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The Bargainer/Hoffman/1

CHAPTER ONE

The sunset created a modern painting in bright orange-red with horizontal gray blue stripes, which seemed liquid above the Manhattan skyline, lighting up everything in view. Behind the buildings, nothing was in sight except this color, giving the illusion of a sunset in the desert. Jerome loved this view of Manhattan, which seemed submerged by this orange color. Out of habit, Jerome Declerck sought out the Twins, forever gone. They had disappeared forever, leaving an empty hole in the citys maps and in the memories of millions of New Yorkers. A red flash brought his glance back at the line of skyscrappers. He looked at his watch. December 16th, 4 P. M. Before disappearing in half an hour, the sun would play with the reflections of Manhattans glass buildings, new pyramids, ultimate arrogance of visionary architects, whose panes sent their silver-plated reflections into the sky. What he saw made him think of a poster found in all the shops of New York; a drawing of Manhattan with its famous skyline, and just beyond a desert with the names of the states and the Pacific. The view New Yorkers had of the United States. Nothing existed beyond the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/2 buildings of the melting pots capital, just a desert behind the buildings. Captain Thierry Carmine who had come to chat with Jerome suddenly got out of his seat and asked him, Are you free this evening? No, said Jerome, But Ill manage. Its been too long since we tried to have a dinner together in New York, so I will not pass up the opportunity to show you to one of my favorite restaurants. Where are you staying? Novotel, said Thierry, at the moment the head stewardess came up to him to announce in a serious voice, Cabins ready Captain. Thank you, Christie, said Thierry. By the way, Jerome is inviting us to diner this evening. Dont forget to tell Sylvie. Okay, boss, said the tall stewardess. Turning to Jerome, she reminded him, Dont forget your seat belt, Mr. Declerck? Sure, said Jerome, but please do me a favor. Ive only got hand luggage, and would like to get out quickly, like very quickly. No problem, said Christie, Ill be at the front door. She disappeared.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/3 Jerome felt a tingling looking at this young woman, and knew too well what that meant. He had known that feeling only once before, at first glance, and had gotten marvelously entangled, all by himself. Thierry turned to his friend. Hope you dont mind my inviting the girls, but Ill explain later. he said, with a smile. Dont bother said Jerome. Your wishes are my orders, Captain, and spending some time together will be great. Tomorrow will certainly be hell, so as the Romans used to say, Carpe Diem! I call you at the hotel. Ill make the reservations, 7 PM. Okay? Roger, duty calls was the Captains answered and was off. A Minute later a voice, smooth and precise, broke the

silence in the plane. This is your captain speaking. Were going to land at Kennedy Airport in a few minutes. Ground temperature is - 2 Celsius. We have a beautiful blue sky. We were 45 minutes behind schedule, but thanks to favorable winds, we caught up 15 minutes of lost time. Seated in the comfort of First class Jerome didnt miss the spectacle outside of the plane.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/4 Under the plane, a bluish gray ocean with white foam on the waves and suddenly he could see the ground coming up. he plane touched down, a KISS landing, loved by French pilots, that had the American passengers break out in a long applause. The pilot reversed the engines and the plane started to slow down. Jerome was first out of the plane, and after a few minutes with immigration was out of the airport in less than 10 minutes. He looked around the arrivals hall, spotted the sign with his name, and raised a hand. The driver came towards him. Can I help, sir? Thanks, said Jerome, handing over his small travel bag. It was the third time that hed had this driver, a Herculean colored man with his hair conked. The guy knew Manhattan like his pocket, and was full of excellent advice, even more so, because Jerome as the Americans called him, was good on tips. Jerome dropped himself on the leather seats of the limousine, opened the mini bar and served himself a bourbon. Carey limousines knew his habits. It was what he appreciated in the States; the customer was king, provided that he pays.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/5 It wasnt far from 5 p.m. The plane had been late taking off from Paris, and traffic here was getting heavy. That was more than an understatement; traffic was bumper to bumper. Frank, take the midtown tunnel, if we can make some time, let's do it. That all right with you? Good idea sir, said the driver. Its just few extra dollars. Not to worry, said Jerome, and continued in French, Well only be a few blocks from 57th, and Id like to keep you until midnight. Ill call the office, and give you the answer immediately, said the driver. 300 dollars, he announced, a few minutes later; Okay, said Jerome. The driver hung up, while Jerome turned on the mini TV of the limousine to see CNNs breaking news. G.W. Bushs re-election was already history. The first channel of continuously breaking news wondered about the last goings on of Wall Street. The major values had plunged, and economic moroseness showed its face.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/6 Doesnt matter, he thought. The Fed will shove its new decisions down the throat of the financial analysts. Surely a drop of the rates will let the dollar spin for the greatest joy of the American majors. Europe will continue to think, in a half-worded low voice, that if the American budget and trade loss was an economic aberration, the arrogance and power of the American economy will, as usually, be the last word! Jerome thought you had to be out of Harvard to keep believing in essentials that only had meaning to those who didnt respect them. He drank a mouthful of Bourbon and looked at the rolling landscape he knew by heart; the red-brick buildings of Brooklyn, dirty streets, traffic lights hung like Christmas garlands alternately lit up. They arrived at the Midtown toll. Jerome took a 10 dollar bill and handed it to driver. Keep the change, Frank. The clock of the limo indicated 5:45pm. Great! he thought. Well give time a bit of time. In 10 minutes hed be at the Parker Meridian. CNN continued to pour out its news. Their London office made a tour of the main European Stock Exchanges. Stocks were trading 0.3 to 0.5% upwards, and portfolio managers had to make round-

The Bargainer/Hoffman/7 trips back and forth to make a few more hundred Euros or dollars. When they emerged from the tunnel, he finally saw the residential buildings of Manhattan, always soulless, but at a pricey $2,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment. On his right was the long line the U.N. buildings, with the endless ballet of the diplomatic corps cars. Take 38th, and well see whether the Empire State is aging well. Jerome never tired of redoing the initial steps he did over 35 years ago, on his first visit to Big Apple. Seeing the Park Avenue sign, he asked the driver to take it; he wanted to see the old Pan Am building, to pass in front of Waldorf Astoria, his preferred hotel, but the prices had become so high he had to back down to the Parker Meridian, which hed become used to. He tried to spot the Park Bistro, a small restaurant created 15 years ago by three guys from southwestern France. In vain. Too bad, he thought, it was a terrific place. He wanted to pass in front of Saint Patricks, the last of the Gothic churches of New York, a major place of worship for New Yorks Irish; an astonishing structure stuck between a modern glass building and an old building of the Thirties. The

The Bargainer/Hoffman/8 charm of New York Cityan architectural mixture which varied ad infinitum. The driver passed in front of the Museum of Modern Art and let himself be guided by the flow of traffic towards 56th street, where the uptown but not uptight Parker Meridien was. The bell captain recognized him, took his luggage, and guided him towards the reception desk, where one of best receptionist known to Jerome was on duty. Patrick was in his thirties, tanned, with dark hair, always impeccably dressed, a sort of Malibu Guy, with his devastating movie star smile, which made him one of New Yorks playboys after work. You could ask the guy anything you wanted. Well, almost anything. Mr. Declerck, how nice to see you again, and, continuing in French, I hope you had good voyage, adding with an accomplices smile, You have the same junior suite, as usual. The guys a real pro, thought Jerome. He was sure to have a half-bottle of champagne in the room. His registration card was already filled in. He handed over his passport (in which hed slipped a 50 dollar note), to let the receptionist register him in. Can you get me a table for 4 at Sardi's, for 7.30 p.m.?

The Bargainer/Hoffman/9 Of course, said the head receptionist , handing him two magnetic cards. 7th floor, he added. Jerome crossed the brightly-lit reception hall to get to the elevators. He smiled when he entered his suite. The decoration was dominated by clear wood. He immediately opened the curtains, to benefit from the lights of the city. The sun was going down. In the building just across the street, he recognized the top floor apartment with its artificial grass terrace, simply hideous, but it obviously pleased the owners. He expected to see the husband or the woman doing putting practice. He ran a bath, connected his laptop, adjusted his blueberry, and called his boss at the Hilton, Hi, Marco. I just arrived. At what time begins the show tomorrow morning? 6:30 my friend. Are you going to join us as usual this evening, Jerome? Jerome decided to be frank; no need to play smart with Mark. His boss but also his friend. Give my apologies to our friends. Ive committed myself to dinning at Sardi's with my buddy, the Air France captain. Ill be there tomorrow morning, on time.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/10 Okay, see you tomorrow. Enjoy your evening. He isnt fooled one bit, thought Jerome. Our friend Marco knows how I hate dinners with the team the day before a meeting. He prepared to dress for the evening. A blue blazer, a blue striped white shirt with a monogram embroidered on the left wrist, a club tie, and light blue striped pants. Jesus! Im getting dressed up as if I intend to jump in bed with the first woman I run into! He decided to do away with the pants and wear jeans. In his bath, Jerome thought of tomorrows meeting. The big one! the CEO for Europe had said. In his 20-year career as Vice President of Human Relations, it was the first time that a meeting at the top was held in New York. All the area executives had been convened, and he had, at one moment, thought the meeting would be held in one of the hotels around Kennedy Airport. Thank God the CEO wanted his comfort. It was rumored that he was having an affair in Manhattan. Like the majority of us, thought Jerome.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/11 But in the realm of the false pretenses and well known sexual harassment trials, it was best to hide affairs, real or not. He turned on the bathroom TV, selected CNN, and shaved, listening to Wall Streets breaking news. Nothing new since an hour ago except that the NASDAQ seemed in freefall. Jerome dried his hair, and looked at his watch. Midnight in France, too late to call his daughter. Too late, and he didnt really want to speak with his wife, who must be flat out on the couch watching TF1, which was astonishing for somebody who had a masters in Political Science and didnt even notice that she was watching and listening to the same news three times a day. The only news he was willing to watch on TF1 was the mid-day news, because the anchor man was known to give a personal tone to the news by covering local subjects, sometimes revealing almost forgotten traditions, which wove a bond between generations, through music and folklore. News that could let us believe that living was a marvelous adventure, a great idea. The vast majority of French were like the vast majority of Americans, those who had elected and re-elected GWB. Back at home in France, back in 2007 they elected the most liberal of the candidates. The guy showing the most beautiful smile; the guy giving the nastiest response to his opponents questions.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/12 Seduction is the lethal weapon of politicians. Few and rare are those who gave themselves the means of fighting it by proposing ideas or a vision. Rare were those, except for the media gurus and other prophets, who tried to have their own opinion. The 68 generation of followers. Bullshit! Too bad for them if they can only see the glitter of politics along with the marketing strategy of the celebrities. Ill continue selling them anything, and take in the money. He got dressed, called Thierry Carmine, and suggested they meet at Sardis. Unless you want me to pick you up with the limo, Jerome added. Good idea, said Carmine. I know its only a mile away, but this will please the ladies, especially Christie. He hesitated. Shes got problems with her guy. Well behave like gentleman with the lady, Jerome promised. He decided to have a stroll down 5th avenue, to see the Christmas decorations. After a fifteen minute walk, he ended up in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, New Yorks famous department store. The

department store of the economic capital of the world.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/13 A huge wreath with golden bulbs hung over the main entrance. Each window illustrated a period of the history of the United States, using animated characters. Inside, the decorators and marketing department had not haggled on the expense. Saks had been transformed into a huge garden, the branches of its trees intertwined above the shoppers; a decoration dedicated to luxury and shoppers. He used the escalator to go up to the mens shop on the second floor. Several round tables were covered with hundreds of designer ties; Hermes, Armani, Versace, but the tendency remained club ties, with their colored stripes representing a university, a sporting club, or a fraternity; a sign of recognition. He bought two, in blue and light gray; went down to the first floor, and had a quick glance at the womens department. Over here, womens fashion was definitively more sensual or sexy than in France. The active New Yorkers were more into sexy underclothes than their European sisters, wearing their bras under tightly adjusted or transparent tops from Armani, Dolce Gabana, or Prada. That was quite something in a city where to go to the office, some of them had launched a particular style; wearing Nikes with a trendy fur coat, but once at the office, off went the Nikes, on went the heels. Thats the old apple trend.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/14 Out of Saks, he took time to stroll and do a bit of shopping. The shop windows did their best to entice strollers into the shops. It was night now, and cold as hell. Jerome put up his coat collar and hastened his steps to get back to his hotel. He asked the concierge to have his shopping put in his suite, and sought his driver. Frank was already there and joined Jerome, Get me to the Novotel, Frank. At 7;30, sharp the long Cadillac pulled up in front of the Novotel to pick up the small group. Wow! shouted Sylvie, Thierrys girlfriend of the moment, you can only find these extended limos in New York, and I just love it! I dont want to overdo it, but theres something extremely sensual in a limo, Id almost be in the mood to She left her sentence hanging. Frank, Jerome said to the driver, make a detour down 5th avenue before going to Sardi's. I know its around the corner, but I want the lady to see the sight. For their Christmas window decorations, Americans, especially New Yorkers, are masters in the art of creating illusions. The city was decorated for the holiday season with all sorts of lights illuminating the streets as well as the shop

The Bargainer/Hoffman/15 signs, making the city look like Disneyland, or a scene from Mom, I missed the plane. It was a few hundred yards of fairy-tale magic for those still capable of dreaming. At Sardi's nothing had changed; a friendly mob of New Yorkers who couldnt care less if the food was up to their expectations. People went to Sardis to see and be seen; for the atmosphere, not for gastronomical surprises or new discoveries. Sardis was one of the temples of Manhattans After-show dining, not unlike the late suppers in early 20th century Paris, dining just for the pleasure of being with friends before or after going to the theatre. New Yorks restaurant guides covered only the best steak houses, bypassing places like Sardis. Theatres lined up one after another on 42nd street, where an Italo-American, Mr. Sardi, set up business in the fifties to cater to theater goers. The bar, where a multicolored merry and hip crowd waited for a table, was full. It was the only place in town where smoking was allowed, something that drove Jerome mad. He couldnt understand this will to persecute smokers in a country based on freedom to the hilt. He navigated through the crowd drinking

The Bargainer/Hoffman/16 their bourbon or beer and moved towards the head waiter. Declerck, party for four; reservation was made by the Meridien. Ill take you to your table. Please follow me, sir, he said grabbing four menus as he went towards their table, in the middle of the restaurant, where they could admire the portraits of Broadways greatest who have dined at Sardis. A lot of them dated back to the 40s, some were dedicated. They were the only decoration in the place. He liked the decorations, from the first day he walked in, 30 years ago, without knowing how famous the place was. Hed enjoyed the soft shells, small crabs without shells, one of the specialties of New York and Boston, that one can eat like hamburgers, without forks and knives. A waiter arrived almost immediately, and read Today's Specials as fast as he could. In spite of his fluency in English, Jerome only understood one or two dishes, and, as usual, gave up listening. All these waiters, in whatever restaurant, read their lessons at a tremendous speed, and that made him ever so angry. Thank you, he said, and put his nose in the menu.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/17 The two ladies, being diet conscious, ordered sole. Thierry and Jerome decided to share a shrimp salad, followed with a dish of pasta, heavy on cream. Cocktails, the waiter begged. All four decided on a glass of California champagne; then Jerome ordered a bottle of white Chardonnay and two bottles of mineral water. The atmosphere was noisy, with conversation about day-to-day things; the holidays, New York, new jazz clubs, and small perfidies on the love life of Thierry and Sylvie. Jerome understood that these two had many things in common, not only Air France. He looked at Christie, the other cabin chief. She still had this sublime face which had struck him in flight. More shy than Sylvie, she tried to stay in tune with the evening, without really making it. Something wrong, Christie? Jerome asked. Are you into psychoanalysis, Mister Vice President? she answered with a smile. No, but you seem to be elsewhere in the phony champagne; not bad really. This Chandon is the proof that when they want to get into the US market, the French arent more stupid than others.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/18 You just have to twist the rules and play around with the brand names, but coming back to you, whats the problem? There isnt any. Just tired, with the flights and so on Did Thierry say something to you? Absolutely nothing, swore Jerome, to whom Thierry hadnt said a thing. But what was Thierry supposed to talk about? The children, the husband, the lover? What could be on the mind of woman over 35, still, or rather always, beautiful and desirable? And it all came down to sex: I love you, me neither, and whatever is left afterwards. He looked at her with sexual appraisal, I dont give a fuck about her problems, he thought, were here trying to wind down, have a good time and basta. He felt her looking at him before she spoke. Youre right, she murmured, lets enjoy ourselves, and forget the problems. Get me a drink please. Disarming, Jerome thought. To be avoided at all costs. Hey there, lovers!

The Bargainer/Hoffman/19 Thierrys voice brought Jerome back to the present reality. His friend, busy making plans with Sylvie, noticed the expression on Jeromes face and tried a joke. Always there to say something stupid, captain, said Christie with a smile, but in our profession, why not? Maybe, she added, it may be the solution; to make believe youre in love, long enough to forget the daily humdrum. Besides, my dear Thierry, there could be worse than your buddy, to have a good time. He seems nice, polite, not too old, and well-preserved for his age. Charming said Jerome, Im all set up for the future. But Im warning all of you, Ill have my revenge. Tanned, with a hair rinse to emphasize his grayish hair, and voil, the ex-playboy is back! Christies voice was full of mockery. Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, answered Thierry, swallowing his wine. Dont count on it, Jerome thought. He was astonished by the woman sitting in front of him. Was he attracted? Maybe, he thought. She released a certain magnetism with her almost mauve eyes, looking at him intensely. Two merry eyes, amused, rascals, a little like Renee Russo, he said to himself.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/20 The end of the meal proceeded in an environment of bar conversations, changing a world not interested in change, affirming the obvious like 10-year-old children, forgetting the form and cruelty of a world that didnt give a damn about its 6 billion children. Thierry threw a glance at his watch and said, Christie, lets have a drink at your hotel, Ill offer the drinks. Aye aye, Sir! And champagne for all! Let's go. She added, I want to do some shopping tomorrow, and I guess I wont get much sleep tonight, and this jet lag aint gonna help. Back at the Novotel, they ordered a bottle of champagne, Dom Ruynart 1999, in Christies room, and the boss (the name Air France crews give to their head pilots) signed the bill. See Christie, how nice I am with you, Im not leaving you with the bill! How nice of you, Christie said, with a wry smile, But you shouldnt have. Dont forget your tightwad reputation. Its what allows me to splurge from time to time, he answered placidly, like this evening, but youre right. Enjoy, because Im not ashamed to admit it, I am a bit of a tightwad. Something left over from my happy childhood; for my parents a

The Bargainer/Hoffman/21 penny was a penny ... but thanks to you Im in a very, very good mood this evening, and I dont even know why! They talked about vacations, children, wives, and husbands for some time. Thierry took Sylvie by the arm, telling her, Lets go and let these apprentices discover each other. They embraced Christie and Jerome, and disappeared as if they had never existed. I also have to go, said Jerome. Youre not obliged to go right now; make yourself useful and help me finish this bottle. After a pause, she added, I adore champagne. It induces happiness. They looked at each other as Jerome filled the glasses. His glance slipped off the mauve eyes to the legs, and his seducers instinct surfaced. Shit, shes wearing stockings. Fetishist, perhaps, and undoubtedly he was. His imagery of women, his notion of female beauty, the eyes, the hands; he liked them long, just like the legs, and if these legs were sheathed in nylon or silk, his heart started beating wildly. He did not intend to share that with anybody. The pleasure of the eyes and the touch, he wanted it only for him.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/22 Christie saw the desire in his eyes, and that pleased her, a light feeling of excitation or nervousness. She uncrossed her legs, her stocking giving the sound of silk against silk. She felt, or rather guessed, his approach. In this anonymous room, the silence was total. She raised her eyes and met his glance. Jeromes eyes shone, attracted by the pulpy gloss modeling her lips. She put a finger on her lips asking him not to speak. Their lips touched very close, gently at first; they kissed tenderly. Both shared this quivering desire, and did not want to say anything that might break the magic, the unreality of the moment out of time and space. Only the neon lights of Broadway, through the window, brought them back to reality, the reality of their lives. Their hands touched lightly, as if by chance, playing accomplice. What followed was only normal, fingers seeking each other, glances, and furtive smiles. Hands groping, discovering each others body. The skirt sliding up to show the lace of the garter belt, the mans hand caressing the silk of the stockings before finding the soft skin, the lips embracing, then running all over the bodies. The first deep kiss, the bodies stiffening under the touches of the mouths.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/23 The growing desire as sexes meet; pleasure, frustration, plenitude; over and over. Tiny grunts like humming, moments of inexpressible happiness, appeased desires, the sudden realization that we have finally found that special one. A sudden feeling unknown a few hours ago but dreamed of; quite simply, desire. Desired pleasure, pleasure shared between a man and a woman not needing to speak to each other to feel this special thing that had drawn them together. Skin against skin, they continued to cherish it with the tips of their fingers so as not to break the moments magic. Stay here, her voice was husky, almost silky. Jerome looked at her, his eyes again taking possession of her body. Not possession, he thought, simply the pleasure of looking at this woman at this very moment. Ive got a meeting at 7 AM at the Hilton. Its right next door, but I need my corporate uniform. Im sorry, but Shht, lets just say thank you and good night, Christie murmured. Im flying off tomorrow, you can call me, if you She left her sentence hang.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/24 Jerome gave her a last kiss on her forehead and raised his thumb to say OK. He returned to his hotel in the freezing temperature. In front of the entry of the Parker, he noticed some cardboards on the street. Looking more closely he saw, or rather guessed, that a man was asleep there, under the cardboards to fight off the freezing temperature. A couple yards from a $350a-night hotel, a man sheltered himself under cardboard boxes. They were millions of homeless souls like this guy. The downside of the America dream, in the country of wild capitalism, the poor were ignored; hardly tolerated. France was becoming like this at the speed of light. Three million French were living off minimum wage, and just as many, including a million children, were below the poverty line. And here I am, an accomplice to all this, every man for himself, God, if he exists, will take care of the rest. An Abbot named Pierre crusaded alone, or almost alone, in favor of the most helpless among the helpless. This former deputy with the wrinkled face, long gray beard, and a cane, like a pastors stick, continued to believe in mankind, in humanity, joined later in this crusade by a comedian who created the a network of distribution of food surpluses. The Red Cross and

The Bargainer/Hoffman/25 some charity associations followed suit. But that was not enough any more, in this world of selfishness, of self-centered rule. Quite a blow to his Christian upbringing, and his forgotten boy scout past. His compassion for others had been wiped out in his quest for financial success. He had become a robot, concentrating on succeeding in the pitiless world of the multinationals. And hed succeeded. In a feverish way, he sought wood to knock on to keep bad luck away. He neared the reception to ask for his key, and gave a great blow on the wooden counter. Geez! Im getting superstitious, he grumbled aloud. Can I help you, sir? The expression on the receptionists face nailed him. He had been thinking out loud, which for a man of his position was unthinkable. He mumbled something like an excuse and went off to the elevators. He was definitively in a bad mood. When the alarm clock rang at 5 AM, he threw off the blanket and lay there a few more minutes, like when he was a kid to putting off getting up until his mom cajoled him with a kiss and

The Bargainer/Hoffman/26 her soft voice humming, As soon as its time to get up, I hear the alarm clockI jump out bed, Jerome shouted, with these happy memories in mind. He still smelled Christies perfume on him, Amor, Amor. It was lucky that this illusion of meeting, slightly magic, still existed. He turned on the lights, got up, put a coffee wafer in the coffee machine placed at his disposal in his executive room, added a bit of cream, and lit his first cigarette, after drinking an ice-cold water glass of water. Hed never know if she or another woman had ever loved him, and couldnt care less. He swallowed a mouthful of coffee, which was not likely to make his blood pressure rise. At least, at 5 o'clock in the morning he could make himself a coffee substitute without having to wait an hour for room service. What he appreciated in this country was its practical side. He smiled, took a fast shower, and put on the clothes hed prepared before bedding down; dark gray trousers replaced the standard gray suit, white shirt and club tie. Somebody would be

sure to say something, but he liked being different and enjoyed the reactions. This morning, he would be the only one wearing a blue blazer. All the others would be in dark gray suits. He still remembered the day his boss had noticed that he was wearing bright red socks. It is not within the company dress

