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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty Nine

       Last updated: Saturday, March 6, 2004 13:12 EST



PART IV: April, 1634

--and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
--E’en then would be some stooping, and I choose
Never to stoop.

    Stoner began to realize, as he stared at the forbidding stack of documents in front of him, the truth of two essential propositions.

    First, that there was a very real value in the rejection of materialism, which was that it saved you a lot of work.

    The second was that a cheerful willingness to be helpful was going to get taken cheerful advantage of sooner or later.

    Magda and Sharon and Benjamin Luzzatto had come in grinning from ear to ear. Well, Sharon was grinning from ear to ear, Magda was smiling demurely and Benjamin was wearing his professional po-face with a hint of cheer. It didn’t matter. Sharon was grinning enough for seven or eight people, let alone three.

    “We have been shopping,” Magda said brightly.

    “Exactly,” Sharon added, “when the going gets tough, the tough go—”

    “—shopping,” Stoner capped the quotation, just as he went weak at the knees because Benjamin had produced what looked like about thirty kilos of paper and actual by-God parchment, done up in no-messing-around by-God red tape. He dropped the package on the table with an expensive-sounding thud.

    Benjamin then cracked a smile himself. “We have been very busy, but we need some signatures and seals to make it proper and legal.”

    Stoner looked from the paperwork to the short, bright-eyed Jewish lawyer and commercial agent. And back again. And back to Benjamin. At least Benjamin wasn’t grinning his head off, although Stoner suspected that was because he took money seriously and not because he wanted to help Stoner mourn his final passage into the world of bread-headdity. Nevertheless, the sight of a lawyer, smiling—even a short, runty, friendly one like Benjamin—would normally have sent Stoner diving through the window into the canal. Had Benjamin been grinning as widely and sharkily as Sharon was doing, he doubted whether he’d have bothered to open the window first.

    “So, what is all this?” he asked, gesturing weakly.

    “Money,” said Magda, uttering the code-word that told him to more-or-less leave it to her. “And commodities for all of the industries at home, and some other deals to make it all work.”

    “All this just to buy stuff?” he asked, fishing for a full explanation of some kind. He supposed short words and a diagram were too much to hope for...

    “Ah,” said Benjamin. “I have here—” He reached inside his kaftan. Benjamin sometimes found it convenient to get by in Venice by dressing as a Turk rather than wearing the distinguishing marks of his Jewish faith, and the Venetian authorities seemed willing to tolerate the minor subterfuge as long as he didn’t overdo it. Stoner didn’t understand the social complexities involved in the little dance, but he always found that garment a bit amusing. The garb of a hippie back up-time had originally been the garb of a rich Muslim.

    What wasn’t so amusing was what Benjamin was pulling out. Stoner felt his heart sink as Benjamin produced one of Grantville’s precious stock of laptops. Power-point slides and spreadsheets had been treated as the direct Word of God by every seventeenth-century businessman who had arrived in Grantville. The Sephardim, though, had been particularly enthusiastic; the Viennese scion of the Abrabanel clan, Don Moses, was widely known as a slideshow bore of truly terrifying proportions. Stoner held up his hands. “Benjamin, can I just have the edited highlights?”

    Benjamin looked perplexed. “Signor Stone, all of it is important. And the Signora Stone, she has made some most excellent trades in your behalf. There is, first the share in the Mocenigo fleet to—”

    Sharon put a hand on Benjamin’s shoulder and the birdy little lawyer ran down to a halt. Stoner realized, with the first spark of joy he had felt since the three of them had walked in, that she was genuinely, freely grinning, not just keeping her end up for company.

    “Stoner,” she said, “it breaks down nice and simple. We sold shares in all the potential mines that our exploratory crews have been finding. We sold metals futures in the mines that are ready to start producing this year. King Gustav’s copper concessionaires have been coming through us for the Mediterranean market because we agreed to work—what was it, Benjamin?”

    “Del Credere,” said Benjamin.

    “Del Credere, and maybe I’ll explain that later. But we got a few good copper contracts and beat the price up here, which made our friend in Bohemia sweat a bit. He sent a couple of angry messages saying that we were messing up the market deliberately. I understand a number of folks back in Magdeburg told him not to be such a baby. Anyway, that’s as may be. Once we started shifting the copper here, and the mining shares in all manner of other things, we had some seed capital and took up a number of margin loans to get into the serious action—”

    Stoner sank down to sit cross-legged on the floorboards, feeling rather the way he did after a good deep toke: a little dizzy with hypoxia before the real rush hit.

