else. If you had known about it, we’d have gone home and gone broke.”
Manfred looked thoughtful. “And they’re adding a copper refining plant and exporting mushrooms. Still, Ludwig is keeping secrets from me. I will have to do something about that.”
“No, you will not!”
A very surprised traditional German husband and father spoke his complete mind in one word. “What?”
“I said no. You will not speak to him about it! You are making more money than you ever made before in your life. Your son is seeing to it you have a good job above ground. We are living in a warm house, nicer than anywhere we ever lived. We grew up where your father was a groom and my father a butler and momma was a cook. We ate table scraps and froze in the winter in the garrets.
“Here we have our own bathroom. The lord of the manor didn’t have anything as nice. I share the cooking with Elsa and Katharina and it’s a lot easier. Elsa does most of the baking and we all work together on the vegetables, especially now since you and Karl are raising them.
“If you had known about the money, you would have messed it all up by moving us home. Swallow your pride, Manfred, and admit it. Your son and his friends are better at making a living than you are.”
“But he’s keeping secrets from his father!”
“And he is being very careful to see to it we are looked after without rubbing your nose in the facts of life!”
“Madde! You have never talked to me like this.”
“Manfred! This is Grantville!”
“That’s why I’d have gone home if we had the money.”
“That’s why Ludwig kept it a secret.”
“Well, we will see about that!”
“And do what? Are you going to insist he turn the money over to you? This is Grantville. Remember the Dutch family who lived next door? The father wanted the son to turn over his paycheck and the boy filed for emancipation and moved out. Then the Dutchman beat his wife. Somebody in the house called the police and they threw him in jail. She took her husband’s things to the police station and told him not to come home until he got some counseling and was willing to straighten up.
“Or do you want the both of you to have to deal with the embarrassment of admitting you are working for your son?”
“But he’s just a child! He has no idea what he’s doing!”
“You’ve been in Grantville just as long as he has. You know so much more than he does? Just how many businesses do you own one fourth of? How much money do you have in the bank? Do you own the house you live in?”
Manfred opened his mouth and nothing came out. After a few seconds, he shut it. A few seconds later, he said, “Damn it to hell, woman! If you know what you’re talking about, and I do mean ‘if,’ then maybe you’re right!”
“And what my wife told me proved to be very interesting indeed,” Manfred said. “I didn’t believe. Who would? So yesterday I went down to the city government offices and checked. Did you know they have a lower tax rate on residences than on business, and the rate is even lower on owner-occupied property? Guess what our house is registered as?”
“Rental and income property, of course,” Karl said.
“Nope. It’s the residence and primary place of business of the owners of record.”
“Well, that has got to be wrong. I heard some people talking about it. If you’ve got more than one full-time employee or two part-time employees, other than domestic help, then the building is taxed at the business rate. The only way you can get around it is if the people working there are family.”
“You’re right,” Manfred said. “You and I and Arnulf are all related to the owners.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Our sons own the house they live in. The landlord is willing to keep sinking money into the house because he lives there.”
“I’ve seen the tax rolls. Someone explained it to me. If they want the owner-occupied tax rate, the names need to appear on the tax roll. Since the owners are under-aged, the house can’t be sold without going through probate court and if the boys fight it the probate court probably won’t let it be sold out from under them. They seem to have attached themselves to an address in Grantville with a vengeance.”
“So, how did they ever get a mortgage at their age?”
“They paid cash.”
“You are kidding. You have to be. Where did they ever come up with that kind of money?”
“No, I’m not kidding,” Manfred said. “While I was there, I checked. I figured if I could find out who co-signed for them, I could figure out what they were up to and just what kind of mess they were in.”
“Maybe they’re making a whole lot more off mushrooms and cheese than we thought?”
“I thought they were just working for Lyndon Johnson. I figured after my son helped out on the rent and the groceries and bought his own clothes, what little he had left was his to spend as he wished. When he wanted to take summer school classes instead of finding a summer job I almost said something. But he is paying his own way, so I let it go.