The Bargainer/Hoffman/27 code, hed said, implicitly meaning that a senior executive was to be like all the others, and that on weekdays there was no question of arriving at the office in a sweater or with red socks, bright or not. Easy dress was reserved for the meetings on Saturdays or Sundays. He prepared another coffee and called his driver, who answered at once, saying that he was in front of the Meridian. At 6 AM, Jerome was in the car. It was still dark outside, and colder than the day before. The equivalent of a storm wind swept the streets of New York. The meeting was scheduled for 7, but he knew that even after getting up at 5 he would not be the first one there; four or five of his colleagues would have already done a 2-mile jog with the Managing director. When he arrived at the Hilton, the huge lobby hummed with the usual activity in this kind of hotel. In front of the counters, referred to as desks, God knows why, clients were lining up to pay their bills and jump in a taxi to an airport; Kennedy, LaGuardia, or Newark. He looked at the display panels, found his meeting room, and was off for half a day of rehashing the same old objectives. He wasnt the first in the meeting room but he was surprised to find the General Secretary, Tax director; an untranslatable French function. He was an expert on country-specific tax laws

The Bargainer/Hoffman/28 in the whole world. Basically, his job was to find loopholes in the legislative systems of countries, quirks which would make it possible for the Group to pay less taxes at home, but also abroad, in all the countries where the company had subsidiary companies. In his area, Walter G. was one of best, but beyond taxation and golf, his conversation came very close to absolutely nothing. As they shook hands, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around. It was the Chairman, with his pleasant gray eyes and dark hair, no doubt dyed under the influence of a new mistress forcing him to look younger. It was thanks to him that Jerome had made a career in this American multinational. Back then, Marco Dimagio owned a Belgian subsidiary in which Jerome was only an assistant to the head of human resources. In those days it was called the personnel department. The two men got along immediately. They were the same age, given a year or two, shared a common taste for good restaurants, girls, and golf. Both worked by taking on challenges to see how far they could stretch the rules, forgetting all principles, the rules by which their parents had brought each of them up on both sides of the Atlantic. Jerome willingly worked overtime to write his bosses speeches, but enjoyed it, if only because he appreciated the man.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/29 It only took Marco fifteen years, to get to the top, sometimes launching hostile tenders against his partners or rivals, concealing his maneuvering with a smile. He succeeded so well that today he was the head of a group of 90,000 employees around the world, with a turnover of 10 billion dollars. Jerome, after the meeting I want that you to stay. Well have a 3-man chat with the VP for finances. That was all. Hed have to wait till this evening to know what this was all about, and have to hold his horses until then. He hated not being told the purpose of the meeting immediately, even if he knew that was part of the way things were handled. At a quarter to seven, the President decided to advance the meeting. Everyone was there ahead of time, and it was useless to sit there waiting for seven. Ladies and gentlemen, Marco began, exceptional circumstances call for exceptional meetings. The weakness of the dollar has caused a drop in our turnover and our gross margin, which is unacceptable both for Wall Street and our shareholders. Jerome noticed that all the countries were represented; a real crisis meeting had just started.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/30 The market is in free fall, and its not likely to stop soon. The only way we can improve our profitability and lower personnel costs,

our overheads, is through a reduction of

communication, and our accounts payable. Our suppliers will complain about getting paid in 90 or 120 instead of 30 days, but they wont have the choice, and well blame it on our IT system. Well either have to close down some plants, or to set up a plan of downsizing personnel on a group scale. Our job, and I speak in the name of all of us, is to reduce costs by 10%. You have fifteen days to find solutions and the means of applying them. Ill not say it again. What it boiled down to was that 8% would be acceptable, and 12% perfect. Thats the objective, Marco continued. Nonnegotiable, because in one month, day for day, I have to present our recovery package to the financial analysts and portfolio managers. There was no other way out, or some heads would roll. Not his, since over the last two years hed had been slyly careful enough to renew the Board and held the new members by the balls. Hed offer Wall Street some scapegoats.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/31 Now lets have each of the five regions present their results and their strategy for 2005. One hour per region, and half an hour for discussions and comments. The meeting should be finished by 5 PM. Jerome made a visual tour of the table. The President for North America was all smiles, but couldnt help himself from nervously drumming on the table. His results were bad. He hadnt been able to prevent the Japanese and Korean equipment suppliers from slashing his profits. He was surely one of the safety valves, just like the head of Asia, whose eyes had been so set on growth that hed completely forgotten the incidence of foreign exchange rates, an unforgivable error. Jerome would have put his head on the block. The other area heads were rather calm, and rumors implied that their results were rather good, even if good didnt mean much to Americans; excellent was the standard for Wall Street, shareholders, and soon for the country. The president fixed the order of presentations for each region; North America, Asia, Latin America, Central Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and finally old Europe. All the PowerPoint presentations had been made according to predefined model. The finance manager of each area used his portable to show the slides, while the president commented on the figures

The Bargainer/Hoffman/32 which appeared on the overhead projector. The show followed the same ritual at every meeting, only the progress of data processing changed the form. By noon, all was said and done for the first three areas, and the chairman ordered a lunch break. Five minutes later, a couple of waiters entered, putting large plates of sandwiches, cole slaw, potato chips, and bottles of Evian and Coke on a table near the window. Jerome took a paper plate and grabbed two sandwiches, one with salmon, one with ham, took a bottle of Evian, and returned to his place. As far as he was concerned, the meeting was finished. The heads of North America and Asia were out, but in a polite way. Both had tried to justify themselves, explaining their bad results by blaming the impact of the worldwide market, their customers, the weather, or their coworkers, without ever admitting their own bad strategic choices. They didnt admit any responsibility. Jerome hated this kind of attitude, which consisted in making the others pay for their mistakes. He took a quick look around the room. Didnt see either of them. The chairman wasnt in sight, either. Hed missed something. He realized that the vice president for human resources wasnt there either.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/33 The heads of North America and Asia were obviously getting the bill to pay for their failures of the company to two men; the two who by the end of the day would be, on special assignment while waiting for a new assignment, which would never come. The two were shelved with 300,000 dollars a year. The message was simple; forget you ever worked for us and go play golf somewhere in Florida or California. A press release had already been written and would be e-mailed to the main financial newspapers, if it had not already been sent. Jerome finished his sandwiches, reread Marcos presentation, sought out Harry, his Finance Manager, spotted him, and moved towards him. Harry, I am sure were thinking the same thing about our friends of North America and Asia. Maybe it would be worthwhile adding an element to Marcos presentation? Harry was under 40, with an MBA in finance from Harvard, and ambitious as

hell, as could be seen in his steely blue eyes. His eyes reminded Jerome of images of ice-barriers, glacial blue. The eyes of a serial killer in suit and tie. Anticipate? Harry asked. Right-oh, Jerome answered. Well shut down Italy in three months. In any case, we havent invested a dime in the plant in the last six years, and its become obsolete, especially in regards to our juicy investments in Slovenia, and with the help

The Bargainer/Hoffman/34 the local authorities give us. It isnt Berlusconi who will offer any opposition, not today, in any case. Closing down, with leave premiums for the 250 employees, should cost us, at worst, 20 million dollars, and well transfer the production equipment to Slovenia, where the wages are 60% lower than Italian wages. And then? Harry asked. After that, we lay off 12% in France by not replacing the retirements, and we fire 15% of English manpower. I had a quick check at the figures. It should come down to the equivalent of 10% laid off. The remainder dies out naturally. Which represents saving a little more than 120 million dollars by moving these productions to Eastern Europe. But that will weaken our region! Not if all of Europe becomes one area. Thats what Ill propose to the Chairman, now that Europe is made up of twentyfive members, its dumb to have Europe split up into two areas. Looks good, amigo. If you can convince Marco that our future looks bright.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/35 Especially yours, said Jerome. In five years, according to French law, I will be retired, but youve still got twentyfive before retirement! Think about it. Jerome knew that Harry had worked it all out a long time ago. Thats why they were on the best of terms, professionally speaking. Before the meeting resumed, Jerome saw his boss talking with Harry, then turn to him and raise his thumb. He had accepted the reorganization plan. The afternoon was short. The other four regions had performed well, and their presentations turned out to be mere formality, but each of them could and had to do better and come up with a new business plan in three weeks. The European region was entitled to a good report, having anticipated the Presidents requests. Then the vice president of human resources took the floor. His message was simple; We

have to reduce labor by 12%, and I expect a detailed plan for reaching this goal in 6 months from everyone. Were going to close down two plants in North America, which will account for around 1,800 layoffs, so its up to the others to find a way of laying off another 2,200 people, a little less, since Europe has already earmarked some 800 layoffs. Right, Jerome? Jerome agreed; a nod of his head.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/36 These figures are only indicative, give or take a hundred people. The details will need to be worked out. Ill get together with my guys to work on this. Well have make sure were in conformity with European legislation, and justify ourselves by lining up some figures with lots of zeros against the unions. Thats where the authorities will balk, and try to put up some resistance. In this assembly, transferring, laying off, or putting someone in immediate retirement were run-of-the-mill decisions, made without remorse. The only question was, how much? How much would it cost the company? Jerome had a vague idea, which he would have to confirm, and the sooner the better. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this meeting. We have only one objective; enhance shareholder worth. Lets get to work. The meeting is over. Not a word on the Presidents decisions concerning the heads of the two poorly-performing regions. The information would

come a little later. The assembly hastily left the room. This was the time when the apple-polishers vied to exchange a few words with the president, but not this time. The atmosphere hardly lent itself to it, and everyone preferred to slip away without being noticed. Marco hailed Jerome: Youre a

The Bargainer/Hoffman/37 real bastard, he said, and dont tell me you dont know what Im talking about! Closing down one or two factories in Europe? Thats it, the Chairman answered, and dont play innocent with me. Until this morning, you hadnt the slightest idea of how things were going to work out. As usual, you anticipated it all, because it was all your idea. Dont try to answer. I wont listen. No need to play innocent or try to get out of this; he knows that its me, Jerome thought. Team decision, Jerome answered. It doesnt matter, Jerome. It suits me fine, really, Marco insisted, if youre sure to get away with it without setting fire to the plants and having labor unrest. You can announce it to your shareholders, said Jerome. The boats gonna rock a bit, but not more than usual. My turn to ask something. Having only one area in Europe, will allow us to transfer most of our production from western Europe to eastern Europe. Joining both together into one region will also allow staff reductions. You want the presidency? the Chairman asked.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/38 No, said Jerome, and you know it. Leave Mark where he is, and same goes for me. Scared? said Marco. Thats OK with me. I need you for a confidential mission. I want you to handle Investor Relations in Europe along with your present job. I need somebody to calm the financial community over there. I should have spent more time on this myself. I want you to spend a few days on Wall Street with our Vice President, and try to understand how they operate. Its very simple, youll see, he added with a smile, Youll just have to listen to what they say, what they want to hear, and reassure them that our aim is to do everything possible to allow them to allow them to reach their goals and make over 250,000 dollars a year. Let them get rich and live happily on 33rd street in Manhattan in million-dollar apartments, decorated by trendy designers with whom they readily share a line of coke hell from their boss the next day. These guys really think that if they werent there, that without them, the world would stop turning. Let them believe this dream. Sell our group like a good car salesman. They want a 14% gross margin. Theyll get it! I swear it. and get

The Bargainer/Hoffman/39 And, he added with a sigh, your job is to reassure them without lying to them. Youd end up with the SEC on your ass if you lied. Anticipating their questions and lying by omission is not an offence. Just stick to what the VP Finance and I set out. From this day on only four people will be able to address themselves to them; the Finance manager, the Director of Investor Worldwide Relations, you and me. And you will have to make sure this rule is applied to all the presidents of our subsidiaries. Nobody, I repeat, nobody except these four people can speak to or give an opinion to members of the financial community, and that includes journalists. First and foremost, we have to fully control our communications with the outside world, which depends only on me, and is validated by the finance and tax chiefs. Is all this clear, my friend Can I count on you? Jerome said, Sure, Marco. You know it, otherwise youd never have made this proposition to me. But Id like to say a few things. Will you send a memo to all concerned that from now on all financial communications are only to be handled by the four of us, as you mentioned? What else? said his boss.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/40 Join the two European regions into one, and Im ready to go! OK, Frenchy, youre certainly more right than wrong. Marco turned to the person in charge of human resources. Draw up an official statement with Dick, our PR man, announcing the change of persons in charge of Asia and North America, the creation of a single region for western and eastern Europe under the presidency of Mark, and the nomination of Jerome as VP for Investor Relations of Europe. I want it on the economic wire in half an hour. OK, his right hand man answered laconically. Imperturbable, the six-foot man with a shaved head was an old navy pilot with the steel nerves, and with his eyes always squinted and thin lips that gave the impression of always smiling, but it was only an impression. the man was dangerous even if he just sat there like a cat out of a Disney cartoon. The guy was a dangerous adversary, sneaky and brilliant. Jerome wasnt surprised to discover, a few months later, that the official statement had been written beforehand. Turning to Jerome, the Chairman said, as if incidentally, No salary increase for these new functions, but, a short

The Bargainer/Hoffman/41 silence and he let it out, 15,000 stock options a year, as long as it will last! he added with a mocking smile. Jerome had already done the mathematics between the value of the stock options and their market value. It came down to a minimum of 150,000 dollars, unless the shares fell drastically. The trap, a velvet trap, had been closed on him once more. The two men gave themselves a hug. When are you off? Marco asked. As soon as I can, Ill see Charles to prepare my Wall Street training sessions. Maybe in a couple weeks. Hell need to organize the appointments, and Im off home to relax a couple days. But, he added, I can always be reached on my cell phone or by email. At any rate, my memo on the steps to be taken is done, and will be off today to all personnel directors.

Great, buddy! Dont lose any time. I need tangible results in three months, and youll have to organize my visits to the major financial institutions at the same time. Good luck Jerome was leaving when the director of Investor Relations called, Jerome, youll have to come back soon. I need to introduce you to our financial interlocutors in order to set up this road show as quickly as possible.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/42 No problem, Jerome answered. Charles was a squat mediumsize guy, with a serious voice and horn-rimmed glasses. Jerome knew that he had an Engineering doctorate from MIT, and was a real New Yorker, who enjoyed theatre, lyrical music, and French culture. He loved to eat, as could be seen from being overweight at 45. Fast-food generation, thought Jerome, culture and greasy hamburgers. They decided to go to Wall Street, the next morning. Jerome was to come back 15 days. Then, they separated. Jerome was glad to leave this meeting, he needed a good shower, and call Christie, just and call his youngest daughter. He stopped with the bar of the Hilton, called his driver, and had a Bourbon. He only drank Bourbon in the United States. He didnt know why, maybe to avoid upsetting Americans, who sometimes are incredibly chauvinistic. A woman came into the bar, a typical trendy New Yorker; light blond hair, enormous handbag, mink coat, and the inevitable tennis shoes, Jerome was almost sure she had heels in her enormous handbag. to see if she remembered him,

That was the fashionable side of women in Manhattan; young executive women combined chic and casual. Hed run into many of

The Bargainer/Hoffman/43 them removing their moon boots upon arriving at work and putting on their heels. Strange country, where fashion was just an illusion, where cheap copies of expensive clothes made up womens wardrobes, and where women dressed merely to cover themselves, not to dress up. Jerome left the Hilton, got into his car, threw a glance at his watch; quarter past five. One in the morning in Paris. Too late. He decided not to call the woman of his life; his kid daughter. Tomorrow morning shed give him hell because he didnt call her. He dialed Christies cell phone. Would she be available only for him? The illusion of past magic was present again, but had

left him with a wholesome feeling. The ring tone resounded in his ear, the desire to speak with her was suddenly essential to him. He cursed the man hed been this afternoon; loyal to his company and rotten to his true self. He never imagined being so far from his values in life. He played with peoples lives and the future of thousands of laborers, without a thought of the consequences. A perfect real bastard. Thats what I am. Christies voice drew him out of his thoughts. Hows the man of one of my nights? Better would be better, he blurred, surprised by the stupidity of his answer. And suddenly upset at the thought of

The Bargainer/Hoffman/44 being just a one night man to her. But if we could dine together, it would be great. Need to forget work? Christie enquired. Right on! said Jerome. To say that it has been an easy day would be a euphemism. Lets make it early then. We take off at ten this evening, and I havent satisfied my buying urge, yet. 18:30 at Gallagher's; its next door to your hotel, well dine early, like New Yorkers. To now, then, said Christie. Get me to the hotel, Jerome told the driver. After youre free, he said, handing him a twenty open pane in the separation. He just had time to make the reservation, send an E-Mail to the English president and his HR director, and give them an appointment two days later, in London at noon, take a shower, put on a pair Levis and an oversized sweatshirt, and he was in the lobby of the Novotel just in time to see the woman of a new part of his life appearing. Going into Gallagher's was a show on its own; hunks of beef spread out behind the windows along the entrance corridor. In the middle of the first room was the bar, always full of the usual customers. The Maitre D guided them towards a table dollar note through the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/45 against the wall. Lets make it quick, Jerome asked, with an ambiguous, carnivorous smile. Agreed, especially since Im not really hungry. A salad with blue cheese sauce will be fine. Jerome settled for a small prime rib-eye steak. He ordered a bottle of French Beaujolais wine, which had the merit, here, of being less expensive than in France. He suspected an American marketing strategy. The more expensive, the better it has to be, and the price of Californian wines soared to close to 70 dollars a bottle, whereas Beaujolais wine stayed in the neighborhood of 14 dollars. The restaurant was dark and noisy, the relaxed atmosphere of cozy places. I understand why Americans are surprised when they come to Europe, especially in France, said Christie. Here, nobody is surprised if you only take a salad or just a steak. In Paris

the waiter would smirk. Even if we are the first gastronomy destination in the world, we would do well to accept that not everybody has our French eating habits. Well said, Jerome commented, But things wont change overnight. old Europe is still too self-centered. Too bad for us, but its not very fair for those who make the effort come to visit France.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/46 Christie spoke about her day and her purchases. In New York, she did not stop running the shops, because everything was less expensive than in Paris. Shed bought stockings, nylons she specified with a smile, and a blue bed cover for the country house. She handed Jerome a small bag. Open it, she told him.

He looked at it, surprised, astonished that he was like an idiot in front of such simplicity. She said, Its just a gesture, and then added, mockingly, so if by luck you like it, youll think of me once in a while. It was a pair of oval cufflinks with semi-precious stones. Super! he said. He thought of saying ,How did you know? and dismissed the thought. With certain people, words were useless. He looked at her and started getting scared. Everything so simple with her. They liked each other, period. It was certain that if, at this very moment, someone was watching them, they would see a couple dead in love devouring each other. A couple simply, quite simply, in love or falling in love. Dreaming is what he was best at, and his dream at the moment was a beach on the Antilles with this woman. He wanted to see her in a Paro, on a deserted beach of St. Bartholomew, to throw himself with her into the crystal blue water, and to hell with his problems; his doubts. Just being himself with her. Still here? Christies voice brought him back from wanderings. seemed

The Bargainer/Hoffman/47 Far away, but with you. I imagined us on a deserted beach in Saint-Bart. You only think of desire, she whispered, unless its only about sex. No, only what has the face of happiness, and for the time being, that face is yours, you look like happiness; even, and especially, with sex. After all, each of us has our own idea of pleasure, and sex suits me fine. Even fascinates me sometimes, with from time to time a touch of romanticism. No, seduction is a better word. We dont know each other, not really, he added, yet I have the confused feeling of living a moment where words arent needed, or only express magic formulas. Youre my magic. I hate these moments when I cant think anymore, or when I let myself be carried away by what I think is real or what I want it to be. To find again the magic of childhood, adolescence, the purity of feelings, at the same time as an animal desire towards a woman. A sudden need to be mothered, while remaining fabulously a man. Let us make love, she said. Im simply happy. Jerome left the Novotel around midnight, surprised by what this new relationship was turning out to be. Friendship, he thought aloud, but a friend who attracted him. He was fascinated by her face, and he thought that a womans face, her eyes, and

The Bargainer/Hoffman/48 her expression could kick off in him unreasonable impulses. This evening, he had an impression from a tiny voice in his head which told him that hed have a hard time forgetting Christies face. In his room, he had a look at his watch; half past midnight. He decided to lay around, watching CNN for half an hour to be

able to wake his daughter, to hear her voice, to imagine her smile and her morning bad mood. CNN was showing sports. American football didnt interest him. The speed and loud-voiced tone of the sporting commentators, be they American, French, or English, horrified him. He changed channels and found the BBC 1 economics page, noted that once again the price of the barrel of petrol had exceeded its historical ceiling, close to 54 dollars, that Wall Street was not in its best form, and that it wouldnt be long before the head of the Fed would get in the game and lower the dollar again, which will have a positive effect on exports and negative on the oil bill. Nothing in the New York night; the planet continued spinning backwards. He switched from channel to channel, stopping once and a while on evangelist shows. With his silver hair, the Pastor was like a smooth talker in village fairs in France. But, here, in the country of freedom and the free enterprise, the guy made millions of dollars a

The Bargainer/Hoffman/49 year, selling one of the faces of the religion; Puritanism. with a total intolerance for what was not the Gospel, or rather the Gospel read and read again by some temple merchants, definite scrooges acting in Gods name who didnt give a hoot about those who listened to them. Their smooth talk had only one purpose: raking in money. And thanks to them and to naivety of the average America, GWB got himself another go in the drivers seat. At half past one he decided to call his daughter. He needed to hear the sound of her voice, and knew in advance that she was going remind him to do some shopping. The voice was loud and clear on the phone; clear and happy, Daddy, how I miss you! More sweetly, she added, You bringing me back a souvenir? The word gift was banished from their vocabulary, but there followed a shopping list, short but precise; A pair of Diesel jeans, and, if he found one, if he had the time, a video camera, Very small, she specified, with her voice a bit sad. He decided to end the conversation, promised that he would return as soon as possible but that he did not know exactly when yet. He did not know at all when. Millions of kisses were exchanged within two seconds over the telephone, and he hung up happy, knowing that somebody still thought of him, and that the mini-list of requested souvenirs

The Bargainer/Hoffman/50 was only a game between them; to fill his absence by gifts that he could afford, thanks to his salary.

Christies face. He was glad to have run into her, without knowing why. It didnt have anything to do with sex, initially. First and foremost came the attraction, with the charm and magnetism which seemed to emerge from it. And what did love have to do with it? Good question, which he didnt think about. Two loves at first sight had gotten the best of his libido, passions that turn a man into a God whod let himself be seduced by one of his creatures. Passions which make you stupid, insane, intolerant, egoistic, and especially dramatically jealous. And he had been jealous beyond belief. Hed been turned on by Christie. He knew it, but didnt know, or care to know, how he would manage all this tomorrow. He decided to put off any wish to know more about this woman who, for the moment, had come into his life only two half nights.

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Chapter 2

[[[ Need to explain who Eric is in Ch 1, so this follows logically ]]] Eric felt a silence before awakening. It was a strange impression, something between dream and reality. A stop in time when a man rediscovers the sound of his beating heart and is suddenly faceto-face with his forgotten nature, buried deep under his showing off and the disproportionate clamors of his ego, This absence of noise, interrupted only by bird songs and the sound of wings flapping, had been disturbing for him during his first months in Corsica. He knew it was nearing seven-thirty because the mornings silver light started to slip into the room. Since he lived in this small house on the hillside, he wasnt been able to sleep with closed shutters. He needed to see the first gleams of sunlight in the morning, or the stars above during the night. He jumped out of bed, went into the kitchen, turned on the coffee machine, and opened the shutters in the living room. He never tired of the view. An azure blue sea on one side, and on the other, snow-covered mountains scintillating under the suns first rays. The sounds of a world awakening were almost incongruous; the engine of a truck climbing up the hill, the backfire of a scooter, a roosters cry. Close and far from it all, close to natures constant rebirth extending itself all over the garden, forcing the happy owners to dig

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and remove ever-growing weeds as soon as the sunny season appeared. He missed Paris. A little, a lot? He couldnt figure it out, nor did he try to. Depression started to overtake his mind and body. He just wasnt able to cope with retirement. In his profession, retirement was the death of a career, and it had fallen on him like a bang. After a whole life of being a radio man, he couldnt accept the idea of not being on air. The 5-figure pension offered by his radio station was just a way of saying, Thanks and goodbye. Not a word of comfort, just a handshake. The two men had never liked each other. Eric ran emissions [[[ what??? ]]] that he wanted accessible to the majority; the other man swore by the tony cultural shows (for the elite); the kind of broadcasts where producers loved to hear themselves talk before realizing that they had guests on their show. Holding back his anger, he made an awkward movement and spilled his coffee cup. He swore at himself for not being able to react to things. Try getting into volunteer work, one of his friends, in government had suggested. Eric had done humanitarian work as a teenager, but today he wasnt interested any more, especially since hed read an article on the expense of running some of these organizations; nearly 50% of the donations went into expenses. Hed become a griper, and a griper hed stay.