    “I surrender,” he said in a weak voice. Then, more firmly: “How much of the stuff on the list could you get? You’ve been at this for nearly two months, but we haven’t had anything delivered yet—”

    He looked up, from face to face. He couldn’t quite read the expressions. “What?”

    Silence. First Sharon, then Magda, and finally Benjamin picked a chair and sat down. Looking harder, Stoner saw that Benjamin was looking faintly pleased with himself, but was waiting for his clients to talk. Magda looked like she had gotten the cream, and was now smiling as widely as a properly-brought-up guildmaster’s daughter could. Sharon was back to grinning like a maniac.

    “What?” Stoner asked again. The grin was proving infectious, although he didn’t know why.

    “Well, you know that the biggest item on the list was the hundredweight of lac?” Sharon asked.

    “That wasn’t one of mine,” Stoner said, “but, like, I’ll take your word for it.”

    “Well, we went for that one first and found a place downtown that had some.”

    Magda sniffed. “That man was no gentleman.” She uttered the phrase with the same tone and spin and venom some people used for the phrase baby-eating satanist.

    Sharon snorted. “The jerk told Benjamin that if his clients wanted a hundred pounds of anything but spice we could buy retail like the other peasants.”

    “Ha!” Magda said. “Sharon does the poltroon too much justice. He used coarse language as well.”

    Sharon looked hard at Magda.

    Magda looked back, perfectly calmly. “Well, I know what that word meant in Latin, and from the tone of voice he used I presumed he meant it in Venetian.”

    “Oh,” said Sharon, evidently surprised.

    Stoner wasn’t; sufficiently riled, Magda could take the hide off a wild boar with her language, much of it from the classics at that.

    “Anyway,” Sharon went on, “I said to Benjamin that we should buy in bulk and from source if we could.”

    Benjamin nodded. “The Signoras were mostly insistent that we not deal through that house for anything. Naturally, I was proactive on my clients’ behalf.”

    Stoner wondered if his wince had shown. Laptops and powerpoint weren’t the only things that the Istanbul Sephardim—and, apparently their Spanish and Italian cousins—had taken to. Godawful MBA-speak was catching among them like the clap in a whorehouse. Stoner recalled discussing that with Sharon’s dad, Doctor Nichols. The good doctor’s theory was that the Abrabanels had gone over Grantville’s limited stock of legal and financial textbooks looking for any tricks they had missed. Whatever else they had found in the course of those studies, they had been particularly taken by the management jargon. The fact that they seemed to have an eye for the most anus-clenching excesses was, Doctor Nichols reckoned, their big joke at the expense of the twentieth century that most of the up-timers hadn’t gotten yet.

    Stoner saw that there was a question expected of him at this point. “So, what did you do?”

    Sharon put an arm around Benjamin, who looked briefly alarmed and then appeared to force himself to relax. “Benjamin was magnificent,” she said. “We spent a couple of days over in the Ghetto picking up local information and making contacts, getting notes of introduction, that kind of thing. And then we went shopping. You see, Stoner, this is one of those towns where they don’t make much of anything except the glass, which I’ll tell you about, but they do make deals. You should take a walk through the Rialto sometime, it’s wall-to-wall deals.”

    “I, uh, heard.”

    “Yeah, and part of it was all of those shares you got.”

    “What? What shares?”

    Magda sighed, and she and Sharon looked at each other. Magda looked hard at Stoner. “You recall that you have been giving lectures and seminars on alchemy and physic—?”

    Stoner leapt to his feet. “Now hold on—you charged admission?” He realized as the words escaped that he had raised his voice. He took a deep breath. “Guys, I’m sorry and all for shouting, but I wouldn’t have agreed to that.”

    Magda was first to get over the shock of Stoner looking angry. “No, Tom, schatz, we did no such thing!” Stoner could see that she was a little upset that he might have thought so.

    “That’s right,” said Sharon. “It’s just that when all those guys were asking to hire you on as a consultant, Magda was getting you stock deals instead of just the flat fees they were offering.”

    “Eh? They have those here and now?” Stoner had hardly been up to speed with capitalism as she was spoke in the twentieth century, let alone the seventeenth.

    “Oh, indeed, Signor Stone,” said Benjamin, drawing breath for what promised to be a serious lecture. “You see, we have had partnerships and anonymous societies and joint-stock companies for many, many years now and there are—”

    Stoner laughed. “Benjamin, please! Have mercy, man. Even if you explain it in short words I’m not going to grok it, okay?”

