Shan and Priscilla Ride Again
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Chapter the Fourth
The older man looked up from his breakfast grumpily, having not yet had his second cup of coffee.
“Do you know a firm named Porta Culthert?”
If Shan noticed the surliness, he gave no sigh. And, truth told, thought Katy-Rose, it was rare you saw a man looking so rested, sitting there in all his finery, eating hotcakes and sausage as if it were all what he was accustomed to having. As she well knew it was not.
“Porta Culthert?” Richard frowned. “Michael Sullivan’s little venture, isn’t it? Sound enough people.”
“Really? Well, that’s a relief, don’t you think, Priscilla? It would hardly do to be dealing with out and out thieves. But since a sound enough fellow asks me to call –“
Gordy looked up from his plate. “Asked you to call?”
Katy-Rose frowned at him, but his eyes were on the outworlders, not on her.
“To be sure,” Shan agreed, eyebrows lifting a bit. “Does that meet with your approval, Gordon? Should I clear all my interviews with you beforehand?”
Gordy did not dignify this with an answer. Instead, he asked, “What does he want to see you about?”
“About? He did want to see me about something. I recall that distinctly. Perhaps he wants to marry Nova? No, that wasn’t it. . .That’s not the fellow who’s so eager to buy the Passage, is it, Priscilla? I do wish you would attend to some of these details. . .”
“Michael Sullivan wanted to speak with you about whiskey, Captain.” The woman’s voice was smooth and untroubled. “I believe he meant to offer you a deal.”
“That was it! Prime whiskey, made according to the old Irish recipe, in oak barrels, to be shipped entire. Not a bad notion. And his opening price was nearly reasonable, wasn’t it, Priscilla?”
“You said,” murmured the woman, leveling ebony eyes at him over the rim of her coffee cup, “that you’d net enough profit to set up a chain of pleasure-houses in the Eighth Quadrant.”
“Did I say that? Must have been in my cups.”
“No, wait –“
Gordy touched the man’s hand where it lay on the linen cloth.
“Shan — you don’t want to buy whiskey from Mike Sullivan.”
“I don’t? Your grandfather assures me he’s a very sound fellow.”
“Yeah, but. . . If he’s setting the deal at more than a hundred bits the keg, he’s playing you for a know-nothing.”
The light eyes were speculative.
“Well, see, he’s been buying up all the stock whiskey for a couple months, local. Since I got back, maybe. And then he started buying margins. I’d bought futures from Dunlevie for fifty bits the keg. Next thing I knew, Mike Sullivan was leaving me word that he’d buy what I had for seventy.”
“Gordy. . .” This has gone far enough. Morgan would not be pleased if he came home from the morning’s work to find the boy so deep in conversation with adults.
“No. Cousin, I ask your indulgence. The information is of some value to me.”
She stared at him in surprise. The buffoonery was gone from voice and face. She glanced out the window, but Morgan was not yet in sight.
“All right, then.”
“Thank you, Cousin.” He moved his attention. “Well, Gordy? Did you sell?”
“For seventy? Crelm!” Gordy snorted. “I told him eighty-five and took eighty. But, Shan — he bought everything! I had a little reserve and three cantra’s worth of futures–“
“You had what?” Katy-Rose could barely believe her ears. “Buying three cantra’s worth of whiskey? As if whiskey hadn’t brought enough grief to your life, now you’ll be beggaring your family!”
“Peace, Daughter. The boy won his gamble. Let him finish.”
Richard looked completely awake, all attention on Gordy.
“Ma, I made money! I didn’t beggar us at all!”
“But you could have.” Shan’s voice was very serious. “Three cantra on futures, Gordy? That’s rather a big bite, isn’t it?”
“Shan, I was sure!”
The white-haired man grinned suddenly.
“Remind me to tell you a few stories about times when I was sure.” The grin faded. “How did you manage it? No glossing, please; you know that Priscilla loves details.”
Gordy glanced uncertainly at the first mate. She smiled at him.
“It does seem like a great deal of money, Gordy. Where did you get it?”
“It’s mine! My pay from the Passage and the cuts I got from the spec cargo and the finder’s fees. I made six cantra last trip. An’ Grandad said I could have three, and three had to be put in trust for me.”
“So you decided to gamble your entire investment account on whiskey futures. . .” Shan said, prompting gently.
Gordy shrugged impatiently.
“I paid them a third. If something went wrong, I had the rest in the account. And I figured the dividends from the stocks would pay the fees.” He leaned forward. “I was sure! And it worked! I came out with five cantra, instead of three!”
“Or none,” Priscilla said. She sipped her coffee and set the cup down with a tiny click. “You have to remember that any deal can fall through, Gordy. You could have bankrupted yourself.” She smiled. “It’s wonderful that you made out so well. I’m proud of you.”
The boy flushed, then smiled.
“So,” Shan said, “Mr. Sullivan, having cornered the local market on Prime Grade whiskey, seeks to set his own prices. Interesting.”
He glanced at his mate.
“I think we might pay him a visit in any case, Priscilla. I do like to broaden my pool of acquaintances. Shall we see if he’s receiving guests this evening?”
“That’s settled then. Thank you, Gordy. You have access to the oddest information. Five cantra, is it? You’re becoming quite wealthy.”
“Oh, that was months ago! Now I have seven.”
“Do you? You’ll have to tell me about it.” He held up a hasty palm. “After your grandfather and I have concluded our business. Uncle Dick?”
The old man pushed back his chair and Katy-Rose’s heart sank to see the glow in his eyes.
“After you, Johnny Galen. Let’s sit out on the porch and have a session of talking.”
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Well, Gordy’s become quite the trader. And here his stepfather was afraid the boy was becoming an idle layabout.
He does seem to have been industrious, as well, during his time as cabin boy on the Passage. We’re never told, in Conflict of Honors, what the cabin boy is paid, but we are told that the pet librarian’s salary for the last half of the route is one-tenth cantra, plus the lowman share of any crew bonuses. For Gordy to have come home with six cantra. . .possibly defies belief. Certainly, given New Dublin’s probable economy, laying three cantra against whiskey futures seems excessive.
Still, I’m glad he made out so well.
Exchange rates and pay-levels aside, I like this chapter. I like the fact that Shan takes Gordy, and his information, seriously. I like the fact that, while Katy-Rose is rightly horrified that Gordy could have “beggared” the family, her reason is not his age, or supposed inexperience. She might not understand the market, but she doesn’t doubt that Gordy understands the market. I like the fact that Priscilla is learning how to deadpan answers to Shan’s more outrageous flights.
I also want to hear some of the stories Shan has to tell about the times he was “sure.”
May 10, 2015
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