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He sat down in an armchair on his terrace, and took in the odors of the vegetation that surrounded the house. To his surprise, the smell was stronger in winter. He contemplated the sea a couple hundred yards away, a deep blue sea covered with white foam. The beauty of the view had a soothing effect; it was his best sedative, and he never tired of letting himself be taken in by this natural environment. Maybe not unlike the first morning of creation, he thought. To live on an island was a challenge unknown to the three or

four week vacationers who flooded the island in the summer. Being an islander was more difficult than hed thought. The sea, ever present, cut him off from the rest of the world. It took five hours by boat to go anywhere, be it Italy or France; an unavoidable reality, and even the plane didnt change things. But this was now his life, the life he had chosen. He took a quick shower, got on his scooter, and went for a coffee in one of the rare bars open at this undue hour in this season. He passed the small port, where some restaurants were cleaning their terraces for the day. Very few boats; the spring holiday season hadnt begun yet. He arrived in front of his favorite morning bar. The Rex had housed three generations of owners, who had catered to three generations of regular clients. Granddads, dads, and sons went there for their first cup of coffee out of the house.

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The place was already full. Full meant around ten men. Any of them could have been the older brother he never had. Break of dawn discussions were already running full steam, boisterous and passionate. The thundering voice of one of clients dominated, a voice that seemed to shake the leaves of the pink baytree in front of the bar. The handling of yesterdays events, dissected there and then, was a show in itself. Everyone had his own opinion, and his own comments. It wasnt just off-the-counter discussions; an unquestionable passion animated each speaker, especially those, who in time, knew how to upset the other, a longtime friend, in a split second. They knew each others weaknesses; the subject sure to make the other guy blow his top. Be it wind, rain, snow, or burning sun, they were sure to be there each and every morning. A century-old ritual, perhaps. The EUs constitutional treaty was the subject of the day. Eric, my friend, grab a seat. Tell me, as a guy who used to be a news commentator on the radio, what do you think about this damn treaty? The fisherman swore as easily as he breathed. Eric had grown to like him, ever since hed gone out to sea with him. The guy was a natural storyteller, and was passionately tied to the sea like a lover, which he knew better than anyone claiming to sail. If I tell you that Ill vote against it, that probably wont please you, but thats my stand, Eric said. Its neither a constitution nor a treaty, just a catalogue of good intentions as far

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as I can see. The first page starts with the list of the 25 Heads of State and their roles. Eric was carried away, and there was no stopping him. Id expect a constitution to start by something like, We the People of Europe, attached to the principles of human rights, equality between sexes, races, and religion, decide to live together. He added, for better and for worse. Living together is a bit like a polygamous marriage, but if you want to know more, read articles 5 or 6, the 1/19 rule, or the distribution of authority between the Parliament, the European Council, the Council of Ministers, the European commission, and the European Court of Justice. Without forgetting the bit on the European presidency, which outlines that the presidential mandate is limited to two and a half years. Plainly said, the president of Europe Union has only two and a half years to do his job! Dont forget to have a look at article 1/30, which covers the independence of the European Central Bank from the European executive power. A bank which has the capacity of issuing the Euro, but most of us seem to forget that not all EU countries have accepted the Euro. How can you have a common policy when not everyone plays by the same rules? And what about article 1/33 which provides that European law is above the laws of the member States? Damn it, read the freaking text before making an opinion. And Im only talking about the articles that drew my attention, but theres a lot of highlighted text meant to hide the hidden, perverse texts. Even if that new treaty looks better, its more

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cosmetic than anything. Its practically as bad as the old one its supposed to replace. The only good thing in the new Treaty is that it includes the Charter of the Human Rights, and thats really something better for all of us, but, he added with a sigh, that wont be enough to make it a good treaty or a good constitution. Anyway, to hell with all this shit. Everyone will do as he sees fit after reading or not reading the 340 odd pages of this crap. Geez! Ive never seen you that mad! said Joseph the fisherman, pushing his cap to the back of his head. Youre right said Eric. Im getting at an age where Im fed up with being taken for an idiot, just a dumb bastard whos only considered when they want his vote. Tell you what, Id better go out fishing with you and listen to your sea stories; you know, tales of fish and all the strange things in the deep blue seas. Whenever you want my friend said Joseph, We can go out around 4 PM, and have our aperitif on the boat. A snack on the boat was part of the pleasure; slices of shepherds sausages, anchovies, bread, and rose wine. The idea of getting away from it all was an obsession. Not from his friends, but getting away from being retired, a situation he couldnt stand. Sometimes he was mad at himself for not being able to forget a world of which he was no longer part; a world that had rejected him; at least thats what he thought.

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Thank God I live on an island; here, at least, people still consider each other and pay attention to the other guys opinions, even when opposed to their own view. An island where friendship, and promises made were kept, thats what he appreciated most here. In Paris, he thought, Id only be a shadow of myself, just a drunkard going from bar to bar in search of former work buddies who didnt give a damn about me anymore, spend time in radio studios as a visitor, trying to relive by proxy parts of my past. Okay, guys, Ill try to learn how to grow plants my garden, but its not sure. See you guys later. He knew everybody would be back in the bar a little before noon to celebrate midday and drink a little yellow, like they called Pastis over here. Back home, he noticed his shovel and rake on the lawn and thought it better to put off the forced labor. As time went on, he supposed that certain trades. small trades that the intelligentsia scornfully looked down upon, were essential to the life in society. He regretted never having tried to learn, or at the very least understand, menial work. He needed a gardener, but, and that was the problem, hiring a gardener would leave him with nothing to do all day. He dropped the gardener option. What if he called Jerome? Jerome, his younger cousin, had made a nice career in an American company. He was the one given as an example in the family, good job, beautiful wife, marvelous children; marvelous, but spoiled to the hilt. Too spoiled, Eric thought. But so what? Jerome is maybe my way

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out of this, if he doesnt find me a consulting job somewhere hes no longer my cousin. He dialed the cell phone, and a voice in English told him he could not be reached. Running around again, God knows where. So much power to him. Take in the cash as long as you can get it. The phone rang, an idiotic tone his youngest daughter had installed when she last spent a few days with her Pops on a school holiday, far from being a geek, he didnt know how to change it. He grabbed the phone, Yeah? Hi Playboy, its Mary. Mary was a happy person in the joyful forties. Mary the dentist. How did she ever choose such a stupid profession, spending her days looking into mouths that stank, sheer hell, he thought. But the beautiful peroxide blond was far from dumb. She had chosen to specialize in child dentistry, and in a few years the richest mothers in Cannes knew her more than the citys film festival. You sound grumpy. Problems? Mary asked. Eric immediately started complaining about his useless life, his frustrations, and his desperate need to find something to do. My, my you do sound depressive, my darling; I was just calling to invite you to spend a ski weekend with me. Maybe I should look up another number in the list of my old lovers? Thatll be a long list, Eric said, in a nasty voice.

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Marys voice softened. You really do sound depressed. Let me tell you something very simple, youve got 2 minutes to grab an overnight bag with the strict minimum. I must still have some clothes of yours somewhere around. Get on the first flight out to join me, but, she paused, on one condition; stop feeling sorry for yourself, because I only want one thing, maybe two: your company and a good fuck, ok? There was a long silence over the phone. Mary always seemed to throw Eric off balance with her frankness and her butch-like attitude with men. Okay, Eric answered with a sigh, but theres a catch and you know it he paused, then continued, screw the hell out of me. Marys amused voice came over the phone, making Eric nervous. Glad to oblige, darling. You definitely belong to that category of men with no imagination, stuck in the petty phantasms of macho thinking that asking a woman to act like a hot bitch will put her down. You want to know something darling? Women love to play this game as much as it pleases you men, perhaps even more! If only because a woman craves to be desired with passion. The violence of desire that I can still read in the eyes of a man who really wants me. A man like you, my pet, too bad your head is full of memories of long gone power and glory which will never come back. Be cool, Ric, take things in stride, profit from being free, of having nothing to do. Notice, she added, out of respect for the man who still turns me on, I didnt mention the word retirement.

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Carpe Diem, profit from things today, now! Stop asking yourself questions and come to join me. She paused and added, Dont you think its time to think a bit about yourself? See you tomorrow was Erics answer from his island refuge, pick me up at the airport in Nice. The plane should land around two fifteen. Ill give you a call when I board the flight. Meanwhile Ill go fishing in the Med with my fisherman buddy. Thats it! Mary answered. You like this guy, and your discussions, alone at sea, on this silly boat are worth almost all the happiness in the world. Go ahead and change this mad world of con men and scams while looking out at the sea, but before I go, tell which you prefer; red or black undies? Eric sighed. Youre dead set on brain washing me! Ill let you decide on the colors. Im sure youll know best. I love you heaps! Hugs and kisses, and more tomorrow! He hung up quickly, to avoid any sarcasm. Her call brought him back to life, Wow! I can still please! Lots of time to kill before going out fishing. Might as well spend a few hours on the Internet, looking at breaking news and try to find some new ideas. He went down to the garden, seeking some aromatic herbs to improve his meal, but didnt find much. The basilica hadnt survived the winters cold nights. He spotted some thyme that was still green and cut off some leaves.

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The smell reminded him that it was time to cook up something for his lunch; mozzarella and tomato salad, followed by roasted lamb chops, with thyme and herbs. Just thinking about the menu made him hungry. The rest of the morning went by fast, almost too fast. Just looking around outside or at the sea was enough to maintain an atmosphere of sheer happiness. He busied himself with menial domestic tasks, like any bachelor. He prepared his overnight bag, some skivvies, a couple shirts, and a pair of pants. He decided to finish later, maybe after lunch. And lunch was now. On the very first day of retirement, he had decided on eating whenever he felt like it, not at a set time, but when his body decided. Hed never been into nibbling between meals, didnt go into deserts and sweets, but had an imperative need to satisfy his taste for down-to-earth foods when he wanted them, especially after spending time preparing them. He went down to the cellar to choose a wine to accompany his meal, making believe he was looking for the right bottle even though he knew exactly what he wanted. A light rose wine produced by a local vine grower who had a passion for his ancestral trade, and whod explained to him one day that rose wine was a wine on its own, unlike all other wines, the fruit of the first pressure. After a frugal but delicious meal thanks, to the aromatic herbs and the gardens smell, he had a look at the noonday news and decided

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to have his daily half-hour nap; half an hour of forgetting everything, simply for the egoistic pleasure you can get from a pause in the day. Nowadays, he could decide when and where hell have a nap; whereas the working lot had to find good reasons to satisfy this need as old as mankind. It reminded him of an American study that determined that the most productive length of working hours really useful for a company came down to five hours a day, a period during which men and womens minds allowed them to devote themselves fully to their tasks. Maybe the liberal left had been right in wanting to reduce the work week to 35 hours, even if it was ridiculous from a global economic view. Before beginning his nap, he went to his computer to choose something to play; something to nap with. Made in Heaven, Queens last album, more precisely the 1995 posthumous homage of Queen to Freddy Mercury. He decided on one of his favorite titles, I was born to love you. The splendid and tragic fairy tale story of a son of an officer of his Gracious Majesty, transformed into a nightmare by love of sex and narcotics, but the talent of the singer continued after each musical phase and the title of his last album revealed a true courage, knowing that death approached, these titles were his musical testament, that he had wished to leave for all the fans of Queen. Hats off, to the artist! He thought of Maurice Bjarts spectacle The Presbytery, in homage to Jorge Gift and Freddy Mercury, translated into dance by one of the uncontested masters of the 20th century ballet. Bjart, a name, a man he had met during a

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dinner at Yves Mourousis home, the creator of breaking news on French television. Bjart and his transparent blue eyes, almost unreal, that pierced you; hypnotized you. The passion of art, thought Eric; it is a true gift of God, if he ever existed. By looking at his hundred-year-old clock, memory of a grandfather he had never known, he saw that it was nearly time to rejoin Joseph. He decided to dress as a would-be sailor, threw a sweater over his shoulders and in less than time to say it, he was on the port where his friend was busy on his skiff. Dressed up like a tourist! Joseph grumbled. You ought to know the sun goes down very quickly, and it gets cold. In spite of being Corsican, youd think he was from Marseilles from his accent, but when he spoke in the Corsican dialect with his friends you knew he was a man of this island, the most beautiful island in the world. They left the small port, and the admiral, as everyone called the fisherman, moved the skiff towards the left, around the peninsula of Revellatta, a place where Eric had never ventured in his rubber zodiac. The vision of the swell frightened him, and he was too much of a landlubber to risk going any further. He shared his thoughts with his old friend. Youre damn right, said Joseph, this place can get very dangerous quickly. He went off dreaming, a dream only known to him; a dream of words and images and how, one dark night with signs of coming storms, he and his uncle and cousin nearly drowned a few miles out,

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one stormy evening, nearly forty years ago. And my uncle, old sea hand, son and grandson of a sailor, was stubborn as hell that night. We were saved by the grace of another fishing boat which brought us back to Galleria. It was suddenly nightfall, and the fresh breeze announced by the old seaman surprised Eric, who started to shiver. The sea was navy blue with iridescent reflections, and the sky of a royal blue enlightened by the whiteness of full moon. Here you go, put this on, said Joseph handing him a jacket, keep warm my friend. Remember, it gets pretty cold out at sea and never forget things are very different than on land; things change very quickly. Only the lights of the houses on the coast were in sight, a distant glare on the shore, like a Chinese shadow theatre, emphasizing the cutout of the coast. Joseph cast his nets, Eric was unable to guess where they were. How in hell can you find your way back to where you threw the nets without a GPS? Eric asked. Its pitch dark out here; even the water is black. How do you do it, damn it? There was a long silence, only the sound of water licking the boat was to be heard.

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That depth device gives me the depth, right? Combined with the position of the stars, that lets me know where I am. The joyful voice suddenly became serious. Want to hear a story, a true story? Thanks for specifying it, Joseph, with you its difficult to sort out truth from reality, or, if you prefer, sailors tales from reality. But go ahead, because in another life you must have been a storyteller, like no storyteller who ever existed! Last year I took along a couple of tourists from the north, nice people, to draw the cast nets, and I said to them, as soon as the first star comes out, well pick up the nets. After a while, the guy shouted, Theres a star! No, its a satellite. The first star will come out over there, I told him! said Joseph, pointing out to the north as if trying to remember that moment with the tourists. Finally the star appeared, the admiral continued, and I told them that it was time to bring up the nets. Youll see, I told them, the first fish will be a chapo. I drew the net, and it was a chapo! Next itll be mullet, and sure enough mullets were entangled in the rest of the net I pulled out of the sea. The woman cried out an Oh! in amazement and admiration and I continued, another Chapo and a Chapo came up. The guy cried out I cant believe it! Neither could I! Thats what fisherman tales are all about.

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Ok, buddy, the nets are out. Before going back to the port, lets eat something, especially since I have a surprise for you, he said, bringing out a bottle of rose wine with a pause, sea urchins! And out of an old sailors bag, probably dating from the days he was in the navy, out came a plastic bag and a thermos bottle. The two friends started opening the sea urchins and spread the coral contents on slices of bread. Joseph took out two glasses, Real glasses, not plastic goblets, he specified, plastic kills the taste of wine. They enjoyed their sea urchins out at sea, a couple miles from any inhabited coast. Eric had the impression of being miles and miles away from civilization, right in the middle of the ocean or a desert. He philosophically told Joseph that on a boat one has the impression of being alone, alone and responsible for ones self and life. Whatever the size of the boat or ship, said Joseph, youre responsible for the people on board, because the sea can do wild and wicked things. After finishing their snack, the boats old engine brought them back to the port, with Joseph using his depth sounder to guide him. Eric went home, his body stiff, but he was happy to have enjoyed a break in the monotony of retirement.

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The Admiral always did unexpected things, and that was fine with him. The sea was his nourishment, his life. In his love of the sea, Joseph could interpret the tiniest ripple of its waters, heralding a wind. The smallest breeze or a strong gale had a meaning for him. The sea was his natural element. It had accompanied him all his life.

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Thousands of kilometers from there, the telephone rang in Jeromes room. Jerome, Charles speaking. We have appointment with our Wall Street guy in an hour. Ill pick you up in half an hour in the lobby of the Parker. Jerome got up quickly, put the coffee machine on, and ran into the bathroom. He was ready in fifteen minutes, swallowed a cup of coffee, and ran to the elevator. At seven sharp, Charles showed up in the lobby with two assistants. It was still dark outside, but the streets of Manhattan were already full of people and cars moving bumper to bumper. They took Fifth Avenue, and half an hour later arrived in the area that

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controlled planet, Wall Street, surrounded by huge grey skyscrapers. They turned into a very small street and stopped in front of a door like the others, where flowed a flood of men in overcoats over suits and ties and women in fur coats ran all over the place. Club ties for men, furs for women was the rule. Jerome smiled, seeing a superb creature wearing a black mink coat and a pair of design Pataugas. This was New York; contrasts around every corner. Give me your passport, Jerome. Theyll give it back to you when you leave, said Charles, handing their id to the security officer. Michael Kaplan, portfolio manager for Kaplan Asset Management, which has $41.4 billion under management, and recently bought a position in Goldman shares, joined them. The guy was under 35, tall, and covered from head to foot in black, except for a blue silk tie. The men in black. A foxy guy with a wolfs stalk. A real carnivorous bastard, thought Jerome. After introductions, they followed him. Charles cued Jerome in this rich kids career. George Kaplan, his father, initially owned the brokerage firm. Michael, his youngest son, started at the bottom of the ladder in his fathers office, to learn the job, but being the owners son didnt give him any privileges. More demanding with his family than with his employees, his father didnt tolerate any mistakes. His son was cut out to be an active member of the worlds trading intelligentsia. Things changed back in 1996, after his father had a heart attack. During his fathers hospitalization, Michael did

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an OPA, a hostile bid for the family business and won, cutting off ties with what had been his family cocoon for more than 27 years. The ambitious young bachelor had piled up an enormous nest egg (the family business was real cash cow), and went out with most beautiful girls of the economic capital of planet. He could be the most charming person, or the worst person in the world. Their host took them along the meanders of the New York stock exchange. Rows of boxy offices were full of busy junior managers of both sexes, eyes tied to computer screens, a headphone covering their ears. There was a tense hubbub in this temple of the Money God, where fortunes were made or undone. Only some big investors, a dozen at best, managed to pile up phenomenal profits in a round trip in ruining, without remorse, the biggest corporations of the capitalist world, without a thought for tens of thousands of employees losing their jobs. And on a smaller scale, Im part of these hooligans, thought Jerome, thinking about his plan of closing down plants and laying off thousands of people What astonished him more, during his visit, was the trading floor, a hive, or rather an anthill, where men and women in different colored jackets, blue, green, yellow, red, seemed to be rioting in an enormous free for all. The howling and weird gestures were beyond understanding, but made sense to the howling crowd; buying and selling

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shares on the spot. All carried out in a dance that made sense only to them. The rest of the visit was without interest. In the distance, a church bell rang, and suddenly sirens went off, meaning that it was noon and that those who wanted could take a short break. Michael invited them for lunch. Will the Frog do? he said, turning to Jerome. Jerome, who knew the restaurant, agreed, silently thanking his host to have thought of a French restaurant, and one of the best in Manhattan. One of the most expensive, too! Hed had enough of eating premium ribs and sirloins. Being definitely French, he wanted to find the culinary dishes of his country. In the car, he called his assistant in the American head office to have her change his flight and book his lunch with the English chairman for the next day. The meal went on in a relaxed atmosphere. Michael had chosen a good wine, a St. Emilion 93, whose price must have been close to 800 dollars. Hed made the mistake of asking Jerome what was his favorite wine, and while his preference was Burgundy wines, he answered after having checking the prices on the wine chart. Michael, being Michael, couldnt help himself from choosing a more expensive wine to show he was onto Jerome, and that he was running the show.

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Lets get down to business, he said raising his glass and turning to Jerome, and welcome, Jerome, to the high-tech world of the Stock Exchange. Where money is made and, if you prefer, he smiled, where your stock options will make you some real money. But, youre going to have to help us a bit, he quickly he added with his predators smile, all teeth flashing. The pension funds want a gross margin of 13%, to 14%! Is he joking or what? thought Jerome, before asking, Who can have such margins nowadays if hes not in computer technology or the bubble, before it busted? Charles unknowingly answered Jeromes thoughts. All the necessary steps have been taken Jerome! The CEO will speak about it in a few days. Seeing a dubious pout on Michaels face, he added, In the next three weeks, the time for Jerome to set up things in Europe. I cant tell you much more right now, except that two Vice Presidents, North America and Asia, are your main concerns. Good job said Michael, who continued, the investors will be satisfied, but this is only the beginning. Bear in mind our goal: 13% gross margin. Cunt, thought Jerome, gang of bastards, nobody can get such margins in our labor-intensive industry, in spite of gains in on special assignment. I think that answers

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productivity. If it continues this way, well end up just being an executive committee., All the others will have disappeared. He swallowed his glass of wine in one gulp, not even trying to taste his preferred Bordeaux. Except for the St. Emilion, he didnt like the wines from this area, especially since one of his friends in the transport business had told him that before the arrival of new Beaujolais wines, lines of trucks ran from Bordeaux to Lyon. If I start to have remorse, not only am I in the shits, but more dead than alive. He felt Michael watching him. Any problems, Jerome? Not at all, Jerome answered, Youll get what Wall Street wants, and its normal; you and the people you represent are the bosses, he said with a smile that he hoped seemed sincere. The mass was over, the lunch drew on its end, abnormally long for a business lunch, but the trader had wanted to take care of his guests; you never know, a client can switch traders at the drop of a dime, choose another trading company, and the more you had friends in the clients corporation the more the risk moved away. A meal was just overhead. Call me when you come back to New York, said Michael. Promised! said Jerome, and thanks for this great lunch. Take care.

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Jerome had himself dropped off in front of at Saks (he had some shopping to do for his daughter), and decided to take the evening flight to London. Back at the hotel, he sent an email to his secretary to inform her of the changes in his agenda, and another email to the English chairman confirming his arrival in London the next morning and their rendezvous at the Connaught. He called his driver to ask him to wait for him in front of the hotel. Before leaving, he called his wife in Paris, asked for news of the children, and told her he would be in Paris only in a few days, he had to go to London, then to Geneva where was the European headquarters was. A short uninteresting, almost sad phone call, unless after 20 years of marriage it was simply despairing. Their first magical years came to his memory. It was yesterday, or day before yesterday. It didnt matter anymore; the jealousy of the first years had completely disappeared. There was nothing left, nothing astonishing, surprising, or fantastic. The emotions were gone. All that was left was a family living together. He watched CNN. The Dow-Jones was up 0.3%, Alan Greenspan had just announced a rise of interest rates from 2 to 2.5%, and the U. S. deficit over the last 10 months was just a little above 500 billion dollars compared to 400 billion in 2003. Americans were living on credit, and the rest of the

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world was paying. Europe continued to play the good pupil, creating millions of unemployed. All the decisions of the American leaders were turned towards only one goal: protecting the American people from the rest of the world. GWBs advisors had read Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Bush was Gods new crusader, where for the old Greek thinker God was the supreme thought, the final cause of the world. Only two things mattered for the president of the United States, and the dollar was one of them. Jerome wondered whether the Southerners that George W. Bush represented were not erasing the shame of defeat in American Civil War. The US president seemed to know only the WASPS. The good white Americans. There was a knock on the door. It was a guy from the reception with his plane ticket for the British Airways flight this evening. The young man, of Asian origin, held out an American express receipt to Jerome asking him to sign it; 3,200 dollars in first, one-way ticket. Just fine, thought Jerome, Ill arrive at Heathrow around 11 in the morning, avoiding the heavy morning flight traffic, just in time to have lunch with my colleagues, and even take a shower at the hotel before lunch. He went to the hostess and asked her to have a limousine at its disposal on arrival. A few moments later, as Jerome was drinking a

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glass of Dom Ruinart, the young lady came back with a paper. Heres your reservation number and the drivers cell phone. Brilliant Jerome exclaimed, and thank you for your help. The return voyage was pretty routine, except for some turbulence before landing. Jerome arrived at his hotel at 11:30, saw his two collaborators in a corner of the lobby, but made as if he hadnt noticed them, went up in its room, took a quick shower and joined the guys in the lobby at exactly noon. When he had wanted to make reservations for lunch, Jerome realized that the English president had anticipated things. A reservation had been made in the name of his company at a place called Angela Harnett's Menu, the hotels trendy restaurant. As far as the English were concerned, the French are only interested in eating and sex. They decided on the 55 Pound menu, which ranked the restaurant as a 2-star Michelin place, at least price-wise, though the famous French restaurant guide book was no longer seen as the reference for fine eating and gastronomy, especially ever since it was run by an Englishman who was only out to make money. He thought of a restaurant owner in the French Alps who couldnt care less about the Michelin stars. His place was fully booked all year. Braised fish and gnocchi with aromatic herbs, caramelized roasted duck or leg of lamb with tomato and black olive juice compote; Connaughts menu had everything to please European clients.

