Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview
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Chapter 14 – Next Year
A ball of rock and mist and trees and people had described an ellipse around the Smug once since Ambrosius had made his first sale. Things were starting to pay off.
“I never thought it would come to this - they're taking the house!”
“I never thought it would come to this - we'll be out on the street!”
“I never thought it would come to this - where will we find our next meal?”
“I never thought it would come to this - we're bust! We've brought shame on our family!”
“I never thought it would come to this – what about the kids?”
“I never thought...”
“Who would have thought it, eh?” grinned Stan. “Just over a million gross. After paying back our creditors, paying the bailiffs and all, that's about five hundred grand. My cut's £150,000, yours is £350,000. Not a bad year. Well, not bad for us, anyway. Now, about those good causes, sir. I believe there's a good hotel a few streets west of here that does an excellent dugong steak. They are always open for donations.”
“Don't be so cynical, Stan.”
“Don't be so self-righteous, sir. What's the point in helping the poor and homeless when you're the one who made them so? Hypocritical, that is. No, I say don't let one hand know what the other's doing, that way if both are on the take then you needn't worry about it. Come on, I'm hungry.”
There were marble veins of fat in Stan's dugong steak, a sign that it was the very best quality. With a previously hidden refinement he cut into it, and with equal refinement the steak oozed blood onto his plate. Ambrosius hadn't touched his yet, and instead was playing distractedly with his fork.
“Eat up, sir,” said Stan. “It's some good stuff. Melts in your mouth.”
“Stan, I can't stop thinking of what we did to those people. Do you think...“
“No I don't,” said Stan, chewing his words and swallowing his steak. “Life's better that way.”
“But I never wanted to...”
“No, nor did I. I did point out all this to you at the time. I made a special mental note of it. I never lead anyone astray who's truly innocent. The time for guilt has passed, the deed's done now.”
“But it was so easy...”
Stan smiled. “There are two ways of making money in this world. One is to work hard. This rarely works, but some people like to try it. The second way is to be ruthless. Some people find this hard, and that includes me. I have a conscience, though many would argue against that. I have to get over that every day. You, on the other hand, are different. You have no conscience.”
“I don't?” Ambrosius didn't know whether Stan was trying to pay him a compliment or offend him.
“No. Do you feel bad about cheating all those people out of their homes?” Ambrosius thought. “Yes.”
“Now look deeper. Do you feel bad?”
“Yes. Stan, I feel bad about what I did.”
“You're a liar as well, then. I have a way of telling these things - when your life is sin, you pick up on these things pretty quickly. Ambrosius, your morality is all cerebral; it doesn't go any further than the first few millimetres of your brain's surface. All the strong, animal parts of your brain don't hold to your morals. Some people are just like that.”
“And you're different?”
“I've got very strong morals, but I go against them. I used to be good, angelic even. You know what changed? I had a fall.”
Ambrosius thought back to his fall from a tree, the fall that started all this. “What happened?” he asked.
“I used to be honest,” said Stan, “a window cleaner by profession. I liked to think I gave people clarity. One day I fell off the ladder and hit my head on the floor. It was one of the busiest streets in town. You know how long I lay there?”
Ambrosius was silent.
“All day and all night. If it had been winter I would have frozen to death. In the end I came to. My wallet was missing and someone had taken my watch. Since then I've never carried a wallet or a watch, and I've learnt to leave my morals bruised and bleeding in the gutter, where those of other people left me.”
Ambrosius didn't know what to say. Stan cut another piece of steak and passed it to his mouth. Ambrosius rubbed his hands over his face, before speaking. “You know, it just goes to show. There's no such thing as evil. People are just pushed into doing bad things by circumstance.”
“Oh no,” said Stan. “There is evil, don't you forget it. You've done evil by cheating those people out of their houses. Just because evil is understandable, that doesn't make it right.”
“How can I change my nature? You say you can see that, deep down, I have no real morals. Surely if I am innately amoral then I can't help doing bad things.”
“Humans are perhaps unique in that they can choose to go against their nature. It is important to pick your battles, though. You must not fight a war against nature, Ambrosius – I can see that within you at the moment, a childish desire to attack parts of yourself. No you must learn to live with your nature, evil as it may be. Only then can you overcome it. Unless, of course, you don't want to overcome it. It is your choice.” Stan smiled that hypnotic smile. “I suggest you follow me into a life of sinful luxury, but then I would say that.”
“Enough,” said Ambrosius, smiling. “Something tells me that your advice is good, but I don't want to follow anyone. I want to take responsibility for myself. If I do good then it's to my credit, if I do evil it's on my own back.”
“Watch as I wipe a tear away,” said Stan, theatrically. “My little hatchling is about to fly the nest. Yes, I think our little arrangement has come to an end. You want to earn a living where at least you don't have to see the people you're shafting?”
“I suppose you could put it like that,” said Ambrosius.
“There is a company you might be interested in working for,” Stan said, d abbing his mouth with a serviette. “It trades under the name of Fish Stocks Limited. Let me tell you about it.”