“But if they own the mine . . . “
“The lease from the government for the mine is in their names. Well, it’s in the name of a mining company, but it turns out they are the company.”
Karl continued talking right over his co-worker. ” . . . and they have to if they came up with enough to buy the house and build the greenhouse, then it’s a completely different case. I guess I am just going to have to have a word with Peter and ask him about it.”
“And if you do, Karl?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you want to admit to your son that you know you are working for him?”
“But things will change after I settle up with him.”
“Of course, they will.”
“This is Grantville, Karl. Remember the Dutchman? The boys have the house tied up where we can’t touch it. I bet they’ve got the business set up the same way.”
“Manfred, he is my son and he will do as I tell him!”
“Then, Karl, maybe you had better think good and hard about what you are going to tell him before you open your mouth. I’m making more money for doing less work than I ever have in my life. So are you. If it turns out they own the mine, can we do a better job of running it than they can?”
Karl opened his mouth and then shut it.
On the way home in the afternoon, Karl said, “Manfred, I think we should go ahead and plant the radishes in the shade of tomatoes and the squash in the corn.”
“But you said it wasn’t worth the extra work.”
“Then I was working in somebody else’s greenhouse for wages. Now it’s in the family, so not doing it is money out of pocket. I think it’s about time the two of us quit coasting and saw to it the greenhouse turned a profit. Don’t you?”
As they pulled the second set of blooms out of the bath Tyler Beckworth said, “I still think Awstin and I deserve a cut of the sales price on the trace elements.”
It was Ebert who spoke up first, of course, “No, you don’t. We’ve talked to Joshua. You read the contract. You even brought this up then. We’ve read the proposed articles on the business you want us to invest in. You’re getting five percent of Awstin’s slice for consulting fees. That is way over what it should be, as far as I’m concerned. But that is his business. All he is getting out of this is hands-on experience and the right to show the process to prospective investors. You are just going to have to wait for awhile.
“Besides, you’ve already registered down at the library as a copper refining consultant with practical experience. You are going to want a letter from us confirming it. That is what you are getting.”
“You are one greedy little . . . “
Ebert smiled. “That’s me. Simon Legreedy. But if you want to talk about being greedy, take a look in the mirror Mister ‘I want five percent.’ We’re paying Awstin to work in the mushrooms and he can check the baths before and after work, so I figure we’re being fair with him.
“Awstin,” Ebert asked, “if you think we aren’t being fair say so.”
“I don’t have any complaints,” Awstin said. “You’re both being generous by my count. And if Tyler wants five percent of something which wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t put his oar in the water, he’s welcome to it because I am getting ninety-five percent of something I wouldn’t have had without him.”
“So there you are,” Peter said to Tyler. “Everybody is happy except you. And we don’t care. I’m sure you’d like five percent of the ongoing proceeds off the operation. But to get it you would have had to have come up with five percent of the startup cost, and you opted not to. You get what you pay for.”
Tyler grimaced at Peter and Ebert grinned.
Arnulf stormed into the greenhouse in the middle of the afternoon.
Karl looked up. “Hey, Arnulf, have you come to help out?”
“Karl, you and Peter talk a lot.”
“Well, we used to.”
“Did Peter ever mention . . . oh never mind.”
“What happened, Arnulf?”
“I just had a customer in the shop, a teacher named Beckworth. He was complaining about me raising my prices. I said I hadn’t and he said ever since my boys quit taking orders and making deliveries, I most certainly had. He told me what he claimed to have paid last time. It’s almost as if they were they subsidizing me while I got started.”
Karl smiled a broad smile. “So you’ve figured it out have you?”
“Figured what out?” Arnulf demanded.
“Hey, Manfred,” Karl called to his partner, “grab three beers and take a break while we explain the facts of life to our good friend and fellow victim.
“You see Arnulf it’s like this . . . “
With the beer bottles about half empty, Karl ran down. Arnulf looked at Manfred and Manfred nodded.