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The British had come with their plan, going even a little further than what he had asked of them. They planned to cut about 220 jobs across the company by the end of the year. 160 people were retiring and would not be replaced, another 60 wouldnt have their contracts renewed. Any issues? Jerome asked. No said John Jr., the president of the subsidiary, But Ive stuck my neck out a mile. John Jr., was only 39, with his head full of projects and used to taking risks. Jerome knew it. He studied the man; short-haired and rather good looking, but what was striking was the steel blue eyes, charming and destructive at the same time. The man could be charming one day and without pity the next. Jerome knew what he was after; integrate the European direction with a view of crossing swords with his American colleagues, regardless of the danger involved, because over there, in the States, the executives hated the expatriates, not because of their wages but for the side advantages; housing, kids school paid, and a company car. Wages being more or less equal, it was better to do a career outside the United States, where it was possible to put 70% of income aside and live like a lord off the expense account. Taxes paid by the expatriates took account of what they would have paid in taxes in the States. The company compensated for the difference between taxes due in the country where their executives worked and what they would have paid living at home.

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Jeromes cell phone rang. Excuse me he said. It was an SMS from the chairman, Youve been named number 2 of the new European region, Vice-President Operations. But you remain VP Human Resources. That was it. Jerome decided to inform his two collaborators. Congratulations! said John Jr. Just between us, the two regions never meant much, and were only used to keep useless executives in place. Now well be able to optimize our actions. This guy will go far, Jerome thought. Daring to come out with a frank opinion in front of a superior who, somewhere along the line, had a right of life or death over him, showed balls. Ive got to have a talk with this guy, thought Jerome. Once hes finished his job, hell be very useful to us. Okay guys Im counting on both of you, he said, looking at the Director of Human Resources, we havent got any time to lose. Turning to John Jr., he asked him if he could come with him to Heathrow. Ill give you a ride, said John Jr., turning to Patrick and asking him to join him this evening for a debriefing at the Hilton where they were staying. The ride to Heathrow took less than an hour. Early afternoon traffic on the M1 motorway was almost nonexistent. While driving, John Jr. revealed his ambitions: After the reorganization, Id like to join the European team. What do you think about this, Jerome?

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Id certainly agree to that, said Jerome. Youve done your time here. Staying here any longer wont bring you much more. Youve learned how to be tough, and youve done a great job running your company. Its high time you got an opportunity to develop a broader vision of management, but Ive got to find a place for you. Give me marketing, interrupted John Jr., Its in your power now. True, said Jerome, However, I have to find a new assignment for Hedricks! Finish this job for me as fast as you can. That will give a couple months to put you where you want to go. Ive got to talk about all this with the president and the chairman. Meanwhile, do me a favor; draw up a new marketing strategy for the second half of the year. Something tells me that well need one for the greedy shareholders. Youll have a new strategy in a month, with optimized margins. I have my own ideas on the subject he added with a smile. Then good luck, and see you soon, said Jerome, getting out of the car. Give me a call from time to time. Use your cell phone to avoid eavesdropping! He landed in Paris at 4 PM, and took a taxi into the city. At this time of the day, traffic was heavy. His apartment was in a 19th century Haussmann building, facing the Mars Fields. His high-ceilinged apartment was one of the smallest, 250 square meters, with a view of the Eiffel Tower. As he entered, he was struck by an awesome silence, only broken by the sound of his steps on

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the Empire green rugs. The place was empty. In his den, he fired up his computer, read his e-mails, and sent some e-mails to his assistants. He decided to take a hot bath listening to Beethovens 9th as background music. He needed calm and relaxation, and to filter out the events of these last three days; to forget just a moment the decisions hed made, even if his last decision had only been limited. Accept things or leave. And, as usual, hed accepted everything, without considering giving up his advantages. The hot bath was relaxing. He was going to be able to face his wife and kids. His cell phone rang and ended his day-dreaming. He looked at the number which and saw that it was a call from one of his government friends. What a surprise, said Jerome. I need to see you, said his old buddy. When? Jerome asked. Immediately, said the minister. Ive just arrived from New York, via London, half an hour ago. If you want to see me, send me a driver and spare me your office in your Republican palace. Lets t meet in a caf. You choose. A driver will pick you up in half hour! Fine! Jeromes voice was tired.

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He called his driver to tell him to be in front of the bar where hed be in an hour. He could have told him to come there, but wanted to test the minister. Half hour later, he sat in one of the cars of the Republic. Where are we going? he asked the driver, a former gendarme, devoted to the minister. The Minister asked me to take you to the bar. Its one of these small bars on boulevard St. Germain, where deputies, ministers and other members of cabinets are used to go for breaks. Jerome went to the back of the room. It was not the first time hed met his friend in this place, and he knew his preferences; to sit far from the crowd, especially since he was a minister, and being a buddy with heartless capitalists was bad for even a right-wing minister. It was advisable to keep in mind that birds of the same feather flock together, and meet in discreet places. Franois greeted him with his usual warmth. The man was well into his fifties and smartly dressed. Very English, thought Jerome. Francois position had been specially created for him; Minister to the Prime Minister, not deputy Minister but an outright minister, he knew everything, saw everything within the government, right down to what the government employees ate. He especially knew how to flatter the ego of media people, which certainly didnt prevent their criticisms, but their comments were

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less poisonous. With the passing of time, hed created a network of people indebted to him, and few could refuse him a hand when needed. Hows our VP? he said, with a British tone in his voice. Tired, said Jerome, I just arrived from New York, after stopping in London, and between you and me, Im a bit out. Nobody could have made me leave my apartment today except you. So please give a break Mister Minister, tell me all that I have the right to know in few words, just the essentials, and if I can do something for you, Ill do it. He paused, You know that. The minister leaned back on the old red leather of the bench, coughed when Jerome lit a cigarette, which brought out a nonsmokers remark. Ahem. You havent stopped yet? Not really, said Jerome. Im impatiently waiting for you to outlaw smoking in public! Thatll be sooner than you think! said Franois. Too bad, said Jerome. I havent got a politicians willpower, and your laws drive me up the wall, I need three lawyers to decipher them. Are you guys doing it on purpose so that we cant understand anything? Lets get down to business, said the minister, staring straight into his eyes. You still have an address in Arige? Jerome agreed, wondering what he was after.

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And you pay housing taxes? Jerome nodded. Then maybe you can help me, or rather give me a hand. Go on. Jeromes voice was too calm. He saw it coming. Id like to see you carry our colors in 2007, if not 2006. All this without saying why. Jerome supposed that hed discover the whys and wherefores in the news. There was a long silence, which Jerome wasnt long in breaking. My dear Minister and friend, I currently make 400,000 Euros a year, and youre suddenly asking me quit my job to become an obedient congressman making 100,000 Euros, more or less. Im 55. Are you seriously expecting me to put an end to a career guaranteeing me my golden retirement? I understand that youre surprised, but the Ariege has voted left since the beginning of time, except in the last elections. Id like to see us win this time, and youre the ideal candidate. Dont answer right away. Take the time to think about my proposition. And bear in mind that you could very well be our next Secretary of State You talk about an opportunity! said Jerome, after Ive described my vision of political power to you, youll understand that your proposition couldnt ever interest me. People like you are powerless nowadays. Youve got nothing more than the illusion of power, with the problems on top. Real power today lies elsewhere, its even global, and you guys havent even noticed it, unless youve

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decided to try to adapt yourselves to that, which in my eyes is perhaps even more dangerous. The Minister fell back against the back of the bench, surprised by vehemence of the remarks of his old friend. His blue eyes studied and scanned Jerome. In university, he was known for his outbursts and his sincerity, but since he treaded in the black waters of global economy and multinationals, he should have learned to water down his wine. Which didnt seem to be the case. He still had punch; a good point for a political career. Jerome looked at his buddy and decided to continue his diatribe, You dont become president of the Republic, by sheer luck, you need tons of determination, an insane desire to succeed, convince, and this is the most fascinating part of this ambition; a desire to guide people, at the beginning in any case, because afterwards things change. Power seduces, and people let themselves be seduced by power and by people like you. Ever since de Gaulle, Ive tried to find a vision for Europe and its population. The old general was stuck with a label of being on the conservative right, but that seems to me a narrow view. On the right for the governorship and order; center right for his social vision of the nation, with his entourage of the men from the left like Leo Hamon or Louis Joxe taking action in participation which you people werent able to evolve further. He had a sip of wine and continued, What you lack most is imagination, and a vision. You and me fought against the 1968 mobs, but were dead wrong in blindly rejecting everything in one go. Certain

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ideas were feasible and positive. I basically have a very simplistic view of men in power; it comes down to four circles. The first is the presidency, with the collaborators and the circle of old friends, faithful to the end, and a handful of industry captains used as transmission agents. The second circle is you, the government. The third, Parliament, The fourth, media men, senior officials, and some Think Thanks. Thats it! And all these wonderful people meet, discuss, redo the world on paper, and try going forward by hit or miss. But the real power is in the hands of less than a thousand people, be they men or women. The Minister interrupted, Please go on. Power is the Market, said Jerome. The 10,000 richest Americans and the same number of managing executives, 10,000 others in the rest of the world, 30,000 financial analysts, 100,000 portfolio managers, thats what the Market is. This famous Market, behind which everyone hides, its the fault of the market, we cannot do anything, we live in a global economy, we dont have any choice, and so on. In the United States, you cant get into politics unless youve succeeded professionally elsewhere. You have to be known in your state. You have to have climbed the steps of in local government, or be a successful lawyer, judge, businessman, or doctor, in your state.

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Here in France, politics is a job like any other. Some of you, like you, who had three mandates as lawmaker in the National Assembly, have made a career of politics. But you cannot do anything against the Market. It decides what is good or bad for the multinational corporations and their essence, their labor forces, the real people who you politicians have alienated a long time ago. Do you want a simple example? The famous pension funds, which

you and your friends want to set up in France. Do you know that in the States theyre part of a companys assets, and if by bad luck or incomMarconce the company goes bankrupt, which is what happened with Enron, bye-bye pensions. My boss has just finished a round-the-world tour to raise 3 million dollars, not to invest, but to re-inflate the companys pension funds. And today, Jerome continued in a tired voice, Wall Street wants a 14% gross margin from us, which we will only find by laying off 4,500 people. The Markets final decision. Today, world politics comes down to a single word: Profit. The word is written in gold, surrounded by diamonds, to emphasize the six letters of the word, and all that you can do is to manage whats left, and here in France reconsider the 35 hour work-week one way or another. But we are doing it! the minister exclaimed, his blue eyes shooting at Jerome.

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Yes, in the French way, without really saying it, in the old National Administration School alumni way, while the rest world moves ahead. You want an example? The wages in the new countries in eastern Europe are very low. Theyll eventually go up, thats for sure, but meanwhile here are some easy figures. Ive calculated that weve got ten years before they reach the French minimum salary, the SMIC. So where do you think Im going to transfer our Italian production material? Ill transfer it all to Slovenia. You dont hold any power any more. Youve only got an illusion power! So what youre offering me is far from exciting. Consider it nevertheless, said the Minister, We could help your company Will do, said Jerome. At any rate, Ill call you one of these days, but in the event of my saying yes, it would be necessary for me to cover my ass, like only helping you one year by taking a sabbatical year off, and letting my assistant stand in for me. That could work. Your turn to think about it. He said, with a smile. The remainder of the conversation turned around their children, problems with their wives, vacations that neither of them bothered to take, except for 15 or 20 days a year, and not every year. They discovered that theyd been brothers-in-law, in the course of an affair with a pretty TV journalist, for the same reasons. She had tried to trap both of them in a one-year interval, without succeeding. She ended up sacrificed on the autel of media information.

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Both had enjoyed this extra-marital and fugitive adventure, but theyd be more careful from now on, especially Jerome, who had always had difficulties controlling his impulses. They had been friends for more than forty years, and all this wasnt going to put an end to that friendship. They left the place, promising themselves to see each other next month. Jeromes driver had parked himself on the sidewalk and was in a difficult discussion with two traffic cops. Seeing Jerome move towards the car, one of the officers of the DHP moved towards the police officers, flashed a card, and the two cops went off without even thinking of giving a ticket to Jeromes driver. Well done, thought Jerome, who hadnt even noticed the two men sitting not far away. He went towards the eldest and said to him, I didnt expect finding you as a Ministers bodyguard. Theyd been to law school together. A bit more of a hassle than working with the Criminal Investigation, but you get to travel around, and Im a chief officer now. Jerome looked at his old friend. With a little luck youll end up Chief detective! He took a card from his pocket, scribbled his phone number on it, and said, handing the card to him., When youve got the time, lets have lunch together one of these days.

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Id be happy to oblige, the cop answered, but time is the most difficult thing to have. Im deputy chief on this squad, and I only came this evening because I knew that you were here. Once a cop always a cop, always snooping everywhere, thought Jerome. But he knew the guy. You didnt spend four years together in law school without a bond being tied, if only because of sharing student life and the madness of pre-adult life. The fabulous desire to discover everything the world holds; a youthful past that even a cop cant possibly forget. God knew what the Minister had done during his student days, even if he was more serious nowadays. Just about everything, well almost everything, thought Jerome. Nothing really special in all this. We were just students enjoying student life without worrying about the future. Taking advantage of the moment, Carpe Diem! Before working like hell for two months before the examination, taking an active part in campus life as members of the Law corps, our minority group opposing the UNEF, the left students union. We were already taking part in political life, able to argue, discuss, and fight for our ideas, good or bad. See you soon Pierre, he said to the police officer. Thanks for your help today, referring to his intervention a few minutes before. By the way, if youve got some retired buddies, Id like to hire a couple cops on retirement to set up a security system, as reliable as possible for our factories in Europe.

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The man raised his thumb, meaning that he got the message. Thatll give us the opportunity to talk together without the minister interfering. So long. Jerome got into his car, saying to the driver, Roland, lets have a drink at caf Flore, I need to get over this meeting with the Minister. Park the car and join me at Flore. With pleasure Sir, especially since Id like to ask you a favor. Then the time is right, Ive got a few minutes to spare, said Jerome as the driver stopped in front of the Flore. He ordered a Ricard and some peanuts,and waited for the drivers arrival. He had a vague idea of want he wanted; he wasnt being paid monthly, but only by hours clocked in at a set rate. This meant he was working more than 50 hours a week without overtime. He was discreet, athletic, and a specialist in martial arts with a black belt in judo, which made him a damn good bodyguard in action; a guy you could count when things got rough, even if he was extremely discreet when asked about his professional capacity as a bodyguard, he was a man you could count on anytime. Have a drink, only one because youre driving, and I know that like any athlete youre not man to abuse of drinking. Jerome had guessed right. Roland asked to become the head driver for the company, the one who only deals in driving executives around.

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Im available 24 hours a day, but not to carry letters or to go to pick up mail at the American embassy, Roland said, politely. Done! said Jerome, and as our American friends say, you deserve it. Jerome knew that this way hed have information on what the directors of subsidiary plants had the annoying tendency to keep hidden from him. A good Human Relations director had to know everything, well almost everything. I can handle my opponents, but handling my friends isnt that easy, he said to himself.

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Chapter 3
Night had fallen on Calvi, a cold and bright winter night, showing thousands of stars gathered above the planet. Eric decided to invite Joseph and his wife for dinner. But where? He wondered. Lets go to Fifis place, suggested the former producer. In winter, the small city hibernated and only some restaurants, and bars remained open. The owner of the place was one hell of a character, colorful, a gourmet food lover, and especially a real professional dedicated to cooking. The bar cum restaurant thrived on a crowd of usual customers who when they werent dining played cards or spent hours talking about past hunting and fishing excursions. All of it in a friendly atmosphere. When Eric entered in the bar, the owner cried out: Heres the only guy missing! Youre just in time; were all having dinner together this evening. What are we celebrating? asked Eric. As usual nothing but except the pleasure of getting together. But, Ive invited Joseph and his wife here this evening. Youll have to put it off to another time. said JF, tonight itll be an impromptu dinner between fiends, Xavier is inviting and the three of you are welcome to join us. Like every evening, the bar was the place of card players, boisterous conversations and plays in which each of the players knew their roles: You dont know anything about the game yelled one of the players to his partner at the card table, follow the game, damn it! How can anybody play so badly? Youd think you were in a saloon, at other card tables players were bawling out each other like in a saloon. Cold winter evening in this place was a pleasure not to be missed. Calvis Sardis, thought Eric. But the walls here were covered with pictures of the bars usual clients. In New York, Sardis walls were covered with sketches of stars; here the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/92 walls honored the locals. A big table had been dressed up, and men and women from all walks of life were together a couple hours for a meal to talk together, share points of view, and enjoy each others company which doesnt mean there wont be arguments. Everything seemed simple and easy but vivid as life, thanks to the charm the owner, simply wanting to enjoy an evening amongst friends. Eric liked these unexpected moments, where friends and newcomers share an evening around a big table. And here, where everyone was aware of living on an island, with people more or less knew each other these evenings were more than enjoyed. Traditions are the glue binding generations, giving a sensation of a common destiny. A destiny which during the First World War had decimated the male population on the island. The war memorials of Corsica are static reminders of that period. And this fringe of the common history of Corsica and France has marked generations that followed. Leaving a bitter taste sometimes. Eric had read the history of the island. And the more he discovered these people, more he liked them. A proud people, with the good and the bad as everywhere but neither more, nor less than elsewhere. Less he thought. But in the media, Corsica often hit the front pages more than other French areas. The policy of the funnel played thoroughly as soon as the island was the object of conversations on the continent. **************************************************************** ******* Jerome had a hard time going to sleep, the jet lag, the astonishing proposal of his minister friend, the souvenir of Christie, his layoff plans, reorganization projects and God who surely didnt exist kept his mind awake. A sentence of one of his journalist friends kept coming back in memory: we are all Christian atheists! Surely, but having faith is so easy and reassuring. He turned on the TV and caught on a literary talk show with Frederic Beigbeder: They guys come a long way ever since his sleepless nights hanging out at Castels, where like a hermitcrab, hed go from table to table to chat with the beautiful people of Paris, greeting the ladies with a kiss on the cheeks

The Bargainer/Hoffman/93 and not the contrary as he had written in one of his books. Maybe today the beautiful people seek him out but that wasnt the case yesterday. A few years ago he amused the crowd to get peoples attention, a real bobo before bourgeois bohemians ever existed. Speaking loudly in order amuse Jean Castel, the owner who liked his independency, in a sulfurous tone, a real pain in the ass who reminding Castel of Jacques Chazot. Jerome wondered if FB had ever met Chazot ? Probably not he said to himself, because the former top ballet star and man about town in Paris utterly enthralled with Sarah Bernard, had a sarcastic sense of humor, which even Jean Yanne or Jacques Martin envied. He would have snubbed the young guy out of the tony suburbs, whose daughter had drawn up a parody which showed a rare gift of observation his nose was as long as his chin, which made kissing him impossible! Chazot in two well turned sentences, full with gall and scouring remarks, talking between closed lips and looking down on him, would have crucified him on the spot. But the young bobo had become a literary critic in vogue after writing a couple best sellers which allowed him not ending up in daily sessions with a psychiatrist. Jerome had read some of them, without displeasure, even with pleasure sometimes, but he had the impression that the author wrote about his own free libertin life with all that counts in Paris where everything goes: coke, mixed sex and clubs where some came to show themselves and their wives or call girls being sodomized by strangers, the scenes were more like a scene of a bunch of hot chimpanzees than 21st century humans. The phrase of one of the greatest American writers, John Updike, came to mind: I think that today sex is shown so much that at the 21 young people are blas. The children of the Fifties were easily stimulated. A mask which fell left us filled with wonder. Today the mystery had disappeared, all was shown, even our inner selves even if only as an appearance.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/94 A kaleidoscope of stolen images, of a need to prove a form of existence, maybe to forget that we are collectively becoming the grave-diggers of our world. We should take Bush and all his henchmen to trial, a special world court for crimes against future humanity. Unless the flashback has already started and the disappearance of the human race is only a matter of time after a decision from the insane taking themselves for God since they knew that God didnt exist. Jerome got up, turned on his portable and checked his emails. Management meetings must have been held all over the world because every regional subsidiary had its own restructuring plan, mainly based on layoffs. Theyre really taking me for an idiot. He was ready to bet that they all had already called each other to come to an agreement together: I can go up to 150, said the German. 70 as far as Im concerned said the Belgian and the Englishman over doing it as always: I wont go over 300. They were playing with men and womens lives as if it were a card game. Jerome decided to call the Chairman, it must be 7 p. m. at his place. Marco answered immediately: Hows my best acrobat doing? Not too bad, answered Jerome, Ive just read a proposal from IBM: theyll pay themselves on the savings made on procurement and will centralize all the tender bids, and the cheapest offer wins. In other words the countries have no say in things, we can get away with it only for a year or two because if one day one of our very important customers wants an immediate operation, theyll not be able to manage it. Meanwhile we should be able to save over $30 million a year on procurement. Afterwards, well take back control of things because theyll never be able to handle exceptions. In addition theyre proposing to centralize all invoicing in Slovenia, which means laying off 300 people in Europe giving a 70% savings in wages, and bear in mind that in Slovenia we have the highest concentration of graduates Youre worst than the Americans! Im with you all the way because I must find economies of scale. But dont expose

The Bargainer/Hoffman/95 yourself too much, I need you around, if only because the other regions are going to have to be taken care of. As far as IBM goes, its not the best solution because they seem to forget that a company needs flexibility to satisfy its customers but for 6 months, or a year at worst well use them but at the first clash with a customer, well break the contract. Ill have our American lawyers double check the contract. Im all right with them being PRESTATAIRES as long as its in our interest, sometimes it is worth being able to adapt. I dont want to lose a single customer with their penny pinching savings, we almost got done in once, by buying steel at low prices, that was a lesson for me. Lets make good products without forgetting the satisfaction our shareholders comes first, the rest is bullshit but useful for making things look good. So go ahead, Ill get things going over here, he paused a minute then added, Come over to New York so that we can both forget work over a week-end and just relax. Come with your girl friend! Which one? asked Jerome. The chairman laughed, The one you were with the other evening! How do you know about that? Manhattan is a village Jerome and youre starting to be known around town, between you and I its not a problem, for the moment at least. Jerome thought about the Ministers proposal, it was the right time to feel out the Chairman. OK let me get organized, he said without giving any details. As he hung up, his wife appeared in the Louis 13th doorway, a wild passion, these wooden doors cost him very, very much. She was wearing an ankle length nightgown, her blond hair undone falling on her shoulders. As beautiful as ever l Jerome said. Too bad we missed the first chapter. This was a wedding with an atmosphere of the North Pole, under the new moon, where the illusion of warmth and love was tragically absent.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/96 Unreal feelings of emptiness, suddenly broken by his wifes voice I was sure you werent sleeping. We have to have a chat or at least try to communicate, if this word still has any meaning for you! If you could for once, just once, take the time between your running back and forth, which is just a way of escaping reality and come out of your world of illusions in which your repeated absences are excuses, where Lausanne is your ultimate refuge in escaping the reality of your failures, and finally say what is on your mind, she paused to catch her breath, surprised by the violence of her words, If you could face our failure, the failure of our marriage. Oh go to hell and stay buried in your silence. Youre nothing but a brick wall. Worse than that, youre just a make believe wall, a wall anyone can walk through like in a film. Behind the wall theres nothing, absolutely nothing! Jerome looked at her, only seeing a stranger. Over the years she had turned into a stranger, a stranger amongst others. She was right, during those moments he escaped, his mind left the real world, in order to live in the past. The days, the yesterdays, or the day before yesterday, when he ran out of his office, jumped on his Harley Davidson and rushed home and throw himself in her arms, horny as hell, making love in his den his bedroom now days - on the living room sofa or on the oriental rug brought back from a campaign in the east. Where exactly? It didnt matter. Over there, in the East, in the south east, they had always known how to make rugs, thick and soft, with drawings prone to make you dream of distant travels, of conquests and unknown places. It was the night before, or night before yesterday, before all fell apart, like a carpet of a badly woven Isfahan rug and without ever understanding why all these dreams disappeared. Why the days, the lassitude, the absences, the partying between buddies and girlfriends, his job, had whipped out the desire, their need to be together in their undergraduate years. He thought of Aznavours song become a little girl again but even that didnt interest him anymore and her neither.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/97 It was simpler to pass for being happily married and this evening the pass continued under the pretense of the Christmas holidays: What are you doing for Christmas? And Jerome gave the same old story, Christmas with the family, in Megve but for the New Year he might have to be in the Sates. Anyway dont worry, youll have your train tickets and the driver will pick you up, Ive rented you a 4X4. You only talk about money, she cried out, and comfort. You forget your son who needs you, who needs a father! I know, answered Jerome, but I cant do anything for him now. Christ! Hes 27. Its about time he got down to work. Let him finish law school afterwards Ill give him a hand. What about love, maybe his fathers love. Perhaps hed have yours, if you had the time to speak with him, which I doubt, but he needs especially to prove to himself what hes capable of, in any case we will be always there for the children in spite of our failures. Together, they made their holiday plans and Jerome announced that he was leaving this morning for Lausanne. Ill join you the 24th in end of the afternoon! Then to the 24 said his wife in a lugubrious tone, meanwhile take good care of your whores. With pleasure he answered burying his face in his pillow to indicate that the conversation was over. The noise of a garbage truck woke him up, must be around 6.30 he thought. A gleam diffused light from outside drew a halo on the walls of his den which had become his bedroom now days. He grabbed his Chinese dressing gown, a dark blue silk one and went to the kitchen. Apart from the outside noises (Paris was a loud and dirty city) the apartment was quiet. He went to the refrigerator; grabbing a glass on the way, which he filled with ice-cold water and drank at one go, took out the bottle milk and moved to the coffee machine. Each one of his gestures was calculated to avoid any useless waste of time. The Nespresso was ready in 3 minutes and he poured a bit of milk in the coffee. He sat down at the counter, raised a hand to grab a pack of

