For All Nails #1: "For All Nails"

by Noel Maurer

Jefferson City, Jefferson, USM
July 1957

Robert Contreras was a happy man. A very happy man. He had just married the most beautiful woman in Jefferson City. His contacts with his old college buddy, a North American named Julian Scherer, were paying dividends. Julian had gotten into the oil industry up in Manitoba. Robert had gotten his start supplying Julian with pumps and tubings from a factory in Chiapas, where wages were but a tenth of their level in the CNA. The fall in transport costs engendered by Mercator's superhighways -- plus the ludricrously low wages down in Chiapas -- more than made up for the Confederation's tariff walls.

Still, that was not going to last forever. Wages were rising fast down in Chiapas, and it was by no means certain that easy access to the CNA would last forever. So it was time to look for new markets. Pemex -- the company formerly known as Petroleum of Mexico, but now the property of the federal government -- was the obvious place to look. Oil production was booming, especially now that the new deep drilling techniques had opened up the Tabasco fields. And he had a lock on the best technology, licensed from his friend's company up in Manitoba. Oh, yes, life was good. And he was only thirty-seven years old!

His secretary buzzed. "Sir? Your one o'clock is here to talk to you."

Right on time. Not usual for someone from Viejo Méjico. Contreras liked that. It meant they might finish before lunch. Which was vital: he was scheduled to meet with someone from one of the new state steel companies, Sipacsa, about the quality of the raw steel they were delivering from their Valladolid plant.

"Send him in," he responded. Robert's desk faced a window overlooking the Jefferson City skyline. Behind it was a small circular table, which was where he talked to visitors. He was only a small fry, just getting started, riding some lucky breaks and lucky enough to get some big fish to meet him in his office -- better to not appear presumptuous.

Franklin Malvaez didn't look like a government bureaucrat. His suit was cut in the latest Italian style. It just looked expensive. He also had that typical foppish -- well, "foppish" wasn't the word that went through Contreras's head, but the word that did cannot and should not be used in a family forum that disapproves of homophobia -- look associated with rich Hispanos from the capital. He even wore an ascot, whereas neckware had disappeared from the wardrobes of Mexican men north of the tropic of Cancer decades ago. This kind of Hispano style had always been rare in government officials, and more so now that Colonel Mercator was running things. So who was this guy?

Robert stood up and grasped Malvaez's hand in a typical Jeffersonian grip -- that is, tight enough to cause gangrene to set in if maintained too long. Malvaez didn't flinch. "Mighty pleased to meetcha, Señor Contreras," he said, the smile on his face belying the struggle of their hands. Good, thought Robert, under that joto exterior we got someone who thinks he's a real chingón, and he talks like a born-and-bred Norteño. I can do business with him.

"So, Señor Malvaez, what can I do for you today?" He motioned towards a seat around the circular table, and sat down himself, a carefully measured sixty-degrees away.

"That'd be Colonel Malvaez," he said, grinning, "but please, call me Frank." He paused for a second. "Mind if I smoke?"

"Go ahead," said Robert. "Can't be any worse than that soup out there." The sky was a typical summer brown. The USM had the worst air pollution of anywhere on the planet, although he'd read somewhere that Persia was catching up fast.

Malvaez took out a cigarette, put it into a small gold holder, and lit up. But he held the cigarette the way a soldier would, or one of those goddamn annoying Californio teenagers, the kind who thought he was much more duro than he actually was. Strange combo, here, the body language of a Norteño naco with the accessories of a Central aristo. "I hear that you're pursuing a contract with Pemex, Señor Contreras."

"Hey, call me Bob, please. That's right. But what does that have to do with the Intervened Goods Administration? Your secretary said this was about our lease on the old K.A. plant in Tapachula."

Malvaez smiled again, like the two were old friends. Definately a Norteño. California, Sonora, Mexico del Norte maybe, but clearly Norteño. "That's right, Bob, I do work for the IGA, but I'm not here to see you in an official capacity."

Robert raised an eyebrow. "No? Then why are you here?"

"Well, you see, Bob, you want to do business with Pemex. Now, Pemex is a big organization. And now that it's been nationalized, you not only have to go through the typical procurement mess that you have at any big company, but you've got to deal with federal bureaucrats and federal procedures."

Robert immediately knew where this was going. His face turned hard.

Malvaez picked up on it immediately. "No, Bob, you misunderstand me. You have a signed contract with Pemex, right? Well, this is Mexico, guey. Contracts are contracts. You think Pemex wants to get dragged in front of jury in civil court? No way!"

