Friday 28 Oct 2016

Monkey Business
Ricardo Teixeira

"All things taken into account, I would have done the same thing to you." He came up with it himself. After all clauses, lines and numbers, the contract ended with that sentence. It was hanging there, conspicuously right above the signatures, as if all the rest was fine print, and that final comment was it is all about. In one little sentence, the seller was recognizing irreversibility, defeat not just in a battle, but also in the complete damn war. He liked to think of this personal touch as his own Z of Zorro, leaving behind a scarlet letter, or the scar after a C-section.

In his twenty years plus business career, many have succumbed to signing the infamous words. Many had acknowledged that it is a jungle out there. It is a jungle with similar rules and goals for everyone. When a direct competitor goes out of business, he buys whatever remains, at sale price, but that does not make him a bad person. He is just lucky and good enough to come out on top, not morally challenged – he is just plain better. No excuses. No whining. No “you know what, I’s kind ‘a sick oh that business oh mine already”. No. Defeat is defeat. Overall, if they had been luckier or better than he had, he would be the one going under. They would have done the same thing to him. He merely forces them to sign under a statement of the obvious.

When men put down their bows and arrows, they invented war. When it was time to put down weapons, men invented finance. The instincts remain the same. A hunt is a battle is a deal.

Two things amplify every hunter’s pleasure: catching a big prey, and catching a hard prey. Once came along a boy. At first, he was just big fish. He ran a company that manufactured medical imaging devices. Market share: 70%.

One day, he gets a call from our hunter-warrior. He told the boy “I’m the CEO of a major electronics company, you may have heard of us. We’re looking into expanding into medicine, and I’d like to have a chat with you. I see great chances in our future.” The boy did not wish to sell. It was his father’s company. His father had died last year of a heart attack. He had an undiagnosed heart condition. Somehow, it felt wrong leaving the business that could have saved his father’s life.

That’s when our warrior understood that, more than a big fish, this was a fast fish, quite hard to catch or even get in sight. As usual, that brought out the best in him. Without doubting, for a minute, he could break the kid, he ignored his wife during long nights spent researching at his study. He went back to the boy’s childhood (not that it took too much time traveling to do that), he spoke to friends, ex-colleagues, ex-girlfriends, befriended him in social networks using a fake alias.

That was his old strategy. Everybody is an idealist at heart. Everyone is a sucker for something or another. All you need to do is create a distraction. Make a decoy. Make the deal about what people really want, and then it is easy to take their money. When he wanted to get a vain adversary, he would print fake news in friendly papers. When he was dealing with an adulterer, all it took was good old-fashioned blackmail. If they gambled, he would cheat. As for the unbeatable, those with no weak spots or crooked teeth, he would never challenge them. “If you can’t beat ‘em, don’t fight ‘em”. Some fish are just better left at the sea.

This kid, he had a very soft spot. He was some kind of mad scientist. After a week, he emerged from his study with a newfound secret and an invigorated will. He immediately called the boy and asked him to come have dinner in his home. He accepted.

After dinner, made lighter by expensive whiskey, the kid opened up. He started talking about his crazy ideas to build strange machines. He was so excited that he trampled all over his own words, making it hard to follow his light speed thought. “Just imagine, mister! In our blood there’s so much iron, that we all just literally rust to death. The problem is that it’s spread everywhere. Now imagine we could have a giant magnet that caught all that iron! Imagine how great, people magnetically glued to vertical platforms that would travel through the city at full speed! We would need no more cars; we would have no more traffic accidents.”

Our hunter, he was marveled. He kept thinking “gotcha”. The poor kid was an idiot. He inherited a million dollar business, and he was wasting it away researching a Velcro bus. He smiled through it all, together with his wife, who was even more enchanted. She laughed at his every idea, as if each one made sense.

Next day, he made a new offer. The offer was significantly lower than what the kid’s company was worth, and even more so than what the kid had already refused. This offer had a twist. It included very generous funding for the kid to go to China research his people magnet at some godforsaken university for five years. When he heard it, on the 20th floor of this modern and luxurious office, the kid’s eyes were glowing.

“But sir, I get the money right away, right? You transfer, immediately, do you? My funding, is it safe? How do I know you won’t try some sort of monkey business?” Well, you cannot blame the kid for wanting reassurance. Blinded by his bloodlust, our warrior went out of his way to protect the deal, make it bulletproof irreversible for the kid. That did the trick.

In the end, the kid acted like a kid. He eagerly signed below the infamous “all things taken into account, I would have done the same thing to you,” and hugged him in tears. “Thank you, sir. Thank you for helping make my dream come true.”

A week went by, and things had settled. Our hunter, our fisherperson, our warrior, our modern times hero, was still feeling the afterglow of another big win. People just felt so predictable, so full of flaws. He was the ultimate psychological imaging device. He looked right through everyone. He was unbeatable. Up in that 20th floor office, he spent hours looking out the glass walls and watching traffic go by. Sometimes he imagined the kid’s magic glue cabs going by, and he smiled. He should be in China, right now, chasing his impossible dream. As for him, he got what he wanted – a winning business for half the price.

Then, his cell phone rang. It was a text message. He opened it single handedly. After reading, he let it fall on the ground. The message, it was from his wife.

“If you knew you had a rival, you’d have turned this around, and I would never be out of this cage our marriage has become. Goodbye. I’m off to China, with him, but don’t think I’m a bad person. All things taken into account, if this was business, you would have done the same thing to me.”

By day, Dr. Ricardo Teixeira is an environmental engineer, who dabbles in neuroscience. Through chilly Lisbon nights, he writes fiction then stored in dusty, dark drawers to await the light of day.

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