The Bargainer/Hoffman/98 cigarettes and lit his first cigarette, inhaling the scent of the coffee which he sipped slowly. His youngest daughter came in the kitchen, preceded by a loud and cheerful: Hi pops. She went to him and gave him a sound kiss on the cheek. Her hair still wet, wearing a white tennis sweater, and Diesel jeans and of a pair of black leather sneakers. Very fashion conscious and with little make-up. Sophie felt the glance of her father and said I dont wear make-up except for the eyes! You dont need any answered Jerome, proud to see that his daughter was simply, naturally beautiful. Daddy, make me a coffee, please. Jerome was quick to make her a coffee, happy to spend a few minutes alone with her, to chat with her about her, her high school studies ( she was preparing her year-end exams: I have an average of 14 out of 20 she boasted. Great! cried out Jerome who took the opportunity to tell her he was going to spend part of the holidays with all the family. Cool answered Sophie. Then came the inevitable, Daddy, can you give me a little money? The question didnt take him by surprise, good grades, the absence of her father, it was necessary to find a way of compensating and he thought she deserves it. He looked at her tenderly: her oval face, her sea-green eyes, a nicely drawn mouth, undone hair, because still wet, she was quite simply marvelous, add to that her intelligence or common sense. Lets say both. A question ran around his mind but he knew that hed never ask. In his upbringing one never talks about sex with girls. It was ok to talk about sex with boys and give them advice sometime even initiating them. He limited himself to casually ask Hows it going with boyfriends? Sophie looked at him straight in the eyes and cried out Pops, you were always a womanizer, and we all know it, having a father who thinks he is an eternal Don Juan is damn awful, when youre young and believe in love with a capital L. But today boys, the ones we are used to being with only think of one thing: smoking joints and getting you in bed, and thats not really my thing. So I just dream and wait for the right guy,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/99 maybe he exists. You know, the guy less stupid than the average guy. Necking is ok, beyond that Ive got all the time so Ill just wait a little Jerome was almost happy to hear his daughters mind set. She had her head on the shoulders and he was sure she wasnt lying. Too bad, he thought that he had spoiled things, killing the Father/Mother in love model, leaving the children with only the expectation of inheriting money. I love you, my daughter, but I have to go and I am not ready is all he could say, adding: Ill come back very quickly, my little bunny. A little later in the plane taking him to Geneva, he thought he was lucky to have a well paying job. It was certainly easier to live with the days problems with money than without. He had had hard times with his offspring, but to be able within the period of one year, to send them in a private school to prepare them for life, hadnt been a problem: all he had to do is make a check every month, for each child, to be free of worrying about their future. When he arrived at the airport of Geneva, it was snowing heavily. Travelling in first without baggage, he passed police controls quickly, showing his Swiss resident's card. Franz, his Swiss German driver, was waiting outside: the boss wants to see you before you fly off to Lausanne. Lets go right now! said Jerome getting in the car. He kind of expected this convocation. He had even imagined why. Mark wanted to return to US to make career at headquarters and must have been aware that the big boss would offer him the job. The conversation was short. Jerome stood his ground: Not before 18 months and, he continued, You know that it doesnt interest me and that Id like that you and I finalize the restructuration first. Afterwards, to render a service to you but only that for that, Ill give you my agreement in principle, even he added with a smile, even if I feel very a bit too old for this kind of responsibility. At 47 theres no rush, you can afford to wait 18 months, especially since there are going to be a lot of vacancies to fill during that time. In the car bringing him back to Lausanne, Jerome got a call from Patrick his brother in law, If youve got some time to lose

The Bargainer/Hoffman/100 this evening and youre still in Switzerland, Im inviting you to come and see your niece dance. A little exhausted Jerome tried to avoid the invitation, to no avail. Itll be her first public performance. Insisted Patrick full of enthusiasm. And having the family in the public will be supportive, and its only with 20 kilometers from Lausanne. Jerome asked for Franzs opinion sure of the answer. The road between Geneva and Lausanne was congested due to the recent violent snowfalls in the area. It took them more than an hour and a half to reach Servion, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It boasted of a theatre workshop with one of most beautiful organs in Europe. What surprised Jerome was the crowd of spectators. This being the 21st of December 21 and what with the snowstorm, he had expected that the Swiss would hole up at home. On the contrary the 500 seat theatre was fully booked for today and tomorrow, situation Parisian theatres dreamed of. Maurice Bjart always filled theatres but moreover, the Swiss being art and culture aficionados never hesitated to brave kilometers in the freezing temperature to discover a new creation of patriarch of Ballet. Bjart had made the ballet known to the greatest number using musical scores from the likes of Brel, Barbara and Freddy Mercury, there lies perhaps his genius. The opening ovation given by the audience this evening surprised him. It was only a school spectacle, and the presence of a member of his family justified his appreciation. But in this old wooden theatre, in the middle of nowhere, the magic of the genius, that of the love had played. It was the creators magic translated in the movements and music had created this unique moment. And Jerome had let himself be carried away by the cheery atmosphere. An extremely simple moment, where the audience seemed to have vibrated, together, as one. At the end of the spectacle, the two brothers-in-law had a glass of champagne to celebrate the arrival on the stage of a family member in one of the most ungrateful activities of the artistic world. Youre not worried? Jerome asked his brother-in-law.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/101 Patrick ran his hand in his hair, which in his case was a gesture of nervousness, before answering: All parents about for their children, our world is only a world of uncertainties, so when a kid lives a passion, I find that rather reassuring but if the failure is at the end of the road, it will be necessary to set out again from scratch, or rather from a huge vacuum created by the failure. So she has to succeed said Jerome. Thats for sure Patrick answered, But it is a field where neither you nor I know the rules of the game or the keys that open the door to success. This small supplement of soul which will draw a choreographers attention. But is a little too early to think of that. Lets drink to joy she lived this evening! he murmured lifting their glasses. While shes preparing herself, I need to get some air outside. Outside, the night was clear and cold, the snowstorm had stopped, revealing a sky full of stars, a gleam of the moon showed the Alps mountain tops, like a world of Chinese shadows, a superb natural decor. Going back inside Jerome had the impression that his feet were frozen. Inside he saw one of the most famous French TV producers. His son wanted to be a choreographer and had joined the school of Lausanne. They greeted each other with a nod of the head. Starting on a shoestring, in 25 years the man had succeeded beyond belief. He definitively had the talent to create shows that what viewers wanted. His brother-in-law joined them. One of the greatest French successes stories in the world of audio-visual, but when you know how he started, its hats off to him: a hard worker, but added with a sigh He doesnt understand that the money doesnt buy talent! What do you mean? asked Jerome. I am almost sure that hes putting money in the foundation and that bothers me. Even if I have to admit that what he has, is due to his ability to spot out new talent.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/102 Im not referring with the Auditors Court 1997 report pinning down the public TV animators using their popularity to sell shows produced by themselves. They made their bread with our tax money. He made his money with his own ideas and selling them to the private TV channels. I know better than anyone else that money runs things in the pitiless war in show business, but I continue to believe that creators should be free to create out of the money game. They should be helped but not bought. His brother-in-law was familiar with the case, before joining a major Swiss multinational corporation; he had run a recording company. What freedom of creation does an artist have today against the power of money which we represent, you and me? This is the real question, the only one, after all Mozart and Moliere already had this problem in their days. So did Michel-Angelo, said Jerome looking at Patrick. Nothing, nothing at all has really changed. In the past aristocrats and church sponsored artists for their own glory; today it is done only for ego and money. The importance is to be sure of talent of a newcomer, sure of your choice and that, in the world where we live is magic: spotting out kids who have a passion for an art, that they put all theyve got into what theyre doing fills my heart with joy, but enough said, Ill offer a drink to celebrate this first, your daughter, my niece on scene, directed by one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century. Ill drink to that, he said, raising his glass. I have a confession to make said Jerome. There are two artists whom I admire above all: Luciano Pavarotti and Maurice Bjart, each one in his own field, made it possible to bring ballet and opera out of the circle of the selected few and bring these arts to the greatest number of people. Hats off! You forgot, Frederic Lodon, artist and music lover whose emission allows the auditors to discover classical music! The friends moved towards the bar of the small theatre, simply happy to be together. Later in the car which brought him back to Lausanne, Jerome began to dream of a world, more beautiful world, simply more human where the differences would exist like in the animal or vegetal world where the tensions would be diluted.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/103 Keep on dreaming, my friend, he said to himself, Dreams remains our margin of liberty in real life Once at his place, he felt the need to go and admire the Lman lake from his terrace, to look at surface of the water becoming mirror, a mirror playing with the reflections of the moon. From his terrace he saw the Christmas decorations, in the distance. The Swiss liked to decorate their trees and their gardens with multicolored electric garlands. What had surprised him in his first year in Switzerland, was the good education of the Swiss. Everybody said Hello, to each other when crossing the streets, the cars stopped to let pedestrians cross and everyone voted in referendums on things often essential in the life of each citizen. To a Frenchman it was a strange country of Martians. In spite of the frozen wind, he stayed there to look at the lights. At any time you expected to see an ancient sledge appear in the snow-covered streets. Peace must be like this: calm, quiet, and beautiful. The colds bite made him shiver, he went back in, turned on the TV, served himself a whisky. He didnt want to sleep and thought over and over again about the last few days events. Everything seemed to have suddenly accelerated at a tremendous speed; his nomination as number 2, the strange proposal from the minister, all this made things confused. He got up, drew the windows heavy white curtains and continued to look outside. Snow had started to fall again, its flakes clustered silently against the window panes. He turned on the computer, put the first CD he found in the drive: Diana Kralls Just the way you are. The voice was sensual and the saxophone played with it. The sounds it was capable of producing made it his favorite musical instrument. Perfect right now He went through his e=mails, his collaborators must all have been in a hurry to leave on holiday because all the countries had sent their reports. If they had had to lay off 70% their manpower, they would have done it without qualms. A little further north, in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, the trade unions of the Corporation held a European conference call in view of maintaining jobs in the European plants. The meeting had taken all afternoon and the representatives of the various countries had not come to an agreement. The proposals were extreme: the French CGT proposed an occupation of the plants

The Bargainer/Hoffman/104 now, whereas the German DGB, and IG Metal along with the French CFDT wanted to open negotiations with only one objective: limiting social break up, conscious of the economic issues and knowing that they could not fight against transfers in the new EU member countries, the lady representing the CGT left the meeting slamming the door, not without saying that she would be opposed to any dismantling of the company. Northern France was practically impossible to ignore, even if its labor had melted like snow with the sun. They were going to occupy the Loos Lille plant in the night of December 31. The leader of IG Metal asked for an adjournment and informed the leaders of all the reformist trade unions that he was going to try to get in touch with Jerome Declerck. In Lausanne, Jerome was surprised to learn that none of his collaborators seemed to have been informed of this union meeting. He listened to the head of German trade union and gave his agreement for a negotiation meeting which would be held, if all agreed, in Geneva on December 28th. Certainly, the layoffs were on the agenda, he told his interlocutor, and he would do all possible to avoid abrupt layoffs. Except in Italy, he specified, We must close down this plant. And in Germany 250 departures due to retirement will not be replaced. He then called Marco to update him on the situation I think Im in control, he told him, on the other hand, without your help, Ill have a hard time preventing the occupation of the French plant. But, he added, if we could isolate CGT by leaving them stuck in their no holds barred determination, Im ready to let them do their worst. Your problem answered the Chairman. Manage as well as you can. End message. It was definite but Jerome did not expect any other answer.

The next step was the formal convening of the board and all the personnel managers, with a copy to the European chairman, asking all to be ready for the meeting of the 28th. The dice were thrown.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/105 Thanks for the information, Merry Christmas nevertheless, see you on the 28th! After this telephone call he sent a message all to the presidents of subsidiary plants and to the HR director, convening the latter to the meeting on the 28th , asking the French chairman to take steps to avoid any overflow on New Years Eve. The following days were marked by the rhythm of the virtual meetings by telephone, video conferences and e-mails. Assumptions, action plans with only one objective and a key word: drafting a social plan putting on paper the reorganization, On Thursday, December 23, 2004, Mark, the European president, organized the traditional year-end drink, in a cordial and relaxed atmosphere since Switzerland was not by any means concerned by the new plan. Around 4 p.m. Jerome left giving out handshakes to all of the 80 employees of the European headquarters. He was in no hurry to get to Megve and see the kids, He had the intuition that his kids, even the 2 in the teens, that they would remain children, or at least retarded teenagers, putting off their entry into adulthood: As his eldest son would in an offhand way, a life turned towards the succeeding vacuum, even if the beginning of his career as lawyer seemed off to a good start. Would he be a better grand-father than he had been father? He put off the answer out of sheer cowardice, even if he had a good idea of the answer: if he ever made it to retirement, he would be washed out. No man ignores his inner truth, but can hide it Hide it under the cover of smiles. If only because of the stress at work, stress management had a great future ahead and he was a manager of it.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/106

Chapter 4

You either loved Megve or you loved Courchevel or Meribel, these last two being sky resorts for the sports crowd, but Jerome preferred the show off side of the old sky resort. The center of Megve was a pleasure for the eyes to behold. In winter, the folklore was at the turn of every corner of the center of small town, which could boast of having some of the best restaurants in France, where the decoration, often if not always was wooden. He just arrived at Marys Farms. The place was sublime, a village within the village, a real Christmas film set. To seclude himself with the family, he had rented a country cottage and a studio for his oldest son in town, unless he was the one who will end up exiled in the studio. All would depend on his wifes mood today. The Country cottage, like all the cottages in the area, was superb blend of wooden furniture on an old flagstone floor. Huge armchairs and settees, all seemed to be placed so that on entering the place youd want to linger a few hours and take in the atmosphere. The place cost him 2.000 Euros a day for the five members of his family. It was reasonable, other places, being able to accommodate up to 20 people came close to 100,000 Euros a week. He was only spending the annual salary of a supervisor in 10 days. Should he feel guilty, have some remorse? He did not know and brushed the thought aside with a gesture of the hand. It was hardly the moment to worry about things like that. He just wanted to forget everything right now. He put down his suitcases, opened the window to smell the odor of snow, put his laptop on a table (the hotel was equipped with Wi-Fi), put on a blue woolen Hermes winter shirt, and wallowed in one of the large English style armchairs, covered with colored cloth. Wed find the same armchairs in Scotland he thought while throwing his dress shoes across the room just to add his personal touch to the place.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/107

He hated perfect order. He needed a bit of disorder in things where he lived. As a famous architect once told him, the house of ordinary people can often be cosier than the 5th Avenue apartment of a millionaire. And this vision of the life suited him like a glove. At corporation head quarters, his office could have been an example for Csar: it would have made an impression on the Emperor, with files and papers scattered all over the place in apparent disorder. But it was only an illusion intended to destabilize visitors. He knew exactly where were each one of his files was and could find the one he wanted in a split second. When he had a collaborator in the office, the persons file was always in the pile on his right, exceeding the pile slightly. He decided to visit the premises like an owner and went to the sitting room which seemed to him like the bar of English castle, large curtains with broad squares surrounded the windows, heavy sofas, if he had a house in a winter sports resort, it would have probably resembled this dream setting. He then passed in front of the gym sure that it would make one of the members of his family happy and went to the covered swimming pool. Heres just what I need, a place where Ill wind down he thought. He adored swimming provided that the water was warm, and he knew this would be the case, here. Nothing else to do except forget his worries, forget the stress, and just relax and enjoy himself in doing small things, like eating out on his own, surrounded by strangers whose secrets he would try to guess. Just by looking at the faces of the couples to spot them out: New love birds? Arguing? An illegitimate affair? He would be a Peeping Tom in the course of a solitary dinner. And he had his own idea of what he was going to do next this evening. If he could remember the name of the place. He turned on the TV, chose the French news channel, LCI. Nothing new under the sun, the channel ran the same news day and day out: attacks in Iraq and its tally of Iraqi and American deaths, but the breaking news was the release of the French hostages in

The Bargainer/Hoffman/108 Iraq, the newspapers were going to apply the policy of the funnel during a few days. He imagined the images, the comments, the President, the Prime Minister, and other politicians crowding each on a landing strip of an airport Orly, Roissy or a military one. The rest of the news was the usual stuff, the left liberals critisizing the conservative right government, a left definitively under Alzheimer, forgetting that it hadnt done better when they were the government. The real news seemed to be the battle of the trenches that would-be presidential candidates were having, and the future European referendum underlining splits within their ranks. A referendum which was a political aberration: the French and Europeans were finally asked what they thought of the European Union that their governments had forced down their throat without so much as asking themselves if their masses approved it or not. And nobody had thought of questioning them on opening the borders of this same Europe. The text showed all the limits of a compromise signed behind peoples back. It was an enormous stew in which the member States were free to do whatever they wanted, in the name of national independence. A circle of power where the countries who had accepted the Euro had to live with those who had refused the Euro, where the countries who preferred NATO had to live with the others who wanted a purely European defense. An unreadable text that had taken him several hours to read on Internet. But the political arena must be such a big mess. And the French, more than any other nation seemed to have a hard time entering in the 21st century. His fellow citizens certainly had the talent needed but with a left-over of the French revolution in their genetic heritage, which still ran in their veins, transmitted from generation to generation, which made them unforeseeable. Thy result was a Nation of solid, proud and hard-working complainers. Capable of creating things like the airbus, or the TGV, for example. He knew it better than most people, but his countrymen did not want the disappearance of the welfare State, pretending to ignore that it was their taxes that financed their Nanny state. The

The Bargainer/Hoffman/109 real problem: only the rich should pay more taxes, than private enterprise. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, some people had two, even three part-time jobs retired later, beyond the age of 70. Sooner or later, France is going to end up against the wall and find itself isolated alone in the middle of an ultra liberal planet ever more individualistic. Whos right? Only the future will tell. He was worried about the future of his children. No visibility, except more and more disasters as all the environmentalists of planet announced. The rest of the news was focused on the 300 years of Wendel (founded in 1704 in Lorraine) the end of the first month of Vende Globe sailing race. There was also a comment on hunger strikers in Paris forcefully taken to a hospital but without the story. Another vision of a world folded up on itself and excluding the poorest. Jerome changed channels. On FR2 the national networks animator, Laurent Ruquier and his team appeared on their talk show with a pseudo psychiatrist from the 68s who, before the viewers, readily confused his university lectures and the discussion on declining Marxism. This guy Ruquier, the paramount of absolute bad taste, and hooker of discussion panels as his son called him, because he had dared blurt out one day in an interview on Canal+ network, For a woman to succeed in TV, you had to have looks. A face with three slits: two for the eyes, and one for the mouth, all of it surrounded by peroxide blond hair showing dark roots does the trick. A face which could have inspired a comic book artist lacking inspiration. Otherwise, you had to live with your weight, and show a low neckline revealing fat breasts, to catch the eye of the cameraman. He smiled. Something of the past hidden in a corner of his a memory came to mind. Years ago, a very long time ago, when the lady in question, an FR3 national television newscaster, was having a night out in Castels, her eyes naively wide open, trying to pick up anyone within reach. The young journalist discovering Parisian nightlife was driving them mad with her Ohs AND Ahs was what he was thinking of. Images of the same talk show ran through his mind. The same chroniclers receiving Rgine, the queen of Parisian nights: And a great moment of TV

The Bargainer/Hoffman/110 had taken place before millions of viewers. On live TV the old star of the screen said to the Diva of Parisian nights: Ive never been able to get into your place! Rgine, royal, simply answered: You never invited me to yours! The ex journalist just sat there mouth wide open. Broken down by the devastating humor of the star of the planets night life. Rgine was an astonishing character. Several careers at the same time, three or four lives in one, surfing on an incredible wave of successes. She was one of the rare women he admired, and feared at the same time. Whenever he went to her club rue Ponthieu, he stayed in his corner fearing her because he would have a hard time crossing eyes with her. Her life was a succession of lives; she could kill with just one word. He never ran into a human with this capacity. He spent most of the evenings at her place looking at the jet set crowd and talking with the director, a man from the south who knew everything about the Parisian nightlife and then some. He sort of liked Jerome, and the feeling was mutual between them. He looked back at the TV screen in his room. He spotted out Jean-Bernard Hebey, who had kept him awake nights in his teenage days on his night talk shows. Hebey better looking today than yesterday, seemed to be an eternal teenager with an incredible talent for speaking about the music he liked. Hebey with his sharp eye for real talent knew how to interview a would-be artist trying to promote himself and cut him down with two or three well placed words. JBH was dueling with the ageless Pierre Benichou. Jerome liked Benichous understatement humor. But he could never understand what the hell he was doing working at the Nouvel Obs magazine, and it irritated him. As usual, the others that evening were interesting, just the usual hangers on and show offs. And here, as everywhere the balance between the bright and the dumb was lopsided. He looked at the show until the end and at this very moment he remembered the name of the restaurant where he wanted to go: In the center of Megve. How could he have forgotten? Too easy, too obvious, of course. He asked the concierge to book a table for him.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/111 Walking in the snow in city shoes wasnt the best idea, but he declined the concierges offer to have a car drop him off. Hed walk trying to avoid ending down on the seat of his pants, because as soon as night fell, the pavements were frozen. He had to walk cautiously, one hesitant step at a time, putting all his weight on each foot alternatively to avoid slipping and falling. He liked the sharp air of the mountain night. As usual the sky was lit up with stars, like Christmas decorations last night in Lausanne, and this little thing made him happy. He felt very much alive. The real problem in this town is its frightening uniformity. All the houses, all the hotels looked alike, mountain decoration, visible beams and all that shit. Like the majority of its rival resorts, Megve had a monolithic decoration. Beautiful, quite simply, but it easily went from beautiful to quite simply beautiful or straightforwardly less beautiful and in this case it was a euphemism. The restaurant where he was going to dine was no exception to the rule. Rough wooden tables under visible beams. The place was especially known for the quality of its Savoyard cooking and the relatively honest prices for a place like Megve. He ordered a pie and white of Savoy wine, looking around at the clients already seated. Many families with their children, tired by a long voyage and dreaming of a good nights sleep in a thick feather bed. Some enthusiastic young couples or pretending to be with one of the two dissecting the menu, wondering aloud, If it were not better just to take one dish. He swallowed his meal, enjoying this famous local specialty and decided to have a drink at the bar of the Mont Blanc hotel, one of the oldest luxury hotels in town. Something obvious suddenly struck him: hed come to Megve for 15 years and in all these years he never noticed it. The Christmas decorations were just a marketing gimmick to sell Megve as a product. In the Cocteau room, he had a coffee with an old brandy and let himself daydream. Too early for the tourists right now. But he had all the time. No constraints. He lifted his glass under his nose to discover the scents of the old alcohol. Odors which brought memories back to him, faces of festival. Not many people this evening in this usually noisy place. He studied the decor,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/112 a mixture of English and local furniture, near the bar he spotted out a womans silhouette seated in a Louis 15th arm chair. Her head was slightly leaning and he couldnt see the cascade of blond hair which seemed to cover a shoulder covered with a black sweater. The barman approached him to know if he wished something and Jerome, in a delirious moment cried out the blonde! Francois, simply and only, that blonde in the black sweater Without wanting you to disappoint you, Mr. Declerck, I think, answered the barman looking Jerome straight in the eyes, I believe youre mistaken, except if, unless. he left his sentence hanging. After a short pause, he added with a smile, but thats none of my business, sir. I must be getting old thought Jerome if I cant see the difference between a call girl and a client out for fun; its time I go cruising on Meetic. Jerome took out a pad of mini post-its, which he permanently carried around, and wrote a few words: Please be kind enough to give her this small paper. he said handing it to the barman. With pleasure. said the barman pocketing the 50 euro bill Jerome had handed him with the post-it. A few moments later, the blonde turned and gave him a slight nod. Jerome got up and joined her. The introductions were quick: Thanks for joining me, said the young lady who had everything needed to seduce a man: a suave voice, burning black eyes, a beautiful mouth and smile. Champaign? The barmans voice drew Jerome out of his thoughts on the woman in front of him. Dom Prignon or Ruynart, he said Ill let you choose, Francois. The lady was called Lucilla, and was married to a Honk-Hong tycoon, she was bored a little, and she liked paid sex: I do not need money she explained, I could have all the men I want without bringing money into it. But making a man pay lets me believe that I am not cheating on my husband. What was a nice way of letting each partner believe what he wanted to believe: a real whore or a married woman, plus libertine (and it was in fashion) than unfaithful. A woman free