    Benjamin frowned the uncomprehending frown of someone whose learning of the English language had missed the word “grok” entirely. But he did shut up.

    “So, what now?” Stoner asked into the ensuing silence. “You got me a bunch of stocks. So. I just wait for my 401-K to mature?”

    Only Sharon got that, of course. “What we did was a hair less formal there, Stoner. We got everyone we had stock in to pool their buying through us, and that got us some excellent deals. They’re all acting like our subsidiaries now, one big corporate group rather than a lot of little businesses that just feed their margins to middlemen. With which, I might add, this town is infested.”

    Benjamin didn’t even twitch.

    Stoner mentally vibed some respect for Benjamin; the poor guy had spent weeks in the company of two of the hardest chicks in Venice right now, and he still seemed to have it all together.

    Speaking of which, Stoner realized, he’d better take some positive action before his old lady lost all respect for him. “So, all I gotta do is sign?” Stoner levered himself to his feet and reached across the table for a pen. “Is there a downside?” he asked, poised to sign the first paper. He grinned, trying to disarm his pretence at shrewdness.

    “Um, well—” Sharon looked at Benjamin, “do I have this right, Benjamin, that if we lose everything—”

    “This would be difficult, Signora Nichols. Very difficult, as we have interests in four fleets and nearly thirty ships.”

    “Yes, but—” said Stoner, realizing that Sharon probably needed this, since she was in as clear a case of done-deal euphoria as Stoner had ever seen.

    “Don’t worry,” said Sharon, “it’s hardly likely to happen. Thirty ships, all in different parts of the world sailing at different times. They can’t all sink at once. Anyway, even if it all drops in the pot, we’ve got so many people in this town tied up in our deals that they’d never...” Sharon trailed off.

    “What?” By now, Stoner was fairly sure that he had punctured the balloon a bit, but he still wanted to know what the downside really was. “What do we do if we lose everything?”

    “Get imprisoned for debt.”

    “Oh. Is that all?” Stoner immediately began to sign and seal where Benjamin had penciled for him to do so.

    As he did, he mentally counted off, and was up to twenty-eight before Sharon spoke up.

    “You don’t mind?” she asked, apparently surprised.

    “Nope,” Stoner said, pressing his deadhead signet ring into soft wax.


    “Nope.” Stoner was gratified that Magda hadn’t been suckered. “How long do you think I’ve been in business, Miss Boojwah Nichols? You think the old hippie gets confused and scared around bread?”

    “Uh—” was all Sharon could manage.

    Stoner found this helpful, when Magda made him turn out to do business that she needed his face or signature at. Everyone expected Magda to be ruthless. When he did it, though, the shock somehow made it more effective. He finished the last indenture, and straightened up to look straight at Sharon. “Pain,” he said.

    “Pain?” Sharon was the only one of the three to say anything, but the looks Stoner was getting from the other two clearly implied the question.

    “Pain,” Stoner repeated, as the text of a little sermon he hadn’t given in a long, long time.

    “You see,” he said, straightening the pile of documents and shoving it across the table to Benjamin, “all of this stuff is about pain and when and how we can inflict it. It’s the big problem we all have—uh, we all had, I should say, back up-time with the bread-heads and money and all that junk. Every one of those contracts was just a charter for pain and sadism.”

    He let that one linger a moment.

    “Run that by me again?” Sharon said, wearing a grin that had definite undertones of I’ll keep him talking, someone call the guys in the white coats.

    “It’s simple, Sharon. Guys like Benjamin here write a whole bunch of stuff down about what the deal is, and we call it a contract, which is just a deal written down on paper or whatever. But because of this insubstantial substance we call law—ha! and they called me an impractical flower-child who believed in mystical nonsense—the deal becomes stupid serious and metaphysical instead of just a simple matter of trust and friendship.”

    Sharon frowned. “Well, you’ve got to make busting a deal more painful than keeping to it, or—”

    “Or what?” Stoner demanded. “Outbreaks of gratuitous promise-breaking and other asshole behavior everywhere? Sharon, if I bought that depravity of mankind propaganda I never would have started in a commune in the first place, much less stuck with it. It’s just pain-worship, that’s all it is; totem and taboo; superstitious dancing before golden idols. I’ve had nothing but contempt for most of this stuff since, oh, before you were born, and so it doesn’t surprise me that debtor’s prison is a lot nearer the surface here in the down-time. It’s the same deal, it’s just in the shop window instead of out back for the special customers.”