He paused a second. "What I mean is, certainly policies will be changing in the near future. You've heard President Mercator's speeches. I can tell you, our beloved President is very serious about Sharing the Riqueza." You could hear the capitals as Malvaez spoke. "More will follow. And there is no guarantee of future contracts with Pemex, or sweetheart deals on intervened properties." He paused again.

"But ... our dear President has no desire to wreck the economy, or destroy the hard work of Mexican patriots such as yourself. There will be loopholes in the legislation, for those who know how to work them. And there will be endless work from the national companies. And, should you run into trouble, there will always be the option of having some of your own problematic investments being nationalized themselves. Talk to most of the expropriated yourself. For every one who complains, there are three who are very satisfied. Me explico, Bob?"

"Yeah, te explico, Frank." FN1 He frowned. "So what's the saldo here?"

"Simple. I'll handle any problems you may have with Pemex. In fact, I'll keep any problems from developing. And I'll keep you abreast of any, ah, regulatory changes that may effect your personal income. In return, you'll retain the services of this law firm," he presented a gilt-edged card listing an unknown firm in Mexico City, "and I'll get a 5 percent cut of every contract."

Bob was no rube. He knew this was how things worked in the Brave New Mexico, but he also knew that he was not powerless. Things hadn't degenerated that far yet -- Mercator hadn't been able to dismantle a century and a half of the rule of law in less than a decade. So he had some bargaining power. If this deal didn't produce benefits for him, he could screw Malvaez as badly as Malvaez could screw him.

So he said, "You've got huevos, Frank." Frank smiled and nodded. Definately a Norteño. "How do I know you can deliver?"

"Simple. First, I'll double the value of your contracts within a month. After that, I guarantee you as much new business as you can handle for as long as Pemex is growing. You won't get all of it, but you'll get lots. Second, I guarantee you that when the new laws come on down from Chapultepec Castle, that law firm will know exactly how to protect your assets and income. If I don't come in, you can nail my piel to the wall."

The two men looked at each other. They were both soldiers. They were both chingones. And they were both about to chingar the other . . . and come away happier for it. It was a crazy world.

"You got a deal, Frank." They stood up and grabbed each others hands again.

Fort Benton, Manitoba, CNA
August 1969

"No. No!! You can't. It's evil. I forbid it. Final." Mark Stapleton banged his hand on the table.

Alexandra took his outburst about as well as he would have at her age. Or even now, come to think of it. "Fuck you, Dad. Fuck you!" She crumpled up and threw the slip of paper down right down into his plate of sausage. "Fuck you!" she yelled again as she stormed out of the house.

Stapleton buried his face in his hands. Oh, Christ, this would be much much easier if Marie was still here. But Marie had left him two years ago, after that affair with her boss. Now his daughter was leaving, too, for the godbedamned Royal Confederation Air Force Academy, of all places, which had just begun admitting women. The Air Force Academy!

He pushed the food away from him, standing up from the table with a groan. Damn. Damn. What had he done to deserve this? Nothing. Nothing at all. All his life he had worked and campaigned for peace and progress. As a young man, he'd been active in the League for Brotherhood. He actively worked in the New Day movement. When he accepted the teaching job here in Manitoba, he met his wife at a meeting of the National Coalition for Women's Equality. He'd travelled to Tanganyika with his young family and helped dig wells in the fifties. When the tourists were killed in Morocco, he'd actively demonstrated against intervention or reprisals. He'd demonstrated against the Bomb. He'd practically organized the Peace and Justice Party here singlehandedly! He was a good man!

And what happened? His wife leaves him for her boss, some smug oilman from Mexico. And now his daughter leaves him too. For the military! He snorted, then muttered to himself, "At least she learned the lessons I taught her." But the incipient smile didn't last. The military! The warmongers! He stopped his pacing, and without realizing it, picked up and hurled the plate of sausages against the dining room wall. It made a satisfying smash, but Stapleton's shoulders sagged as he realized that he would have to clean the mess up alone. He stared at the shards of the plate, and the mess on the hardwood floor. Instead of cleaning it up, he went to the vita room and sank into the couch, staring at the flickering images on the screen but seeing nothing.

Forward to FAN #2: Paris is Burning.

Forward to 1960: Teach Your Children Well.

Forward to the Contreras family: Oil Markets.

Forward to Ev and Alex: Officers and Gentlewomen.

Return to For All Nails.