Charles stood to welcome the officiant. “Come in! Out of the snow, out of the smoke! Did you know, I’ve had filters installed in my office! Yes, yes, the newest thing from some old inventor. They work like a charm, don’t you agree?”
Valerius McCay entered the warm room and removed his hat. He nodded. “Mr. Graston. You asked me to visit you rather late in the day. If you don’t mind, I’d like to conclude our business so I can get back home.”
“Of course, of course.” Graston motioned to the overstuffed chair in front of his desk. He stepped around. “Can I offer you a cigar? There aren’t many left, you know.”
“I appreciate your offer, Mr. Graston. No thank you.” The officiant took the chair.
“Well, I wanted to thank you for doing your work. You recently came to my attention, and my people tell me you spend a good deal of time with my workers.”
“Yes. I believe I can best serve the people if I know them.”
“I understand you even have them call you ‘Val.’”
“I believe having a friendly face and a friendly name goes a long way to building trust, yes.”
“May I call you ‘Val’?”
“No thank you, Mr. Graston. I don’t trust you, and I would prefer that we don’t pretend.”
“I see.” Charles leaned back in his chair. “I’ll cut to the point, then. It’s come to my attention you visited the new heat springs my people uncovered. You spent some time with a woman there, alone, unescorted.”
The officiant raised a hand. “I ensure you, nothing happened. We talked.”
“I would never seek to besmirch your name, but you may want to be more careful in the future. You never know what rumors might get started.” Charles waved his hand. “But then again, you already know all that. Rather, I wanted to inform you of something that might cause you problems later. I offer this information freely, in the interest of building a friendship. Or perhaps, if nothing else, a working relationship.” Charles paused. “The night you visited, one of my ‘shovels was sabotaged. It will never work again.”
“Oh, dear, that must be terrible for you. After all, you have only a fleet to replace it.”
“I admit that the loss of one ‘shovel is unimportant to me in and of itself. However, without the equipment, I was forced to let one worker go. I would hate to see more men unemployed. Unemployed men make for angry men. Angry men rarely make for stable governments. Wouldn’t you agree, officiant?”
The officiant nodded. “Indeed.” He stood. “If that is all, Mr. Graston?”
“I believe I have shared the information I needed to share.”
“Then allow me to return the favor. I do not appreciate being summoned. I do not work for you. I work for the people. The next time you wish to build a working relationship, build it during working hours. My secretary will make appointments for me. Also, rumors always bite back on the one who started them.” He put on his hat. “Good day, Mr. Graston.”
With that, the officiant departed, leaving Charles alone in his silent office.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Despising Dying Songs, here.
Read the next story, Reveling in Dying Songs, here.