Basic Shadow Ch. 09

byGrandTeton©

A corporate plane had been sent for them, as usual, and they were to fly into Bangor, then drive to Machias and the coast. Van Rijn would pick them up himself. Dee Dee was vaguely interested in seeing an area that had been occupied for quite some time by the British during the War of 1812. Cassie had told her that the customs duties that had been collected during the occupation had been used to establish the Maritime region's largest university, although the actual port of entry wasn't at Machias, but at Castine, down the Penobscot River from Bangor. Obviously the war two hundred years ago hadn't disrupted trade very much, if there had been customs duties to collect.

Cassie had gone on about how no one had worried very much about the occupation, since there had been an unofficial, or perhaps quasi-official, truce between the New England states and the Maritimes for the first two years of the war. It had been a genuinely weird conflict. She'd seen a map once of the voting patterns of those who had supported the war (the main alleged cause of which had been repealed three months before war was declared and the main American victory in which had been fought after the war was over) which showed that at least some people had sense: the areas adjacent to Canada had almost unanimously opposed the war, and the areas in the south and west away from the border had been almost unanimously in favour of it. Sure, let your neighbours take the brunt of it.

There had even been naval battles on the Great Lakes, and ships built there, with the vaunted British fleet getting hammered sometimes, and the Americans others. She supposed it was a neat way to smack the Brits when they were all tied up with Napoleon, though it hadn't worked out that way. She'd better stop thinking of the stupidity of the whole thing - no one won any territory when it was all over - and Cassie knew ever so much more about the details than she did. But then, Cassie was Canadian, and proud of it, and Canadians almost always knew more about the War of 1812 ( and 1813, and 1814), apparently because it was supposedly the only war the Americans ever lost, at least until Viet Nam. Since nothing much changed as a result of the war, it would be hard to say who lost, though it was clear nobody won.

George, who had no interest in the war, had pointed out to her that the logos on the plane and on the napkins and other bits inside didn't say Iphigenia North America as the planes that had taken them to New York had. They all said Iphigenia SA.

"Is there a difference?" George asked.

"Yes, there is. Iphigenia S. A. (it means Societé Anonyme, and is a common equivalent for Inc. or LLC, Limited Liability Company) is the parent company and holds about 98.4 per cent of the outstanding shares of Iphigenia North America, which is nevertheless a separate company. That's why there's a North American board of directors: the people we met, and got fired by, a few months ago." Everything pre-Jason was at least a few months ago, or somewhere farther back in a vague and distant past. There were times George thought they should order their lives on a Before Jason/After Jason timescale. Their priorities had certainly changed.

"So why are we on a plane, a most comfortable plane I must say, heading off to Maine?"

"Pieter invited us."

"I've never been to Maine, so I can see why I came. Why are you here, and young Jason?"

"Pieter said he wants to talk business, with both of us, actually, each of us. He also wants some company for his wife. Jason might even convince Pieter's wife that she would like a baby or two of her own."

"Does he never do just one thing at a time?"

"No, I don't think so."

The flight had been fairly decent, sun shining all the way, and the onboard flight staff were friendly and accommodating, even more so than on the Iphigenia North America flights. Jason had turned out to be a good traveller, and the plane had been stocked with what babies needed most - lots of fresh diapers.

"You can't have babies on board all that often," Dee Dee commented to the cabin steward.

"More often than you might think, but Mr. van Rijn did ask us to stock up especially for a little one. May I hold him?"

Dee Dee agreed, as always torn between being overly protective and wanting to share the focus of her love. She watched carefully to ensure that Jason's head was supported. His neck muscles were almost up to the task by now, but she still watched.

"He's a fine lad, your son." Well, that was guaranteed to make friends.

It seemed like no time had passed before they were landing.

***

Pieter van Rijn met them at the Bangor International Airport, together with his wife, a quite gorgeous sinuous woman of middling height with a mass of brown hair. She was small breasted, at least in comparison to Dee Dee, who was, after all, nursing the world's hungriest baby.