The Bargainer/Hoffman/113 to chose and have her pleasures, free to do what she wants with her body, and her desires. One evening in Paris he had gone out with one of his friends, in one of these clubs where you paid 100 euros to get in, first drink included. There was a long line in front of the door where a physiognomies expert selected those who could enter. Inside was just like any other night club with the usual music, and a long bar. But full of corridors and small cubicles where people openly had sex making a spectacle of their sex games and inviting onlookers to share the woman who was with them. Pretty good looking, he remembered thinking, even if he couldnt really see the face very well. His friend adored the place, seeing all these bodies turned him on. Jerome played hard to get, not really comfortable in the place. He had the impression of being in a Zoo or a Circus where women and men having sex were on show. Without being prude he didnt like these processions of peeping toms and horny men. Not his cup of tea. As far as he was concerned, throwing the woman with whom you lived, in an arena for others to play with bothered him. I must be getting old, he had thought. Might as much pay myself a call girl, even two, but not that. Degrading for those who watched as much as for those on podium. And today he paid himself a call girl because he had decided for one hour to be a male object, letting a female object play with him. And Lucilla knew what she was doing, her hands played with Jeromes body and the fact that she was superbly beautiful didnt spoil things. Pear shaped breasts, interminable legs, and superb body. Under 30 he said to himself and probably does over 3 hours of gym a week. He sought a defect, the smallest trace of cellulitis, the small eye wrinkles, nothing. And yet she behaved like the whore she probably was. Anyway he didnt give a damn. He refused to make love, putting on rubbers annoyed him like washing his feet with his socks on - a bit of sexual play was enough to relax him, which was all he needed right now. A little later the young woman said she was a bit hungry and Jerome invited it to diner, explaining that he and already dined a couple hours before and that hed just have a bit of goose liver on toast.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/114 She ate with pleasure, spoke on and on, told him some funny stories and showed a pleasant guest. The evening was pleasant also. And he didnt ask for more. But when she suggested going out together to a night club next to the hotel, he declined the invitation and went back to the hotel alone.

Thirty minutes later, Erics plane landed at Nice. It was the 23rd of December and the weather was beautiful but the scenery wasnt at all like on his island. Buildings, roads, lines of heavy traffic, only the turquoise sea and the palm trees confirmed that he was in the south. Marie had picked him up at the airport and now they were having a drink on the terrace of the apartment. In spite of all these years he was unable to find his way. In this part of Cannes, all the buildings looked alike, all the apartments or almost all the apartment had wide terraces where 8 to 10 people could comfortably dine or lounge and enjoy the view of the sea. She had installed a white leather sofa which she reupholstered every 3 years and sitting on it the two lovers had their drink before one of the most beautiful bays in the world, holding hands like kids if only because they both felt the need. They had never made any promises to each other. By mutual agreement they were just satisfied enjoying each others company from time to time. Both were happy with their sexual life that allowed them to play with phantasms from which their Christian heritage had cut them off since their teens. Each one of them fully lived these moments of intimacy, trying to think of and seduce the other, sharing the same pleasure, succumbing to their desires without holding back. They freed themselves from a culture which looked down on sexual pleasure for the sake of pleasure, allowing only sex for procreation. One evening, feeling guilty of their impulsions, finding in the subsoil of their memory their Judeo-Christian rules, they had spent almost the whole night dissecting the subject from all possible angles, moral, religious which sometimes overlapped from a physical and moral point of view. In their hearts and conscience as consenting adults, they had decided on a relationship based on their impulses, desires, and shared pleasures. They had met fifteen years earlier, through

The Bargainer/Hoffman/115 mutual friends in the south of France. She had liked his pretentious air, his style I took in the whole picture in an instant, his voice and above all his beige linen jacket. It was inevitable. All she needed to be attracted to a man was one small detail and the linen jacket had been that detail. He had fallen head over heels because of her eyes even if he was sure that a dentist could not be good in bed. He was 45, and was just been through a difficult divorce. She was only 30 and had got rid of her husband after 6 months of marriage. The guy who confused marriage and sexual slavery. 15 years later, in spite of sometime forgetting their virtual contract, they were always as happy to get together as new lovers. Something which could be called: complicity in mutual desires which grew stronger with the passing of years. A walk on the beach, or in small boat she had bought, fishing sea urchins: no more than ten (neither one, nor the other were frogmen), the rest was bought at the Forville market. Early in the morning, he lingers in this old market which had just been refurbished thanks to a coat of white paint. Around 7:30, the vegetable, fish and cheese mongers prepared their stalls, almost lovingly laying out their pears, apples, or goat's milk cheeses in their stalls counters. Every gesture was precise, studied to attract the greatest number of people and carried out in good humored sunny southern voices. Everybody knew everyone here, they all hailed each other laughingly and with more or less good jokes, but the laughter was ever present for them and their customers. Walking between the stalls his eyes encompassing the back country produce, he liked smelling the aromatic odors of plants, especially basilica, which these farmers managed to grow all year round. Sometimes he bought a few hundred grams of rosemary, coriander, parsley and some salad from two grandmas who had a tiny stall and sold only products from their garden for the pleasure of being there and to surely improve their end of the month. This morning it bought some bright red heart of ox tomatoes and red onions. Then he went to Brun to buy some oysters and clams. They would be fourteen for lunch and he had decided on a single dish or almost, vongole spaghetti with special oysters for starters.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/116 With Marie he lived tiny precious moment of ordinary happiness: very simple, with on top the need of being together growing stronger and stronger as the years went by. They were a handful of friends, the majority of whom had fled Paris to live in the quiet of southern France, were used to getting together for lunch or dinner without formality. Moment that reminded them of their happy irresponsible teenage years. Eric found these moment of life with his dentist and their small band, so human and friendly. It was the case this Saturday morning and the sunny Cannes weather only added to the pleasure. For the dessert he decided to make eggs beaten in concentrated milk decorated bits of clementine which he would caramelize in acacia honey. The weather was going to be beautiful. On the terrace, their friends admired bay of Cannes, enjoyed the sun and could not prevent themselves from letting their eyes play with the deep blue sea. Deep blue didnt mean much to them. They all liked this city ever since such a long time ago and its almost sensual charms never wore out. It was a nice winter day whose cold had decided to remain up north. And at the beginning of this December afternoon everything seemed simple, friendly, even if after lunch the afternoon transformed itself into a political battle. The detonator was the public transport strike which had paralyzed Marseilles where certain members of the group had decided to spend New Years. Franois was DGA of an important European transport group was the first to blow his top because his holidays seemed spoiled and his customers furious: Whatever the government in place, left or right, itll never have the guts to publish the salaries of those striking so Ill give the salary figures of those lucky few, and Ill not mash my words for these people, who paralyze the country, under the cover of doing a public service which transforms itself into public service for their own interests, be they on SNCF, or RATP payrolls or working for the city of Marseilles, they are making 3000 Euros a month and work, depending on the job sites, no more than 20 or 25 hours a week and these are the same assholes who talk about public service. If the general public knew their salaries, the strikes might be a bit less popular.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/117 Undoubtedly you are right, said Simon, a business lawyer, But you are a bit of an anarchist, if their bosses pay them so well, if the mayors, the district council presidents close their eyes, its because each find their own interest served and this interest comes down to one word: elected. You only get elected if you know how to please your constituents with promises and the only promises they can ever keep are those which depend on their regional authority. Meaning if you want me to be able to keep my promise you have to vote for me. And what does that change in the economic realities of our area? Franois asked maliciously. Nothing at all, but we French have gone from being dependant on a nanny State owning all major industries and services to private enterprise and an exaggerated individualism, every man for himself, nothing for the others but the hated State must remain in place. We are not ready to make efforts to live in this new world from which we only want the positive benefits, but especially none of the constraints. And well miss the boat with the help of those governing us and the global economy especially in Europe and leave a field of ruins for our kids! And Europe was the detonator of the discussion, amidst the oysters, the spaghetti vongole and white Macon wine. Out of 14 guests 9 were for the treaty but only one had read it. On the side of those opposing the treaty, only one had read it: Eric. And he launched the debate: Europe can only be made up of its founding nations or countries if you prefer: Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, France and eventually Spain and Portugal because it is this Europe and only this Europe, that tore itself apart for centuries, the only Europe with things in common because of arranged marriages of their sovereigns, kings or queens. Only this Europe can become a governable federal entity, with a little more than 250 million inhabitants. A political Europe, not a free market. Youre getting carried away, answered Pierre, who was notary public thinking of the juicy markets that 450 million inhabitants represented for him, but only 1 percent this population interested him, the richest 1%. Marie interrupted him. Eric is right, and only those who have read this document

The Bargainer/Hoffman/118 of collective stupidity should be allowed Ive only read the preamble and just that if our opinion is requested lets give it in mind what all this will lead us to and lead us in a dead end. to speak their itself was too loud and clear I fear it will mind. much: bearing just

Shes right. said Eric. The dead end is to mix countries that have a single currency, those who do not want one, those who want a common defense independent of NATO, and those who want to stay under an American umbrella and depend on NATO. Were swimming in a sea of inconsistency. The USA doesnt have five different currencies. The dollar is, like the Euro should have been, the reference value whereas those who do not want it should leave the EU. But, interrupted Pierre, we need this large market for our airbus, our TGV, our DANONE foods, in all the sectors where we are good. True, but we have no need for countries that screw up our economy and our employment, especially since not one of our governments has the least idea of how to replace lost jobs or even an exit plan. Gone are the industrial jobs, welcome sundry jobs in the service industry. Franois stopped him once again: You people in favor of a return to life under a nationalist flag forget one tiny detail: companies like mine have to lower their costs in order to comMarco with the Eastern European countries. So if I can have Baltic or Slovenian drivers paid under the SMIC, Ill not hesitate. Any of you have any idea of the salaries of the SNCF railway men, or the RATP tram men and bus drivers and other municipal transport people. He glanced at all of them in turn and continued: between 3000 and 3500 Euros for work periods spread out between 20 and 25 hours a week. If French who support these strikes knew it, it is them, whose majority earns only the minimum SMIC wages who would put their fist in their faces, because it is they as the underprivileged who suffer the most. So welcome to an extended Europe with the free circulation of people and all imaginable goods. Because your defense of the public service today is reduced to petty categorical interests,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/119 and all the political forces, be they left or right wing, keep their mouths shut. Franois face was red as fire, he seemed to be angry as hell. Stop Eric cried out, Champagne for all before we have to endure the worst meal weve ever had together and that would be awful because we all know that none of us will give in or change his mind, he said while serving the Champaign. Those are fine words! yelled Francois, Lets raise our glasses to our friendship, our buddyship but thats another subject for linguists to debate over. My only problem is that we must find another city for our New Years dinner. So those involved had better come up with a bright idea before the end of our meal and (there was a long silence), well have to come up with a place first,: sea or mountain, it doesnt matter, Ill go along with the majority, if, he added, theres any hope of finding a place a week before New Years eve to party together. Marie, Eric what are you guys doing for New Year? Corsica, Cannes? Nothing decided yet said Marie. With appointments up to the 30th its difficult to think of going very far away. Lets let the next few days decide for us. I dream of New Years Eve in a plane, but in first class, as Concorde doesnt exist anymore, and I havent found another way of partying in a 24 to 36 hours round-trip flight. I would have so much liked being a member of the 10000 club, she added with a mocking smile. I guess Cannes is an option for a New Year Eves binge even if the thought of spending 300 Euros a person for one evening blows my mind. Lets let time decide for us. Whats the 10000 club? asked Christian, a doctor, specialized in alternative medicine, who looked at Marie, intrigued. Its a club that only exists in the collective imagination of frequent flyers: necking 10000 meters in the air! Marie told him. Nice thought, added Christian The rest of the lunch was peaceful, like it should be amongst men and women whose ages went from the youngest person (a woman, in fact) around 36 to 62.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/120

Marie daydreamed by looking at her blue sea suddenly rendering unreal the heated discussion they had all been through.

An assembly of 50-year olds, made up of executives directors and liberal professions, whose wives haunted the fashionable shops of the Antibes streets, fighting over outfits like 20 year old kids. Proof she thought, that being passionate has positive sides. Each one will listen, if only for a short moment, to the arguments of the other while trying to find his own truth. And its been that way ever since the French had discovered the virtues of the free expression. She sought out the face of her man. At 60 Eric still surprised her, able to get carried away for lost causes, political ideas or new artists who did not fit in the marketing mould of powerful industrial majors. Those who launched artists like Kotex. Fifteen 15 years after meeting him, Eric always came off with a sort of charisma or passion which left her day dreaming. He had dreamed his passions, for artists and women and undoubtedly would be this way to the end. Even if his loud mouth hurt his career, she knew that he did not regret anything because he was above all a man of convictions, wanting to have art, in whatever form, available to all social classes. And hows your life on the island? I like it, answered Eric simply, I even bless these moments of life made up of peace and happiness and then I started to plunge in your history. An attractive history, almost all the people on earth ended up one day in Corsica, the isle of beauty, as the Greeks called it: Phoenicians, Phocens, Etruscans, Romans, Carthaginians, Spanish or rather Catalans, Greeks, English, the Italian city states, even a pope found refuge on your island. In my eyes you were and you remain a land of welcome.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/121 Youre right, but if everyone has come on our island, very few helped this island! But I believe that Europe can be a last hope for the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Corsican and perhaps even Scotland, in the name of the right of the people in a political Europe, if one day it ever exists, a political Europe which that will have to ask these people what they want to do of their lives. It would be a long discussion, surely enthralling, but there are too many people here today and the discussions would eventually turn into heated arguments. Come over for dinner at my place one evening, Im getting a kid goat, a CABRI, for the holidays in the purest Corsican tradition, one of the traditions because on our island there are numerous and the cement that binds us. Whenever you want but it will be necessary to take into account your agendas, yours and Maries! Later in the afternoon, their guests gone, Marie and Eric were on the balcony, looking at the sea, holding each other by the hand like two kids. The building where Marie lived was in almost in second line behind Croisette running along the sea front, ending at the Canto port. The view from the top floor didnt show the famous avenue because the building was exposed to the west, but they had a sublime view on the sea and the Esterel point. The two lovers were intertwined alone in the world, contemplative in front of the beauty of the landscape, the luminosity of the sky, the shimmer of the colors of the sea where all the shades of blues played hide-and-seek with the rays of the sun. It was December 22nd and it was 32 degrees in the sun. Eric felt his hand go down along the Maries back. He suddenly got excited and as often, if not always, he felt that she had the same desires, the hands of Marie becoming suddenly very endearing. They made love on the terrace in a mixture of tenderness and violent passion. They also liked sex for the sake of sex, for the sheer pleasure each had, enjoyed by all the pores of their skins and neurons. A little later, in the evening, when the temperature had cooled and had a look at the French news channel, the Erics cell phone rang.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/122 It was his cousin Jerome who invited them to pass New Years eve with the family, in Megve. He already had booked and paid the room for him. While speaking with Jerome, Eric eyed Maries reactions of his partner. She felt it and made a nod of consent. After all they hadnt made any plans and she knew that Eric wanted to see his cousin. They decided to leave early next morning to avoid the heavy traffic. Right now they decided to do some Christmas shopping in the Antibes street and buy presents (the option was clothes) for each member of Jeromes small the tribe.

CHAPTER 5 THE TENDER


Marco Dimagio awoke in a very bad mood. In spite of the Manhattan landscape extending below him which usually captivated him. It wasnt the case this morning. He couldnt stand the view any more. He didnt give a damn about seeing the Empire state building through the huge windows. Nor the long lines of early morning traffic below. No, this morning, nothing was right and he felt indifferent to everything that had been recently part of his life. Bull shit he mumbled to himself. Nothing was as he wanted and the masterpieces decorating the enameled cream colored walls didnt calm him down. It all began the day before. Two days before Christmas. His brother-in-law had called from Chicago to tell him that one of his competitors had launched a friendly tender offer against Illinois Tech, the company in which they were the majority shareholders. Fifteen years earlier, Marco had invested 4 million dollars, the third of his capital generated in 15 years by his stocks options, thus blocking 58% of the capital of the new start-up. Without blinking an eye lid. He trusted Lou, a bright Telecom engineer, a former head of ATT, for the Chicago area. Lou had started by buying local telephone operators, setting up a policy of discount thanks to a server which he had created. Then the Company had diversified in the local television channels, making agreements with wide-area networks. As of the first year they had made a profit.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/123 Not enough for Marco who had proposed to the President of his company to invest in Illinois Tech, which he had accepted. They had even detached two senior officers to deal with finances and marketing with an incentive package of 12% of its stock. In 2004, the company had exceeded a turnover of 6 billion dollars with a 700 million dollar profit. The friendly offer launched against I Tech, as it was called today, should give him at worst 220 million dollars after taxes, because he still held, 48% of the stock. The purchasers had even proposed to let them use the company plane for 2 years, with 200 hours of flight a year. What Marco feared, as New York woke up, two days before Christmas was losing what he and his brother-in-law had set up, thanks to his money and Lous talents. Even if he was going to be definitively rich. After giving out give 50 million dollars to each one of his two children and 100 million to his wife, hed still have between 20 and 30 million more than enough to live out the rest of his life in comfort. 75000 dollars a month, plus his salary, and 25 million dollars of stock options, his retirement income and the golden parachute hed get leaving the company, all this definitively insured his future. Even if the Stock Exchange or the market crashed which is sure to happen after the departure of Greenspan, he would have cashed in the majority of his holdings transferring them in Europe. But after more than 20 years in the world of the high finance and the multinational corporations, he didnt believe in luck. The day before, the vice president of one of the banks of the group, had invited him to inform him of rumors: in the coming weeks someone will be launching an attack against his company, selling its stock by apartments, making a tremendous net worth. Two tender offers in the same amount of time werent done by accident. He wanted to know whats behind all this. He called the president of a brokerage company and asked him to do an indepth investigation. The two men knew each other more than ten years and had mutually rendered some small services to each other. He didnt think the blow can come from one of his competitors. They all had the same difficulties and none had a big enough treasury sufficient right now for this kind of operation. Things will have changed in the next few months when two or three of them would have definitively disappeared from the market.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/124 At this time there, and not before, he thought, the entire sector would restructure itself. The offensive, if it was an attack, must come from a raider, one of these guys buying massive stock in a blow and selling it all within 3 months making a quick fortune, leaving on the ground thousands of jobs. Another character could try to investigate this mystery. He looked at his watch, in London, it must be 1 P.M. and if his contact hadnt changed his habits, must be in his office right now, on his computer checking company press releases or the publication of their results, looking for errors. He and John Browning had been known in the Air Force together in the 70s in active duty in Vietnam. Marco was copilot on Air America, but a pilot with little motivation and after three months, he had asked to be grounded, among the others. Air Americas missions, the CIA company, gave him cold sweats and he did not have the balls to continue night flying, and landing in jungles, even it was the chief pilot, a Korean veteran, who did the landings. He was afraid and flying didnt interest him anymore. The owner of the company in Saigon was a friend of his father, a son of Italian immigrants. He had proposed to give him a job in Air Force intelligence, which Marco had accepted. Going off in the jungle as part of commando team, to track down enemies of his country, that, he readily accepted. He even liked the idea. He could have, like many of his fellow students that year stayed in a pentagon office in Washington. The Italian lobby had ties with the Pentagon, Government heads and in a good many less known sectors. Remembering some of the missions he had carried out gave him feeling of excitation, and even goose pimples sometimes. Because he had never spoken about it with anyone, except with his father, who had been in the Monte Casino assault with the American troops, which earned him a fast naturalization afterwards. In this country at the worlds end, in this Saigon, which had been a town of pleasures, fears, whores and of drugs, he had kept the memory of a woman he had loved and dropped, as well as memories of drinking binges on the town between soldiers to try forget the interrogation sessions, the summary executions in which he had took part.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/125 Just obeying orders he thought, to calm the dislike he had from time to time about the things he had done, for a war which wasnt his war. He had met Browning, during an infiltration mission in Moi. And they had become buddies. After the war Marco had left the Army. As a member of the Special Forces Browning joined the CIA. He stayed all his life in the Army, ending up with the rank of general, but most of his soldiers life was with the CIA, as analyst and head of the department analyzes. Since he left Langley, he had created an economic intelligence company and had become one of the best informed men in the world. Marco relied on him, even if his information cost him a 50000 dollar retainer every year. Browning promised to give Marco a first analysis in a couple of days Thursday at the latest. With the Christmas holidays, that left him 4 business days. As soon as he had hung up, he called his lawyer, William McKenzy,: he wanted to organize an extraordinary meeting of the board of directors, as soon as possible, by respecting the delay defined by the law. He explained to William possible grounds for calling the meeting. Use the Emergency clause but the meeting notices of the meeting must leave today, as they all live the in the New York City area, theyll get them tomorrow. His lawyers green light was all he needed, the most important in his eyes. Marco continued Draw up the convocations, youve got a power of attorney to sign in my name, send the letters by DHL, and have ten copies sent to me by a dispatch rider which Ill send by Fed Ex, youve got one hour and the invoice is for me, cash payment. Its that serious asked the lawyer? I like to foresee things, answered Marco, can I count on you? The answer from the law expert was without ambiguity, Marco and his company belonged to the category of customers you didnt want to lose. Furthermore, the two men appreciated each other. Marco then phoned the members of his board of directors, to inform them of the steps he was taking, convening them on the 26th of December, speaking to them about the sale of the two