    Stoner looked around the room again. Benjamin’s face had gone very professional indeed. Magda was used to his foibles, and was giving him a look that promised a pleasant rebuttal later. Sharon’s grin was now just relaxed. She obviously still thought he was nuts, but wasn’t looking over her shoulder for the guys in the white coats.

    “So, let’s recap some, hey, guys? Stoner said. “We’ve got, what, all the feedstocks that the guys back at Grantville wanted?”

    “Yes. The people who wanted zinc will be pleased in particular,” said Magda. “We will have two hundred tons of Japanese zinc within a year of midsummer’s day.”

    “Oh.” He wasn’t too thrilled to hear that. Zinc was handy stuff, all right, but Stoner wondered about the market for galvanized buckets in a time that still had as many coopers as it did. Of course, the stuff could be used for making brass and batteries too, but—he bit down, hard. It was nearly a year and a half before that zinc arrived, and a lot could happen in that time.

    “What else?” he asked, in lieu of the rant he could feel building. “Or, perhaps you should say what we didn’t get?”

    “Well, thorium,” said Sharon. “We’re probably going to have trouble with the borax, too. The Turks seem to be the only ones who’ve got it, and they’re not being real friendly so far.”

    “Right,” said Stoner, “that’s not actually much of a downside, is it?” Apart, he thought, from all that goddammed zinc.

    “We have done well, I think,” said Magda. “The telephone people are particularly pleased that we were able to source good English graphite, they thought there was not any. Sharon saw it in a pencil from Naples, and asked around about where it came from, and it seems that we should have been asking for Wad from England. We have ordered much of that. We also have much lac coming from India, which will come soon. There was a difference between what they said that they needed and what was the smallest lot we could buy. So we have sent a trade fleet with English fustians—”


    “Cloth,” Magda explained, “made with wool and cotton, and woven in the north of England. The return trip will bring batiks and spices and some other things we can sell on for profit.”

    “Some of the phone stuff,” Sharon interjected, “we got right here in Venice. All of the insulators are being made in Murano, just across the lagoon. They’re doing them to quality standards to train apprentices, they said, rather than working to the tolerances that the people at Prague said would do.” She smiled. “I sent a wireless message to Tanner and Ellie telling them about the tolerances we’d gotten on the samples, and they sent back asking how we’d mechanized so quickly.”

    Stoner nodded. He’d been surprised himself a few times by that sort of thing, since he’d assumed that craftsmen around Thuringia from whom he’d ordered glasswork for the dye factory could do quality or volume but not both, and been pleasantly surprised. Of course, if you watched how fast a competent journeyman could work and then sat down and did the math, it wasn’t so surprising. And if they had to turn out a big batch of something quickly, they re-organized the workshop to throw man-hours at the project until it was done.

    “Tell him about the aqua vitae, Sharon,” Magda said.

    “Oh, yeah, that’s a good one. There’s a fair bit of wine gets rejected when it’s imported here, and some of the local product is pretty poor too. There are a fair few good old-fashioned ‘shiners as well. When I drew a Liebig condenser for them, there were a few guys slapping foreheads, and a couple of the glassware shops did a roaring trade in the things for a couple of weeks. They use copper pipes and leather fittings, but they work. Now they’re making alcohol a lot cheaper and purer than anywhere else, and with about eleventy-seven businesses back in the USE fighting over the supplies of good alcohol there’s a good market. We did middle-man trade on that for a while, and got a cut out of nearly a whole year’s production even before the factories we took shares in turned a profit. Anyway, we got paper for most of those payments and cash for some of them, which was good, since we fed that back into the mill on the Rialto. Some of the alcohol factories have managed to do mail-order deals back to the USE and cut out the middle-women, but that’s okay, we’ll make it up elsewhere. For now we’ve got cash flow.”

    “And what are we doing with that cash flow?”

    “Servicing the term loans,” said Magda promptly, with the air of a woman who regarded memoranda and ledgers as management tools for lesser minds. “With the term loans we underwrote the stock issues. The Ghetto already has SEC rules and—”

    “What?” Stoner began to feel he was really, really over-using that word.

    “Ah,” said Benjamin, sitting forward in his chair. “Perhaps I can explain this one best. There was a brief description of your Securities and Exchange Commission and your stock exchanges in several of the management and business textbooks in Grantville, and Admiral Simpson was kind enough to furnish some excellent seminars in the matter. We already had most of the things they variously described, and combining them into more organized and consistent markets impressed many of us as a good idea, if it could be made practical. So we circulated the ideas we found most helpful.”