"This is my trophy wife, Adele," van Rijn introduced her. "I've never been married before, and here we are married ten years already. I call her my trophy, because I won a great deal when she agreed to marry me." Mevrouw van Rijn appeared to dote on her husband as well. It was doubtful that she fully understood what was said, as English was not her native language, but she reacted well to the pride in his voice. She understood the meaning, if not all the words.

"This is Dee Dee, and George, the visitors I told you of," he continued the introductions. "We have a little business for later, in a few days, but mostly we are to visit and enjoy each other's company. The little one is Jason" he stopped to let Dee Dee correct him if need be "and he is three months old."

"So pleased to meet you," she responded, in an accent closer to some eastern European language than to Dutch, but in good English. "You have the most beautiful baby."

"Adele is Hungarian," van Rijn explained. "She speaks four or five languages, but her English is weak. She was hoping to have a chance to practise with friends, and I thought of you two. I hope you can become friends. With me, it is business, but we might be friends, too."

"I think business is better between friends," Dee Dee said. "Someone you don't know you might be inclined to cheat, or at least to deal with sharply. Someone you know, you feel you can trust. If you trust the people you work with, you can do business that lasts. There is more profit, in the long run, in business that lasts."

"Exactly so," Adele added.

The van Rijns had, in fact, brought their trailer, attached to the SUV they drove, and it made dealing with the paraphernalia that accompanied most babies simple. The drive down to Machias and a little farther east along the coast was quite pleasant. It took a little more than two and a half hours to cover more than a hundred miles. They dropped down the Penobscot River from Bangor to the coast and followed highway 1, the coastal route, to Machiasport.

"It would have been a little faster to go via highway 9," van Rijn explained, "but not so interesting. See, that turn there down highway three would take you to Bar Harbour and the Acadia National Park. Sieur de Cadillac is supposed to have explored this part of the coast. There is some very fine granite, as well as excellent prospects, in that park. The granite has a lovely pink tinge from the feldspar in it. It's orthoclase or plagioclase or some such. A geologist would probably be in rapture. You might not even get a decent explanation from one.

"They call highway 9 the airline route. As you might expect, I thought that was because it was such a straight route to the Canadian border at Calais. I found out differently the first time I drove it. I think we were going for dinner at St. Andrew's. It's fairly straight, but not as straight as a plane would fly. What it is, is up and down, like an airplane making multiple stops. It's no wonder the truckers avoid it, going miles out of their way to take the I-95 to Houlton and then on into Woodstock in New Brunswick."

They crossed the East Machias River at, of course, East Machias, crossing by a curious three-arch concrete bridge, The river itself, which opened up substantially below the bridge, was not terribly wide and quite shallow where the bridge crossed. Their turn was to the right, just as they crossed the bridge. The sign gave them options for Cutler, which was the road they were taking, and Whiting, which is where they'd go if they'd kept on highway 1, to the left. There was a large white Masonic Hall on the corner. Even closer to the river there was a street, presumably part of the settlement pattern of East Machias. Van Rijn drove down Highway 191 instead.

A few miles from Cutler, within sight of the sea again, he turned off to the right on a paved road. A mile or so on, the pavement continued to the left while they drifted onto an unpaved road that eventually led to their beach house. The house itself was large, certainly several bedrooms, with a pool. It was white clapboard, two storeys and an attic from the looks of it, new but designed to fit into the landscape as a typical New England home. It wasn't really weather-beaten enough to fit into this corner of Maine, George thought. However, that might not take too long given how exposed the location was. He didn't think he'd be interested in spending a winter here.

On the other hand, at the height of summer, it was a great place to hang out.

Adele enjoyed taking them through the house, which had four bedrooms. There was room for more guests in the pool house, she told them, though they'd never needed to put anyone there themselves. Actually, apart from members of Pieter's family, and once her sister, George and Dee Dee were the first guests they'd had.

***

Over the course of the next six days, Adele and Dee Dee got to know each other really well. A true friendship grew up between them. Dee Dee also learned to know and respect Pieter, but a mutual regard was as far as their relationship went. Neither she nor George ever became true friends with him. It seemed that he was a difficult man to get close to.