The Bargainer/Hoffman/126 subsidiary companies whose activities were distant from their main business and his counting on them. All gave their agreement and he confirmed their common decision by email, even if he hated using this media which had cost the jobs of some of his imprudent colleagues. In theory, he never opened his emails, Only, his assistant was entitled to do it, he remained in the background. He asked them an agreement in principle which would validated during the meeting. He accepted the agreement of each one within the hour (only one hadnt answered and he decided to keep his non-response in a corner of his mind). With the agreement of the others which accounted for 99% of the voices of the Board of directors, he could organize his response. Relieved he dropped himself in a large leather armchair. He started to calm down he needed to relax a bit, stretching his articulations trying to remove the stress of the last 24 hours. He felt a presence behind him. Kates perfume. He hardly noticed that she was wearing beige silk gown, like the color of the walls of their living room. He was entitled to a kiss on the face and she disappeared as fast as she had appeared. Seeing him with his cell phone so early in morning before Christmas had made her understand that her guy had problems. Marco decided to organize a video conference call with two other members of the Council who belonged to his close guard: the managing director and the finance manager. He also needed the PR executive and his legal counterpart. In less than half an hour the five men were speaking to each other in video conference, thanks to Internet. The decisions were made in less than half an hour and a press release announcing the sale of the two subsidiary companies would be sent, the day of the Board of directors, but just after the closing of the Stock Exchange, to the principal news agencies and wire services. This will make them happy, said the PR executive, they havent much news on the economy during the holidays. All the papers will jump on it especially if we add a bit on our factory shutdowns in the United States and the lay offs in Europe.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/127 Good idea Marco answered laconically, and merry Christmas to all of you! Well all see each other on the 27th Ill invite all of you to lunch just between us and thats going to be rough getting Kate to accept it, he thought. Kate just came in the living room, as he ended the conference call. Female intuition, he thought. Unless more realistically, she had remained within hearing distance. He looked at her and felt guilty for thinking of her eavesdropping: she had done her make up, hair, and dressed beautiful as usual. They had met in Washington, during a lunch, organized by one of the largest lobbying cabinets in town. All the participants had eyed the beautiful young woman, wearing discrete make-up on her perfectly oval face, which made her eyes even more blue. She was wearing a Saint Laurent black silk trouser outfit and the black moccasins. A natural class and a real capacity of seduction which of which she was well aware and misused sometimes. A yuppie but from Boston, the city which had given to the USA its first elites. Kate was member of Congress, close to Hillary Clintons ideals, trained as a lawyer, like her and like her father, who had run one of the biggest Law offices in Boston. The city where the American elites were schooled at Harvard and MIT. The city which after New York was dear to European hearts. Her father had financed her campaign in their home town. In those days Kate had understood that Environment issues were a sure value but also a vital need in order to transmit a viable planet to future generations. Beautiful, attractive and brilliant, she had a devastating humor and was feared by many politicians. She knew what she wanted and said it loud and clear. Her fathers position, one of best lawyers of the East coast, had avoided her many vexations but especially had protected her. One or two lawsuits in slandering, against a journalist and a member of the Congress, had calmed down the media and the political community, which today kept out of her way.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/128 Her political thoughts and her track record were exceptional and daring. Standing up for womens and minority rights, pushing for social aid programs, she surprised everyone in requiring heavy sentences for those breaking the laws, making it know to all, that in a free country of freedom, you either accepted the rules of the democracy, the common good or you paid the full price for endangering the Nation even if she was aware that no system of government was perfect and carried within itself its weaknesses, like humans. Everyone had been caught off guard, but Kate had assumed it like today she assumed her opposition on the war in Iraq built on lies from part of the political community, the President and some influential members of his clan. In her quest of making America great again, she fustigated the industrialists, all the industrialists, especially the oil and arms lobbies. It was why as Americas Pasionaria, she had been invited to lunch with four American industrialists, and a lobbyist. The lunch was the opportunity to exchange points of view and it had been hard for the participants to counter her arguments. Each of them knew deep inside that she was right and that the US economy would not fall apart, if some measures were taken in favor of the environment or the most underprivileged. But none of them had created the company they were running. They were only well paid executives, rich and even very rich but who had to yield to the system, to the Market. The Market in which they were mere actors. At the end of the lunch yielding to an unreasoned impulse, Marco had proposed to accompany her back, without knowing why, at least thats what he thought at the time. He had been impressed by the fulgurance of her analyses and the earnest way she exposed them, but also by her beauty inherited from Dutch Irish parents. Definitively explosive. Well later he had learned that their great grand parents had known each other a ship sailing towards the New World. Their two families one fleeing poverty, the other persecutions. And the two children, a 14 year old boy, and a 13 year old girl had fallen in love. Once in Boston they kept in touch using all the means kids use to see each other, tricks and lies, and married three years later.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/129 The little Irish lad ended up Chief of the Police in Boston before becoming Mayor in his final years. His wife, brought up their 6 children giving them the will to survive and succeed, for ones self and for their family. The family, which was what Kate missed most. Courted by the most handsome men, the richest men of the city, she had never succeeded in crossing the line which led to walk down the aisle in a white wedding dress. Marco whose Italian roots made him sometimes romantic had fallen body and soul for her. Like in a fairy tale, both had chosen each other at the same time. What had complicated the life of the Chairman: married, with two children, was that he had to live in the shadow, making up trips to Washington or Boston, and his wife wasnt fooled. But at 43, Eileen was tired of her desperate housewife life she led in Cincinnati, and even more her husbands philandering but she put up with situation provided that her life style didnt change. Since Marco could not allow himself a divorce, something looked down upon in the world of American small towns, they had made a gentleman-woman agreement, giving the illusion of being an almost perfect couple, but living in two separate apartments in their house. They only shared the kitchen, but it as it was more than 100 square meters, they were never on each others way. Marco paid all the expenses and gave her 50000 dollars a month. He had promised to give her half of the Illinois Tech shares so the sale of the company was a good thing for them. It only took a couple of weeks for their respective lawyers to draft an agreement for them to sign. As soon as the money would be paid, Eileen committed herself from any legal action against Marco. To lock the situation he had required that half of the sum paid be blocked during 10 years. He would be then 68 years old and the life would be surely much simpler. After with 50 million dollars to spend in 10 years and the same amount ten years later seemed like a good deal. Kate, had briefed her lawyer and thought she had avoided all the problems. Today she had felt that something was going on, it was written all over his face. She looked at him, her blue eyes trying to say Speak up, maybe I can help.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/130 He told his story, his worries, his fugitive feelings. Somebody was trying to destabilize him: it didnt have anything to do with the way he was managing his conglomerate. He admitted that he didnt understand what was going on. Or rather, yes, he understood one thing: one of the members of the Board was double crossing him. Im dead sure of that! When he had given financial circle, epiphenomena Im search around the the name of this well known leader in the Kate simply said, as if it were an sure youre right. Give me a few days to House of Representatives.

You never know she added with her devastating killer smile. She was dead set on standing up for him. No ones going to get away attacking her man. All the maternal love that she had been holding back for so many years overflowed on Marco. Which didnt by any means alter her sexual attraction to him. On that subject she and her Italo-American lover were on the same wavelength. Teasingly she changed the subject. You know, the only moment when I feel that I really exist for a man, is when I give him pleasure. Which had the immediate effect of throwing Marco in a fit of jealousy! Here was another incongruity in her life, she preferred giving than receiving, which what with his age was fine with Marco Dimagio. To put an end to the conversation she suggested her lover talk with Jerome. Hes the only man you can trust, really. He respects you because he knows that without you, hed just be an everyday senior executive, no less, no more. And you both get along very well. You like each other, as can be seen when youre together. And I trust him, even if I only met him once. Why dont you invite him for New Years Eve. I am sure hell be full of good advice for you on all this. Good idea! Thanks Honey Marco answered. He hated this word honey which belonged to the American love vocabulary. But since his youth as an exiled Italo-American in the Bronx, he had gotten used to using the word. The word came naturally nowadays, even if he found it stupid A woman will never be anything but honey, fortunately for men, he said to himself. But the expression belonged to the American

The Bargainer/Hoffman/131 dream, unless it belonged to Americas puritan heritage accentuated since the Bush Jr. had come to power. We were now living in the Republican Kingdom of hypocrisy. The former alcoholic, shirking combat zones in Viet-Nam, had bought himself a new suit of Americanism and threw the country into a holy war against everything that didnt have American values. Or his own values represented by the dollar sign. He thought of this caricature published in many papers, showing a man with a top hat bearing an American flag, smoking a cigar with a handful of dollars. It wasnt really that but if he could draw thats what he would have drawn. Kate shared this image with him and so did millions of lower class underdogs in the States. The two lovers had the conclusions on things: that of the decline of America. The situation in which their country lived now was sure to end up in social unrest in the near future. The States and Europe would soon relive the French 1968 outbursts. The split, the variations between those that have and the have nots was far too visible and will cause here and there riots and outbursts, until the day that He probably wouldnt live to see it but both of them were sure that it was going to happen in the interest of the majority. He brushed all these thoughts away by the brush of a hand. Today he had a problem to solve and the decision was his. All he needed to do really was send out a few scouts and throw a missile statement to Wall Street, and in a couple days the problem will be past history.

His PR man was surely right: in this diet period for journalists, their message will be commented over and over in their media. He called Jerome and invited him and the lady he chooses for New Years, the beautiful young woman with whom you dined at Gallagher's the other evening! ;

The Bargainer/Hoffman/132 He could feel his collaborators astonishment on the end of the line, but his old accomplice didnt show anything and just said Great! In his head, that was done and seeing Jerome would do him a lot of good. He was about to set up an explosive device which would return like a boomerang on his attackers. To be completely sure of things, he decided to hire bodyguards for a couple months for himself and his 4 closest collaborators. It might sound paranoid, but he was only heeding the governments concern for the security of the heads of big corporations. He gave a call to his former school buddy, ex CIA operative, asking him to handle his security and I want a detailed memo on each bodyguard. He would have them vetted by Kate, who was a friend of the head of security for the Congress. It was only 10 in the morning on the east coast and Marco decided that he had done all he could for the moment. He lit up his PC and had a look on stock movements, and the volume of the transactions. He didnt see any unusual activity and decided that it was going to be a great day. His good humor came back like magic. The dice had been thrown and nothing or nobody could modify the way theyll fall. He was sure of one thing, some pension funds were going to buy stock in the coming days, making the market climb and making the tender offer more expensive. It was the right moment to sell the Chicago shares and he asked his brother-in-law to accept the friendly purchase offer, Right now! he insisted, dont lose any time or Ill sell my shares myself on the opening the Stock Exchange on the 26th . Thats all there was to do. During the next few days he was still the boss and surely for a few years more, he said to himself. He had the intuition that he had to get rid of his Chicago stock as fast as possible but he couldnt explain why. Just an intuition. All that remained to be done is to organize his lunch and decided on the Maguy Lecoz restaurant. It was just a block away from the store where he intended to do some Christmas shopping with Kate.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/133 At the same time, in Brussels, Aron De Witt picked up his phone. It was Lou Winters. He and his board of directors accepted the purchase offer, but it had to be finalized in the day. He had just sent the documents to his lawyers in Brussels who had a power of attorney to sign in his name. He wanted to have the papers signed before 2 p.m., Chicago time, 9 P. M. in Europe. Youll have them before that. De Witt promised his face brightening up. He looked around his office, more than 200 square meters of expensive furniture on a white Carrara marble floor. The first part of his plan was a complete success, as of the morning of the 26th hed launch his tender offer against the Cincinnati group. Between the sale of Illinois Tech and the sale of Cincinnati by apartments he and his partners should pocket a billion dollars, just in one maneuver. He rubbed his hands, went to the office window dominating the city. A laborers son all his youth he had sworn to get even with all he and his parents, especially his parents, had been through He had worked hard, very hard, sometimes doing things almost illegal. But he had succeeded and before the arrival of Russians new rich he was one of the richest men of planet. Sometimes he gave money, a lot of money to charity organizations more or less controlled by him to bolster his image. But it didnt really interest him. As far as he was concerned, it was everybody for himself. Everyone had to live the life that suits him, and work things out for himself. Like all raiders he by no means wanted to run a company. He was only interested in seeing to it that companies do what theyre supposed to do: make profits. He loved destabilizing them, pushing them to react in panic, and whether they wanted to or not, put their business back on track making them profitable, it amused and fascinated him. A real pleasure: the pleasure of absolute power. As soon as he was in the Stock Market arena,, having bought with his friends thousands of shares, perfectly legally because they always remained, initially, below the market thresholds, the value of their preys increased appreciably, for their greater profit. All that was left to do afterwards was to push them into making mistakes out of pride, the deadliest error. He never ended up

The Bargainer/Hoffman/134 fully owning a company, these companies always managed to block him by borrowing from their banks but he forced them to do what he wanted: transfers credits to concentrate themselves on their main activity or purpose. And the value of his shares increased as they fell into the trap. He waited until the day when a board of directors would let him put his project in action. Then, along with his partners hed take control of the company which none of them really wanted. Make money, yes. Running a company, no. What he hated the most was laying off people. His childhood memories resurfaced then. He called his lawyer asking him to come immediately to his office with the final documents. In six months, he and his friends had acquired over 30% of the shares and buying the remaining 3% was quickly negotiated. One of the directors, the marketing director, decided to sell his 4% to one of his groups banks. He thus acquired a blocking minority, and the company fell into his hands. But this time he wanted all the shares because he already had a buyer. By 7 p.m., Brussels time, it was done. Winters lawyer went off again with the signed transfer documents and a 700 million dollars certified bank check, out of which he helped himself to 2%, his fee. As soon as he was informed, Lou called Marco who answered with a simple Well done!. He didnt believe what he said, he wasnt interested in the companys success. He had only put his money in the company and placed two of his men on the board, each of them pocketing 40 million dollars, which was a good return without investing so much as a penny. He had believed in Lou and in his idea, so as Kate told him, all was for best in the Brave New World. Marco wondered why he suddenly felt sad, anybody else would legitimately be more than happy in his place after making so a good ROI, return on investment. 300 million dollars on every 4 dollars! It was a sheer miracle or a foolish chance. Both, maybe! The page was turned and he decided to whereas Kate enjoyed scallops with an Bernardin restaurant, for its cordial inventive food and because they could consider his oyster plate, olive oil. The two loved wooden decoration, its go there on foot. They

The Bargainer/Hoffman/135 lived on the same street, the 51st . And the price of the menu were reasonable, especially for the lunch: 51 dollars. Far less than the prices of the restaurants in Europe, especially in France. Maguy Coz and her brother, before he passed away, had understood what New Yorkers wanted. After finishing their lobster raviolis and shrimps the two love birds went off to Fifth avenue for the last Christmas purchases. With an inevitable fight because Kate did not want that Marco to know what she had bought him Christmas eve. It was a question of principle, she said. And seeing the way she looked at him, it was useless to insist. Later, much later in the evening, they made love, after being taking a line, like all hip Americans, or almost. It was a once a month ritual between them. On both sides of the Atlantic, this 23rd December had been one day of peace. Eric and Mary, after some heavy traffic finally arrived in Megeve covered in snow and joined Jerome and his family. Mary was thrilled by the rooms at Maries farms while Eric tried to sell himself to his/her cousin. I dont need anybody except free lance. As we do not have the same name, I can make you a 20 days a year contract, 1000 euros a day plus expenses, I think that well a ghost writer this year and then Ill certainly need your help on a strictly personal basis and for this Ill pay you myself. Maybe, he added, arousing Erics curiosity, who couldnt get him to be more explicit. Hed have remain in ignorance of what exactly was involved or expected of him.. At least for the moment. The dinner, in the hotels restaurant was cordial, friendly. Eric was glad to find his nephews and nieces. What struck him: was their determination to succeed in life in their chosen fields. The eldest, 24, after his high school diploma took a sabbatical year to travel around the world: the African bush with an charitable organization, the USA working as a waiter. From Brazil to Argentina, then Kampuchea via Tahiti, he had discovered the world while trying to understand, his expression was to feel other civilizations. He had returned home with gold staphilococcus caught on a beach in Eastern Africa probably

The Bargainer/Hoffman/136 in Mombasa. Today he was doing his lawyers training in a big law office, and thought that a specialization in environmental rights could lead him it to dissociate himself from just doing law. The second one, was into journalism and the last and youngest one, a girl, wanted to be a dentist or an advertising girl, which made Mary smile. In this decoration of wood inside and snow outside, all seemed more beautiful, and life so much easier, simpler. The two cousins spoke about their childhood and teens which didnt seem so long ago, Chambry, where they spent the holidays in their grand-parents. Fishing parties on the lake of Le Bourget, the first village dances and first girl friends. Eric who was the eldest had small a FIAT 850 sports car which allowed them to run off without Granny having time to give out advice. Time seemed to have stopped: the Christmas break. Even his cousin in law, ever so beautiful, had stopped hen picking her husband. Everybody was focused on the three kids. Cdric, the eldest announced that he had to join his buddies to go out in the disco. His father got up, went to his son and handed him an envelope asking to him whether they could ski together tomorrow not too early but Id like to have lunch with you at the hotels high altitude restaurant. Around 1 his son answered kissing his father, before distributing his tenderness to all present as is the custom in French families. His kid sister tried in vain tried to join him, No way! he told her Its our first evening together between buddies, but, I promise tomorrow Ill take you out and introduce you to the cutest guy in town! The following day, the whole clan found themselves on the ski runs around 11 in spite of the hour long lines at the sky lifts. Jerome told them that he had booked for 1h30 meanwhile since all of them were experienced skiers they were free to ski where they wanted. He left with his last daughter. He wanted to spend some time with her and knew already that in the afternoon, she would drag him in the shops Just to do some window shopping, daddy. But Jerome knew that in her head see and buy meant the same thing. For a 16 year old, she was a wonderful teenager into sports, music, dancing and serious student. His children didnt cause

The Bargainer/Hoffman/137 him any problems which sometimes worried him. Of course they had done some foolish when they were kids but nothing drastic. His wife was fully devoted to their 3 children which probably explained why they were so well behaved.

After two runs on the slopes he stopped at the mountain top bar whereas his daughter continued to show to whoever was watching that as far as skying goes she was among the best! He wondered whether she had not forgotten to speak to him about a boy friend probably somewhere in Megeve right now. At the end of their meal on the terrace facing the sun, he told with his children that he had just bought a hotel in Cannes for them: 25 rooms which hell renovate. and enough room to build 15 more! Your pear for thirst and that will let you learn how to manage a small business together and decide if you want to spend the money, to reinvest it in your business or do a bit of both Im afraid that youre starting in one of the most unstable periods in the worlds history. To have something of your own and to have to decide together in spite of your husbands or wives, will weld you more together. In any case its my truest wish for you. Daddy! Shit, you always spoil things with your negative vibes. Were having a good time, you just gave us a beautiful Christmas gift and there you are talking as if you were on your dying bed, look a the sad look on your face Droopy Daddy! Lea, the youngest never mashed her words. If her green eyes had the color of the ocean, her expression was sad. He excused himself, using work problems as an excuse. But he had aroused the curiosity of his offspring who all wanted to discover our hotel before returning to Paris. The first decision that I suggest is that you require that Eric, as you live Paris, to supervise the work, for their length of time and to offer him a material compensation for doing this. It will be your first decision as shareholders. And then added Even if you have as consultant, a director of hotel director

The Bargainer/Hoffman/138 who will go on retirement next year, to have somebody of the family which can, if he accepts, will work with you, seems to me to be a win-win situation. He took out of the pocket of his anorak three papers on which he had written principal information concerning the establishment: labor costs, the price of the rooms, wages and eventual fees for his two friends, turnover and finally the current profit and the estimated one. give me your answer this evening, before the midnight supper Thats Pops, quick as hell! said his son but not that I work, I understand and think youre right He questioned his sisters by a look in their eyes who nodded youll have our decision, this evening. On this word, the three children rose and disappeared on the slopes They returned as the night started to put on its dark overcoat and the sun went off to the other side of the world. A sky covered in big black clouds seemed to invade the valley, creating phantasmagoric forms. The coming night was going to be with a full moon. Eric looked at the drawings which nature seemed to want to create in its sky. One two resembled an eagles head seeming to want to devour all on its passage. The former producer looked at the scene, as he done so often. An ice moon came up slowly, softly, with the light of a silver sun, like noon in a desert. It was like a cartoon in a comic strip, sad eyes, always the same round nose, only its lips seemed to smile. The observation talent of cartooners had always fascinated him, and it still did. Far off, the mountain seemed a theatre of war, a storm swept the mountains in front of him. Gigantic flashes streaked the sky giving it a silver plated color. The natural phenomenon lit the mountain tops. Illuminations in the sky which turned it to the quicksilver, right here, and less than 30 seconds later, the same light appeared 20 or 30 kilometers elsewhere on his right. His knowledge of the area and its setting allowed him to estimate the distances. An imposing natural spectacle. He had passed his life to looking up in the sky, old souvenir bequeathed by one of his French teachers when you look up in the sky, you discover another universe, often new forms of architecture, which you cant even guess you walk looking ahead of yourself. He had taken the advice of his old teacher and he often looked up in the sky but also around him,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/139 he devoured all in one glance: balconies, balustrades, window decorations, roofs, people in the street, the step, a mans hesitant foot steps, a dog which slipping between the legs of the walkers, simply for the pleasure of running, without any goal. He looked at the lights, their never ending colors changing colors giving the illusion of being alive. The step of a woman which said, even if only seeing her back, that she was sure the world was at her feet, or that she was going to conquer it. Contemplating life and things was his thing and maybe it was thanks to this that he had been able to create some television shows, to listen to his guests, wondering about the hair lock which hid an eye on purpose, thus masking the real personality of the guest, the other persons wig, more real than real hair. He looked at everything wanting to fill of this himself of everything before his eyes, to live fully, in his daily life as a man. Day in and day out, at night fall he sat facing his computer screen, writing down things seen or thought, parts of life which didnt belong to him. With Mary, they also had spent their day on the boards, stopping only once to kiss each other under a fir tree and to look at the village below them. They had been drawn by the silence of the moment. A cold silence, disturbed by snow flakes falling from tree branches above and the whoosh of skiers who passed a few meters of them. An impression of being elsewhere. The cold made them rush back to civilization. All the family was in the hotel bar drinking warm wine grogs, except for Lea, too young to drink alcohol and who had no desire to do so. She asked hot chocolate, before speaking. The youngest girl was the porte parole of the small tribe: Eric, we propose 1500 euros a month to you of which will be 800 in cash. Its Cdrics idea. And we think he must be right since hes the oldest. So we listen to him. She continued All three of us would like you to run the hotel, with the director wholl soon be gone since hes retiring. She looked at her cousin right in the eyes You will learn a new trade, at 60 thats cool, but especially since youre pretty good with computers, and youre like a fish in water when it comes to public relations and advertising, youll bring us lots of new ideas.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/140 For example wed like to end up with 30% of bookings done via Internet. Youre pretty weird on that cousin! Great! he answered Eric whod never thought six months ago that hed end up inspector of finished work. A great challenge he continued, and working with you guys is something that Im looking forward to! Cdric interrupted him Same conditions, but if Mary didnt support you everyday youll have your room at the hotel, and if manage to boost the sales youll get a 5% commission.. There is an occupancy rate of 52% over the year and an objective of 70% in 3 years Cheers guys! said Jerome. You bluffed me and I am proud, very proud you, moreover you did not waste any time. As a fortune teller Im better at telling the past than the future but this time I can forsee without too much risk that you guys will be good businessmen. Nobody chooses the family he has but Im sure that running the business together as a family is going to be a big advantage, lets drink to your collective success and everybody on board at 9 for our Christmas eve diner. The three children came around their father Thanks Pops boss said Cdric. Lea was superb, and if that tempts her, I dead sure shell become a ferocious businesswoman! All that I wish for you guys, is to always stay together. Even, and that will happen sometimes, if you have fights among yourselves, as in the best of families. especially ours. Stay together, its your force and your survival! See you all later. Said Jerome adding, and thanks again for being what you are. Before rejoining the cousins and parents, the kids decided to celebrate their first success:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/141

Champagne said Cdric to the barman and my little sis, this evening and later, in the night, youre entitled to drinking bubbles with us, you have a drink to this life sparkling for you. The midnight supper was with the image of the place: beautiful, friendly, and even a party. The dinner was superb, even the oysters, in spite of the fact that Britannys Marennes was to hundreds of kilometers from Megeve Jerome had required this type of oysters for his table. Goose liver, Bresse chicken was marvously done. Everyone was in a merry mood, even Jeromes wife, happy of her childrens complicity. She had had a fit with her husband because he had kept her out of the negotiations with them. Today she recognized only one quality to him: the lhis ove for his children who were his reason to work and to live. She deeply felt that he had been lucky to have a wife like her at his side, if only because he had spent most of his life far from the house. A few years earlier she had calculated the number of days in a year her husband was at home: 42 days plus 15 days holidays. He could play Mr Good Guy, Mr Rich or the animal (that they was for her) when he was present at home as a favor. He was lucky to have such good well brought up children, Too bad she said. We missed an episode, focusing ourselves on a few rips in the contract, forgetting that men and women could want of pleasures, that werent allowed by the Catholic churchs vision of marriage. Except during the time of the Kings of France and their Court which, in those days, could, in all moral and Christian impunity, show off their mistresses, during big balls or big festivals. She would have liked to go back 300 years earlier, to be a small mouse and see how the confessors of the powerful arranged these small errors and distortions with the rule of the Holy Church. But it is true that at the time of the Inquisition, the same lesson givers had forgotten the principles of the Gospel Love thy neighbor .....