“So our sons, unbeknownst to us, while we thought they were working for Lyndon Johnson, somehow managed to open a business and made enough money to buy the house?” Manfred nodded at Arnulf.
“The two of you figured it out and kept your mouths shut because you decided it was easier that way, and you think I should do the same thing?”
Manfred nodded his agreement again.
“So are you letting them run your families?” Arnulf asked.
“Certainly not!” Karl said. “We run the greenhouse, we’re making a living just like you are. The greenhouse is turning a profit, just like the cobbler shop is. We are still running our families. Our wives do what we tell them. Our sons do what we tell them. We are just being careful to not notice what the boys are doing for fun in their free time.”
“Oh? Really? The snot nosed kid, Beckworth, who was just in my shop, has never done anything in his life but go to school as either a student or a teacher, told me Peter isn’t applying himself in school. He said Peter is acting like he had all the money in the world and like he didn’t need to learn his lessons, so he lets them slide.
“If you’re the boss and your son is going to do what you tell him, what are you planning on doing about it? Seems to me you’ve got a conflict there. Don’t you agree?” Arnulf asked Manfred.
“You might have a point,” Manfred replied. “Are you going to confront your boys about the money?”
“I think I’ll wait and see if Karl knows what he’s talking about. If he really can be the head of the house while his son is making all the money without telling him about it . . . well, if he can do it I suppose I can too. And if he can’t? But if we’re staying, we need to do some things a bit different don’t we?”
“Like what?” Manfred asked while Karl stewed.
“Like joining the militia.”
“Grantville doesn’t have a militia,” Manfred countered.
“Sure they do. They call it the reserves,” Arnulf argued. “I never joined because Grantville wasn’t my town. I wasn’t staying. If we’re staying, then we should join. I’ve been thinking about it. Those scamps of mine aren’t going to be cobblers, not with the education they’re getting and definitely not if they own a business like you say they do. So if we’re staying, I think I’ll send them to the scouting program so they can learn to be officers.”
“Peter,” a very stern father looked solemnly, almost fiercely, at his son in the privacy of the family’s room later in the evening. “It has come to my attention that your grades in school are barely getting by. I took the trolley out to the school this afternoon and talked to some of your teachers. I am told you are acting like school isn’t important. I was told you often do not turn in your homework assignments. You will need a diploma when you go looking for a full time job.
“Starting tomorrow you will come straight home from school each day to work on your homework. You will do this until you are getting better grades. Your teachers think you could be getting As and Bs if you would only apply yourself.”
“But, Papa, what about my job?”
Karl was proud of his poker face. He had practiced extensively for this conversation. The laughter in his soul was a steam boiler ready to blow, driving an engine at speeds beyond what was normal or safe. “You will tell Officer Johnson you may not work in the mushrooms until you bring your grades up.”
“But . . . ” Peter hesitated.
“Is there something you wish to tell me?”
“But, Papa, we need the money.”
“We’ll get by. An education is important.”
“But, what will I do about . . . “
“Uh . . . about having fun?”
“Young man, you have been in Grantville too long. Do we have to move back home for you to think clearly? If you run out of things to study, you can come out to the greenhouse and give me a hand. Squeezing a profit out of such a tiny farm is taking a lot of work. But until you are bringing home As and Bs, you are through running around with your friends doing whatever it is the four of you do. Is that clear?”
“But, Papa, you are only getting paid for forty hours a week. Spending the extra time to make a profit for the landlord isn’t necessary.”
“You really have been in Grantville too long. A man needs to take pride in his work. He needs to do whatever it takes. A farmer whose farm is not turning a profit is not a man to be proud of. A student who is not getting the best grades he can is not a son to be proud of. Do we understand each other?”
“I was talking to Arnulf today. He has decided he is staying in Grantville. He thinks we should join the militia and send our sons to the Boy Scouts. I think it is a good idea. When you get your grades up, you will join and start learning how to be an officer.”
Karl had to hide his grin when he saw Peter’s perplexed and annoyed look. He was still master of his home.