The week with the van Rijns went by quickly. Their property, and Dee Dee never discovered whether it belonged to them, had been borrowed, or had been rented, was quite lovely, even though "beachfront" dictated an elastic definition of beach; Dee Dee was sure that it would have suited any real estate agent she'd ever come across. There was a low bluff across the public road in front of the property, and there was a way down that wasn't too steep to a pebble beach. As they were near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, the tides were significant, with a rise and fall of eleven or twelve feet every twelve hours and twenty minutes or thereabouts. It was interesting to watch as the tide came in over the rocks. There were no tides where George and Dee Dee lived. The tides were an endlessly fascinating phenomenon.

She mentioned it one day to Pieter.

"The tides are always interesting," he commented. "There is quite a rise and fall here, though not nearly as much as at Burntcoat Head in Nova Scotia, which is farther into the Bay of Fundy, 285 kilometres, or 177 miles as you Americans would put it, from here. Those are the highest tides in the world, more than four times the rise and fall we have here, though this is quite impressive as well. In Holland our tides are only about a metre and a half, five feet in your measurements. Be careful when you encounter other comparisons of the tides, since the people claiming second place are usually each measuring something different, but for sure the very highest, by a large measure, are in the Bay of Fundy."

The ocean water was too cold to let little Jason paddle, and Dee Dee was careful not to get any more than her feet wet, but it was still fun to play on the beach and erect pebble walls for the tides to demolish. Up at the house they could sit around the pool out of the wind, and when it was warm enough drop in for a dip. George was satisfied with the scenery by the pool, of course, two lovely women in minimal swimsuits, with a baby prepared to cry whenever he was thinking amorous thoughts.

***

"It is time to talk business, if you will permit me," Pieter said to George. "I have a business matter I wish to discuss with you. I do not know whether your wife is a part of your business or not. If she is, then you should ask her to sit down with us, but I did not want to embarrass you if she is not."

"Dee Dee is usually part of any business decisions I make, even though she has her own business to run."

"That is an intelligent arrangement. She is a woman of great abilities."

"I like to think that I recognized that long ago."

George went to get Dee Dee.

"Please join us, Shadow. Mr. van Rijn wants to discuss business. He will talk to you about why he asked you out here later. I told him you were usually part of any major decisions I made about the business, so he suggested you sit in."

"Okay. I just put Jason down, so he should be good for a while, and if he isn't, Adele will keep an eye out. She just loves to hold him."

Pieter van Rijn settled the Fosters on the couch and went to stand in front of the unlit fireplace, looking as nervous as he ever did.

"I do not want to presume on my acquaintance with Dee Dee, George, but I have, perhaps, at least to get you here to discuss this subject with you. I am not just a corporate trouble shooter for Iphigenia. I do that for them, sometimes, and it can be a bit of fun to get out and do something different. I am a member of the board of Iphigenia S. A., which you know is the parent company. That position came to me because I am the president of a major clothing firm in Europe.

"Oh, we are not as big as Benetton, but under a variety of trade names we are very comfortably placed in European markets. When I am in North America for board meetings of Iphigenia North America, I keep my eye out for opportunities, though I am not eager to expand to this side of the Pond. We do sales differently, though North American practice is making some inroads among us.

"You may have noticed that Adele wears a lot of clothes from your Knapp Fashion Boutique. We have been lucky that it was possible to get those clothes on-line. Adele finds them to be adequately stylish, and comfortable. It is as if comfort was the most important feature for the designer."

George grinned a bit, recalling Meredith's insistence to Millicent that all of her clothes had to be comfortable to wear. Millicent hadn't been resistant to the concept. She just hadn't realized how important it was to women to have wearable clothes, as well as ones that were flatteringly attractive.

"I hadn't realized that Adele was wearing Millicent's designs," George answered. "They've gotten farther out than I realized."

"Men," Dee Dee fumed. "I realized it at once, though I'm surprised someone who likely has the full stock of entire stores to choose from is still coming to Millicent."