    “How?” asked Stoner, pleased at a chance to vary his vocabulary a little, “and who to?”

    “Well, first we passed it—ah, I should mention that Don Francisco Nasi wrote a most incisive monograph on the matter, which we had printed. It was circulated here in Venice first, since the Rialto is such an important market among those to which we had easy access in these troubled times. It also went to Genoa, and by some less direct routes, I hear, to Antwerp and Amsterdam and Paris. It has also gone to the City and some other places further east. Everywhere I have mentioned has done some of the things in Don Francisco’s monograph and now a few of them are doing more. On some subjects, Don Francisco can be very... persuasive, when he is minded to.”

    “Persuasive?” Stoner chuckled. He had gone in to see Mike Stearns about maybe writing some stuff up to go to the doctors in Venice and Padua and Florence and so on, and maybe make himself available to do seminars and classes for visiting alchemists who wanted to raise their game. If he had time, he’d thought, he might volunteer to train some folks up to teach basic chemistry of some kind. Pay forward a little, he’d thought.

    When he came out, he’d agreed—he wasn’t quite sure how, but he was certain he had agreed—to learn Italian, decamp his family to Venice for a year, give lectures until his throat was dry and his feet hurt to, as it turned out, chemists and doctors and alchemists and natural philosophers and heaven only knew what else from all over Europe who wanted to hear the new learning from Grantville but thought Venice was a much less chancy prospect for a working vacation than Germany in wartime. They had heard some alarming stories about Croats, it seemed.

    Not that Stoner was complaining after the event, of course, what with Venice being a nice town and some of the professors being great guys. But Benjamin was still talking.

    “—and so the underwriting and market-making rules proved to be good innovations, and the most widely practiced. Here and at the Antwerp Bourse they have been making daily quotes in this way for nearly six months now. It remains only to persuade the Wisselbank at Antwerp to issue proper banknotes instead of just deposit certificates, although with the manner of their recent move they can hardly be blamed for feeling inclined to conservatism.”

    “Eh? What about our greenbacks?” Stoner frowned. He actually liked those notes, not least because making the fast green ink was a good, solid government contract and they’d actually gone with his joke of putting Johnny Cash on the twenty-dollar bill. Hopefully that’d make people take the stuff less seriously, although he’d had long and bitter experience of how that kind of dream usually turned out.

    "Keep up, Stoner," said Sharon. "We don't spend those outside the USE, we buy them. Because of the exchange rate it's cheaper to borrow Wissel notes. They’re as good as bullion and everyone knows that. They absolutely do not issue notes for silver they don't have, and their letters of credit are watertight. We spend greenbacks where they will buy the most."

    “Then what’s the problem?” Stoner had an awful feeling that he was going to get an answer.

    Benjamin saw his chance. “This is about a marvelous concept you had up-time called the money supply. You see, deposit certificates and bills for title to specie are well known in these times. Since Sweden uses those foolish copper plates for money, they must perforce use notes or spend more in carting their money around than it is worth. Now, if we can persuade the Wisselbank to go over to a fidu—”

    Stoner stood up. Time, he felt, to put into practice a little of that business management stuff he’d read about and mostly laughed at. Decisive, that was the key.

    “I think I’ve heard enough,” he said. “Benjamin, have we broken any laws?”

    “No, Signor,” said Benjamin, plainly taken aback.

    “Good. Sharon, is all the stuff we’re doing going to, you know, help people get medicines and stuff?”

    “Yes, Stoner.”

    He nodded and resolved that he would discuss the assorted warlike uses of zinc with her later.

    He turned to Magda. “Magda, I think I’ve signed everything. Would you come for a walk with me?”

    Magda grinned and practically skipped to his side as he stepped around the table toward the door.

    Once outside it, he dropped from the straight-backed, square-shouldered, chin-lifted pose he’d struck. “Man, that is so, so, not where I’m at,” he sighed in relief.

    Magda nuzzled up to him. “But, Tom, mein schatz, see how it is you can be a tough and purposeful man of affairs?”

    “Sure,” he drawled, “I just don’t want to make a habit of it, okay?”

    “Just from time to time,” she said, squeezing him a little harder.

    “All right. Except I think tonight we should rent a boat and get some wine and go out on the lagoon in the spring moonlight, and maybe smoke a little. You know, stars, moonlight, rippling water. Because otherwise I’m going to get a haircut and start acting serious and probably get a regular job. Or something.”

    “I think I should prefer the something,” she said.

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