"She has the touch, I think, and it is an exceptional match for what we try to carry in Europe. We are the store for working women. Most of our customers would not buy the little cocktail dress from us, though we carry some nice ones. They will look for somewhere a little pricier, a little more haute couture, for that. If you are looking for a specific market, for example the young teens that Jeune Fille targets, you wouldn't come to us. But that leaves us with enormous potential.

"I think your fashions might help us to get a much larger share of that market. Our clothes are comfortable, but I must admit they are a little stodgy. Your Miss Knapp seems to have retained comfort and gone past stodgy. Her clothes are therefore very saleable.

"I appreciate the compliments. What do Millicent Knapp's creations have to do with us being in Maine?"

"So direct . . . But that is the way to do business. I have a proposal for you. I should like to have the exclusive licence to sell Knapp Fashions in Europe. We will, of course, buy all of our stock from you assuming you have the capacity to provide them. Your market isn't all that large yet, so perhaps you do not."

"We can triple our production in six weeks if there is a demand, mijnheer," George said defensively. "It will amount to a significant capital outlay, though. We would need a guarantee of sales to make the effort worthwhile."

"But of course. You don't know us. I will offer you a payment to compensate for the inability to sell your goods to other markets in Europe. We will make a guarantee that we will buy so many units, to justify your expansion. I think an adequate guarantee will be very much less than we will actually buy, so that is not a problem for me. You undertake not to sell to any other European retailer."

"UK included?"

"Yes, it is part of our marketing area whatever they otherwise think of Europe."

It didn't take long for Pieter and George to come to agreement on the terms of a mutually beneficial offer, good for at least five years. It was clear to both men that the "exclusivity" payment was not large compared with the potential profit on sales, but it would make a big hole in the capital that would have to be raised to finance the expansion.

"I can see that you are a little cash-strapped at present. Unfortunately, I only invest when I can take an equity position. You are perhaps wise to maintain full ownership of your businesses as long as you can, but one day you may have to sell shares to raise the capital you need. When that day comes, if it does, call me.

"Let us now join Adele for lunch. I think the little one is awake, too."

Lunch was a friendly, family-type affair without formality. The evening meals had been moderately formal, but once the van Rijns got to know the Fosters, any hint of formality disappeared from breakfast and lunch. Adele had told them that she preferred a little formality in the evening to remind them that they lived in a world of formality outside the home and needed to retain some trace of politesse.

"It keeps us in practice for when we just want to scream, and instead smile decorously as if there was nothing whatever wrong."

"Perhaps we need to do that a little more ourselves," Dee Dee conceded.

After lunch they proceeded to attend to the second item of business.

"Dee Dee," Pieter began. "I know I should be more polite when beginning business discussions that have been put off several days, but I cannot do that with someone who has become a friend, so I trust you will pardon me. We, Iphigenia S. A., need you to help us. There is something very wrong in our North American subsidiary. Even though we own 98.4 per cent of the shares, there are a few outstanding that belong to others that we have never tried to buy back, and it is not formally a subsidiary, which means if there is a problem with the board we have a problem enforcing discipline. Actually, the refusal to buy back the remainder of the outstanding shares is one of those problems.

"We need you to find out for us what has been hidden. Iphigenia North America does not return to us as its main shareholder what it should, even though it has a nominally conservative investment strategy. Something is draining money out. Interestingly, the problem you resolved for us almost six months ago - how time flies - resulted in a short-term increase in net income but not in the longer-term. It is almost as if it took someone three or four months to develop another method of diverting our money."

"I don't know how successful I can be, especially with the hostility that the board and the auditors developed toward me. It's not like a hit and run. It's more like we have to be able to go anywhere, get anything. The piece we can't get will be the key. And we can't do that in that company."

"I have given this a great deal of thought. We need you, or someone like you, and since you're here, it should be you. Especially because we are not aware of anyone else with your talents who doesn't owe some kind of favour to the Iphigenia board. I can get an access order from the SEC claiming that the board is oppressing shareholders. If we at Iphigenia S. A. pay for the audit and provide backup security, we'll get the order. That would give you the legal right to full access to everything. Would you be able to do what we're asking then?"

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