The Bargainer/Hoffman/142 Her regret, because she had one, being unable to understand how people in love, madly in love, as they had been, can move away from one another stories of penis and pussy! Her drama, if drama there were, was that in spite of her desire to please certain men and to make them her lovers, she still wanted him. Ive got to find a Gerard Miller, but more handsome and less prude, less I know all and I am right. She couldnt stand lesson givers.

CHAPTER 6

In New York, Kate and Marco started their New Years preparations. They had hired a Maitre D, but Marco who hadnt forgotten his Italian origins and the small dishes that Mama made them and he took over the kitchen to prepare an Italian dinner. He had opened himself to the Minister of Commerce who with his wife was passing New Years eve with then. A Minister whose roots were dual, Italian and Austrian, not an unusual thing since before 1860, the Austrian Empire had the Italian city states under its yoke. An Austrian soldier and a Venetian beauty falling in love was unheard in those days but thats how the Frunghauf family started Marco had bought scallops, clams and lobsters to turn all these ingredients into a sumptuous dish Di Constenzo pasta as he had baptized it. He started preparing a sauce with basilica, garlic and Sicilian virgin olive oil of Sicily when the telephone rang. It was Browning. I am glad to find you at home. I am aware that this isnt the best time but I have a serious trail and I thought its going to help. A nicely tied up gift for you. The phone went dead. Browning stopped talking on purpose, awaiting his customers reaction.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/143 You did the right thing and you know it. Go straight to the point man! Said Marco breaking the silence. One of the banks on the round table for the two tender offers, continued the veteran secret agent is a Russian bank. To date it only holds 3% of the shares, but what should interest to you it is that for the last 10 years, it has been in all Aaron De Witts operations. The name given by Browning was familiar in Marco. De Witt was biggest predatory raider in town, or rather on international scene. If his name rang a bell, it concerned his business.

John, I have to give a telephone call, then Ill call you back, say, in 10 minutes on the number youre calling from, Yes Browning answered, but just in case, heres my cell number. For Gods sake dont give it to anyone under no circumstances and dont write it down! Use your memory Ok, like in the good old days, Ill be silent like a statue. Marco answered. A minute later he was on the line with his brother-in-law, Lou. Youre right de Witt was the guy who handled the repurchase of Illinois Tech. Why? No special reason, was Marcos response. As I didnt feel concerned I hadnt asked you before and it would seem, he lied that De Witt wants to acquire other companies like ours. We could have made the biddings climb higher. answered Lou reacted immediately. But it is too late, interrupted Marco, the next time well analyze the stock exchange transactions more closely to see whats going on. We cant turn back the clock or renege on whats been decided. Its a very good deal for the two of us two. Lou! He hung up and called John Browning at once. Well done John. De Witt is the guy who just offered himself my brother-in-laws company. And whos got sights on yours too Browning warned. You are right. I forgot

The Bargainer/Hoffman/144 Marco had forgotten that John knew it already. Its been a long time since weve worked together, continued Marco, And I have to admit that I was right to address myself to you. Continue, finds out all you can on what de Witt is up to. I have to know, very quickly, John. Ill give you 50000 dollars more in cash out of my pocket. I was going to ask you to add another 10000 anyway to pay-off the head of the Bank for his help and faithful services. Since youre in a mood to do more, could you hand over the money to my wife who is in New York these days? No problem Marco said. Give her my phone, and tell to call me. When? Now if she wants. Im sure youve got my address! In a half hour at the latest Browning answered laconically. In a half hour Ill call you, shell ring your doorbell. Youll have to describe her to me, and if you want to feel free to record the conversation. Because I know youll do it anyway. I would have liked more trust, said Dimagioirritated. Thatll come back again. promised John. Its been over 20 years since weve seen each other. Give time to time. One things for sure, I dont double cross. I know that one day you saved my life. A bit of romanticism remaining no doubt, but that put aside, businesses is the business. Ill buy that. answered Marco, Merry Christmas to both of you! said Browning hanging up. Tough guy though, thought Marco as soon as he had hung up again. A man I better have on my side. He went back in the kitchen to finish his preparations. Half an hour later the telephone rang again. It was Browning. Shes down in the street and going to ring your doorbell Marco had a sudden intuition: And so are you! Im not a specialist in telecoms nor in high-tech, but knowing you from

The Bargainer/Hoffman/145 Vietnam, Im sure that youre in New York. Ill see it on my phone bills next month. So, if Im right, come right up with her. And he hung up again. Five minutes later John Browning was in the door frame with a young Eurasian 25 years younger than him. Beautiful as hell, he thought. Howd ya guess? Intuition, images which suddenly came back to memory, you know, the guy you were and still are. Browning 6 foot 10, broad shoulders, a square face and crew cut gray hair. He had forgotten the hairstyle brushes his youth, but his blue eyes had kept their intensity. After introductions they moved to the living room and sat down in the sofas. Marco opened a bottle of champagne and Browning broke silence: I understand better now why ended up chairman, you always have good reflexes, congratulations! The two men talked about their past in Saigon... It seemed like yesterday but there was no statute of limitations. Kate came in beautiful as ever. Marco saw Browning a whistle. He did the introductions, explained the by John during the last 48 hours which brought out primarily concerned that her man didnt lose face, an Oh whose sincerity could not be questioned. What if you spent Christmas eve with us? Browning looked at Marco who nodded in agreement. The presence of Browning and his friend would hardly disturb the Minister, quite the contrary, as a member of government this might be an opportunity learn more from his than from his State Department staff. The dinner was like all Christmas dinners. The guests were happy to be together, conversations went around the latest Broadway play, the last concert in Carnegie Hall, the GWs policies, only for a short moment so as not to bother the minister. But it was almost a legal obligation for all the participants to talk a bit about politics. Talking about politics was a bit more difficult for a member the government, who knew that his arguments run up against Kate and Marcos indifference or even hostility. holding back part played of Kate, Oh, thanks

The Bargainer/Hoffman/146 Hed known Marco more than 20 years and had never succeeded in getting him to join the GOP, even after financing, at minima, part of his campaign. It could always be useful for a businessman to have an ear in Washington. John, at the Ministers request, did a short briefing on economic intelligence, the modern form of espionage for which researchers on both sides of the Atlantic had developed analytical models of which some go beyond intellectual promises. These services required highly specialized collaborators, mainly recruited in the ranks of military and government intelligence services. Tom Frunghauf seemed to discover a new world. Before his nomination, he ran one of the worlds major public contracting and seemed to ambition the Chairmans job. Politics was certainly interesting but not the best way to make a fortune. In a side comment, Marco suggested to John getting information about the member of his board of directors who turned coat on him. Frunghauf, asked John, if his timetable would giving him time to visit him to Washington, in the following weeks. John confirmed that he was free anytime and the two men exchanged phone numbers. Then all present celebrated the birth of Christ with champagne, really wondering if God had had anything to do with the Bible. At midnight Merry Christmas wishes were exchanged in a festival mood. The traditions were saved. The following days Marco set up, in New York, the defense system of his company. Internet Meetings followed one another Internet and the members of the Board noted not without displeasure that the news of the sale of the two subsidiary companies had borne its fruits. The shares had gained two dollars, making the tender more uncertain because more expensive. As he had expected and hoped for the notice of the sale of the two subsidiaries had immediately increase the share values making the tender offer more expensive for the raiders. At same time his Board (he had called all members of the Board with the exception of the one suspected of playing a double game) had decided on a repurchase of the shares. His banks had followed, and the sale of the Chicago company, from which he was

The Bargainer/Hoffman/147 only one of the directors, had been carried to his credit. Everyone in the know thought his net worth was over 300 million dollars. He didnt think it necessary to specify that this money would go, mainly, to his wife and children, from whom he had requested to remain silent under the threat that otherwise he wouldnt hesitate disinheriting all of them. The day after Christmas, all the planets wire services, newspapers, radio and television medias breaking news was the Tsunami, which had just devastated part of Asia. Tens of thousands deaths, many among them tourists, who had come to seek exoticism and excitement and the other side of the world. The first images of the wave hitting Phuket, filmed by an amateur camera showed, in their simplicity, the absolute horror. In less than five minutes, the ocean had left a field of ruins. The huge wave leaving behind its passage only death, desolation and ruins. The same images, filmed by television teams, were in hundreds of millions homes within minutes. The world directly lived the horror, the horror of seeing bodies of children and adults, floating on the ocean or the rivers. Seaside villages, built out of wood, swept away like matches and boats pushed 400 meters inland, embedded in dwellings. Images of an insurmountable cruel desolation. Each inhabitant of the planet having a TV saw this drama live, which made everybody forget in nearly general indifference the tens of thousands dying of starvation in Africa. Saharan Africa; which for its misfortune was not a tourist destination. A forgotten continent for the media, except when genocide or tribal wars throws it in full glare of the medias. For a time. But live went on, in spite of the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the chicken flu epidemics which regularly hit Vietnam, mankind carried on. Some with less than 500 dollars a year. A big majority of the populations were without drinking water, decent hygienic conditions, and their daily life was lived under ancestral misery in what is now the 21st century. Marco shared his views with Kate. Upset by the images on CNN, she seemed tetanized, overwhelmed. Im going back to Washington. We have to federate all the goodwill available, find funds, mobilize the Americans public

The Bargainer/Hoffman/148 and send in boats and helicopters to help them; we have the capacity to do it. The President will take some decisions on this, Congress will vote aid funds, but its our duty as the citizens of this country, to help the women, men, especially the children. Ill telephone the President of the Red Cross to offer my help. And you, my darling, Im going to ask you to sign a 25000 dollar check right now for the Red Cross. In the next half hour she had spoken with president of the Red Cross, proposed to an appeal to the American people so that volunteers and the first emergency aid be sent to the local Red Crosses. The president of the American Red Cross lived New York. They decided to meet at Marcos place and to convene a press conference to try to mobilize the public. In situations like this Kate was as proactive as a cobra. She called her assistant in Washington, gave some instructions and hung up. The first images of the dramas which had taken place in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia ran around her head. She had to do something, make herself useful, and go over there to help if she could be useful. Her office in Washington called her back half an hour later. The journalists of the Washington Post, CNN and ABC would be at Marcos address in an hour. She had voluntarily limited the number of media representatives of the press, sure of getting the same media coverage with them as with a room full of journalists. When Walter Schmitt, the president of the Red Cross arrived, she handed him two checks, a $50,000 check from Marco and one in her name representing a months salary as a member of Congress. Weve got to get all our citizens involved. It doesnt matter if you give a dollar or a million dollars, every dollar counts. As for me she added, Im leaving this evening for Thailand, because its the only flight available and if some want to come along, theyre welcome. Ive blocked 5 seats on the flight and informed one of my Thai Minister friends of my arrival. Thank you was the only answer from the head of the American Red Cross. Were mobilizing ourselves with all humanitarian organization in the world, she continued, Ive rerouted of two of our

The Bargainer/Hoffman/149 American vessels in the Pacific zone to Thailand with emergency relief in food, medicine and tents. Thank you, Madam. With these words he began his mini press conference with the three journalists. By calling his fellow-citizens to participate in an international aid program, Walter Schmitt announced the departure of the Congresswoman for Thailand, this very evening for Thailand with 4 members of the American Red Cross and 250.000 dollars, collected in the first hours following the announcement of the cataclysm. Without quoting Kate or Marco, at their request. Later maybe. The three journalists were not easily deceived. They were all aware that if Kate had received them with her lover at his place, with the president of the American red cross, it was meant to show the country her independence of any party line, her absolute will to belong to be in the political game at its highest level, but also because she was a Democrat, in the Jeffersonian meaning of the word feeling responsible for the others. She was capable of thanking the chief for the executive for his immediate reaction, by deploying the US Navy in the zone. Which she did gracefully. Even if she didnt share Dick Cheneys point of view, the presidents Gray eminence, the shadow president, as she called him, she was proud to think that her country had been the first to react so quickly. That also was what America was about, even when stuck in its contradictions. The journalists and the Red Cross president left, she turned to Marco, drew him to her and hugged him whispering I love you but I have to go! Marco looked at her and only said, I know it and what youre doing is to be put to your credit as a woman of State and to your honor. I love you too and Im with you all the way with all my heart, if I have one, he continued by embracing her tenderly. Their New Years dinner would be for another time. He thought of calling Jerome, to tell him to stay put in Europe, but he didnt want to spend New Years eve alone pass, so he dropped the idea.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/150 After as Chairman he had absolute power to do as he liked and for this December 31st he intended to abuse of things, convinced that Jerome would have done the same thing. After Kates press conference, the White Houses under secretary had called. Being cooperative, president of the United States had put a government Challenger loaded with material, food and medicine at the disposition of Kate and the Red Cross. Even if this woman was and remained his political opponent, she had given a positive vision of the first power of the world. Her status as an executive woman gave her an additional aura. His cabinet was persuaded that the other governments would wait before sending a member of government in the disaster zone. Out of fear of another tsunami or missing out on the New Years festivities. Who knows? But having a member of the American Congress, a woman at that, and an environmental activist, goes there the following day could surely generate a political benefit with the governments in the area. So putting a military aircraft and two crews at her disposal for a few days wasnt an issue for the American administration. Only the vice president had expressed some misgivings, but with the black clouds hanging over his head he gave in and followed the Cabinet. What was good for America was good for its President. And even his favorite guru had given his green light. And KR counted on being able to reverse the situation in favor of the White House. Nothing was innocent, nothing was for free, especially in politics. The Iraq war was increasingly unpopular in the American public opinion. To divert the publics attention for a few weeks with a humanitarian catastrophe relieve had considerable advantages. Two of the journalist present expressed the wish to accompany Kate and their wish was granted by the federal administration; The State Department took in hand all the administrative problems and the visas for the members of the group were delivered in the same day. When they got into movement, the services of the State could do miracles. The plane took off from Guardia around 9 p.m. It would arrive at Bangkok around 11 in the morning.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/151 Before returning to his apartment, Marco decided to have an Italian meal. To find the atmosphere of his country of origin, the tastes of his childhood would enable him to be revitalized. He had a lot of work to do in the next few days he was going to risk his mandate and the future of his company. Jerome had left Megve the 26th after the lunch. Happy to have spent a few days with his clan. In the car which brought him back to Geneva, he had called Christie. And all was very well. His seniority with Air France had enabled him to get a flight to New York on December 30th and to be able to remain with his new lover until the evening of the 1st of January. Jerome felt like a teenager who was going got to bed with a girl for the first time. He already smelt Christies perfume. Sheer joy! as one of his friends was wont to say. A fleeing joy but to enjoy without fully without restraint. He spent the morning of the following day in conference call all the personnel managers of Europe to finalize the meeting with the trade unions on the 28th. He had little room for maneuvering and was almost sure that the CGT would launch in France an occupation of plants. Concerning the other countries, he wasnt worried. The DGB had always been a partner, difficult certainly but open to dialogues. He was sure that their economic analysis team had gone over the question and that the discussions would cover the methods and the numbers. The idea of causing a clash in France by closing down the plant crossed his mind a moment. An idea he quickly dropped since the Chairman didnt want to aggravate the Stock Exchanges and closing the plant would create problems. The government was sure to intervene. But the risk of the plant being occupied worried him, he decided to give Marco a call... Marco was very distant. Ive got problems that I want to discuss with you on the 31st, but call this number, and talk about your problems with this guy. Hell be able to determine what precautionary measures can be set up if needed. So long, buddy. For Marco to be so brief, he must be having some serious problems thought Jerome. He called the number Marco had given

The Bargainer/Hoffman/152 him. A man called Browning answered and listened to him patiently. I could send you some security guys on site under pretense of a risk of attacks against American factories in Europe. He paused then continued, But the best bet is to let them overdo things. Like if they put their hands on the plant manager and lock him in his office, that would give us leeway to intervene. Youd ask the government to have the police to evacuate the plant which the government will refuse. But that would enable you to go on TV newscasts and inform the public that criminal persecution will be made and that the days on strike wont be paid. That should calm down the hotheads leading the strikers. He paused once more before adding, I advise you to let make them do whatever they want unless it is imperative to keep production going at the plant. Thats not the case answered Jerome. I hoped to isolate them in tomorrows meeting by giving in a little to the trade unions of the other countries. Good idea said Browning, in a serious and soft voice. If things get nasty we could take some measures. Meanwhile, try to persuade the other unions that the situation requires these efforts and dont forget that in these labor environments it is very often the women who hold the purse strings. I know this is dirty but bear in mind that if you dont pay days lost, youll have leverage. Yours is the only country where people not working are paid. Good idea, thanks. Ill keep in touch. Jerome hung up. Not paying the days on strike was a weapon which they had never used before, but it was a strong argument. Hed speak about it this evening with all the personnel managers during the dinner he had organized at his place so that their meeting be informal. He had taken them away from their families and he owned them at least that much. Before the meeting he wrote a memo, giving his instructions: In the event of violence or of an obstruction of the freedom of work, police complaints would be filed against the trouble makers. He then drafted a letter, to be sent out to all workers if needs be, giving the various steps - from nonpayment of the days on strike to closing down the plants the company could take. There was only thing he wasnt sure of:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/153 the attitude of the French trade unions, he had the feeling that hed have to isolate the French Communist partys trade union. French trade unions were has been. Low membership, latest figures he had indicated only a million and a half card holders, representing only 8% of labor in the country, against 50% in Belgium and 90% in Sweden. In France 70% of the union members were made up civil service government workers. Compared to Germany where there were more than 10 million union members in spite of a 15% drop in membership in the last 10 years. And German trade unions still had a lot of knout. But in France the governments, right or left, afraid of having no one to talk to, were happy to have non representative trade unions. All the French governments took part in financing the unions with public funds and let them play at the government negotiation tables. The big lawsuits which had put ill at ease some political parties who had resorted to giving fictional jobs, which everyone knew about, could have been carried out against the trade unions. He had recently had in his hands a confidential note showing that in the trade union budgets, member contributions only made up 25%, the remainder coming from the government, in other words the taxpayers money. And last but not least: the head of one union was still drawing a salary from the government administration he used to work for. He dreamed of having in France, like elsewhere in Europe, trade unions with a real labor base. Real interlocutors sincerely defending the employees of their companies instead of defending acquired privileges. In the present situation, his mind was made up. The company will privilege the other countries and forget about France. Too bad for his native country, but as time went on he felt more and more disinterested in France. France had become a political community without an agenda for tomorrow, running the country on a day-to-day basis, moving as the wind blows and making policy decisions based on strikes. He went to lunch with Mark, the European President, to brief him on the situation. Mark had definitively adopted European tastes, dressed and eating as a European. Jerome shared his thoughts with him. Youre funny people said Mark: Youre think you know better than others, giving moral lessons left and right, especially criticizing the rest of the whole world, as if to hide your own

The Bargainer/Hoffman/154 failings. A big country that cant accept the idea of being in second place like a small regional power. Your pride will be your downfall. You are so big headed that you finance the trade unions that are only useful for creating social disorder around you. You want to sell your products throughout the whole world, but without importing from outside to protect your employment. Above all, you and your leaders have a vertiginous fear of the vacuum. And, he added with a smile, Your electoral agenda paralyzes your governments, be they left or right wing. Youre the only country in the world where a truck driver only works 25 hours a week and earns more than a young researcher with a doctorate. Thats one hell of a result for a people who have 1789 and 1968 on their track record. You need a reality check. Only a minority of you accept that globalization is unavoidable. There must be times when being French is pretty tough. To avoid a political discussion, which wouldnt lead anywhere, Jerome quoted a sentence of his uncle, We could have been Swiss or Italian, but were French. Ive lived abroad so long, over 20 years, that I havent much of nationalistic feelings. Too bad for you, answered Mark, Its true that in 20 years your vision must have evolved. He made a pause, But let me make myself clear Jerome, if this French plant causes me problems, Ill close it down without hesitation. I dont want to risk of a contagion, a wildfire. Got it? Jerome! Were on the same wavelength and you know it! At the end of the lunch, the two men had come to an agreement. If the main French union walked out of the negotiations, theyd have to pay the consequences on their own with the factory workers. The two men had already envisaged the transfer of production to other subsidiaries. Jerome went back to his place relieved. The group had, with the internal plan, announced 4500 layoffs in the world, including 2200 out of the USA. 1200 in Europe would be sufficient and its objective was of 1000. Up to Asia and Latin America to bear the rest. The only real danger, as far as he was concerned, was the level of wages on these two continents, by far lower than those in Europe, Slovenia included. But they had room to maneuvering.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/155 The Maitre D had laid out the buffet on the glass top of a big wrought iron table: Goose liver, wild smoked salmon, salads and an enormous choice of Swiss and French cheeses. It was 6h30, his Kingdom, Belgium France, Germany, the negotiations appreciated each other. small team was going to arrive soon: The United the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Slovenia, and the European Marketing director needed for tomorrow. Seven 7 people who all knew each and other, although being very different from each

During the cocktails, Jerome moved over to the German. The man was the loud mouth of the group, a natural leader, who at 40 had more than enough managing and negotiating with the employees and their unions, and CEOs who didnt leave him much leeway for maneuvering. Jerome knew that he wanted to change: Heinz, if with the DGB, you and your other colleagues manage to floor the put CGT, Ill bring you over to Geneva, to set up the international relations department, whose job is mainly lobbying. Great! cried out Heinz, Especially since theyve already agreed. I was going to tell you it this evening anyway! Well done. Jerome handed out the memos he had prepared: It is brief, you have the figures, and the objectives of the restructuration which should allow us to end up with less than 8% layoffs, except in Italy. So guys, relax this evening because tomorrows going to be a hard day and if you have any questions or suggestions, lets discuss it together this evening. Meanwhile, enjoy your meal and thanks for coming. The evening was pleasant, in a relaxed atmosphere, as in all American companies the hierarchical relationship between executives was less rigid than in other European countries. The following day, which was to be a marathon day, began at 7h45. Jerome looked around the meeting room. Before starting a meeting, he liked to look at the people around the table, to try to get their impressions. What struck him was the way the union guys were dressed.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/156 The Luxemburgish-Germans and Belgians all wore jackets whose bland colors went from gray to brown and boring ties. Italians were much more trendy sporting the loud colors of their noisy and boisterous country. The English were into all possible hues of grey with outrageous colored ties. The French were into leather workmens jackets and jeans or corduroy trousers, none wearing ties. The Marketing director gave a rundown on sluggish sales, the frontal attacks of the Asian competitors with bar charts illustrating the trading losses of the company for the past year and even if we could hardly blame the plants for the drop in sales, the production costs in Europe, weighed heavily on the results and immediate measures had to be taken immediately to avoid more dramatic decisions. Always the same arguments said the CGT representative with a sneer. An owlish, watchful man whose big walrus mustache emphasized his penetrating way of looking at you. The voice was heavy, sure of himself, As soon as you have the least problem its the workers fault, whereas, we know it, you hand out obscene sums of money to the shareholders. Weve had enough of it. For once in your life, take your responsibilities as managers! Jerome took the floor and exposed the restructuration plan he wanted to set up: All the European plants are concerned except Italy whose plant will be closed down next year with only 8% layoffs with your help and cooperation. No way! Cried out the French. Since youve already made all the decisions without consulting us, I see no use of us being in this room. And he and his delegation rose and left, loudly slamming the door. Jerome got up and made a sign for his assistant to take over running the meeting. He caught up with the French CGT team in the hallway and went to the leader of the group: Can I have a talk with you? he asked the man, whom he referred to in private as his Jose Bove, with his drooping walrus moustaches and his leather jacket, the man could pass off for the famous French ecologist.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/157 Putting a hand on his shoulder, Jerome led him into an office where he made sign to the coworker in the office to clear out at once: Five minutes he said As soon as his coworker got out he turned to the union leader, We dont like each other, we both know that, but what I have to say to you is something youll never be able to prove, so here goes: Ive been waiting for this moment for a long time: Ive had a look at your records. Youve been on our payroll for over 30 years, right? But in the last 20 years you havent produced or manufactured a single thing. In other words youve been sitting on your ass for 20 years living off government money, the money the government gives under the table to your union, the taxpayers money. And I cant take it anymore. The man tried to answer, but Jerome raised his hand. So lets be clear on this, Im going to do everything I can, as far as Europe goes, so that the union leaders only have their members dues to live on, because just the thought that weve been paying you these last 20 years for not working drives me out of my mind. Youre nothing but a fascist bastard, the guy yelled, his face purple with rage. And of the worst kind. Youd squeeze blood out of your workers if you could make money on it. He turned on his heels and rejoined his guys. The remainder of the morning was spent working out the details. For Italy, the company proposed a severance premium equivalent to 3 years of wages and the reclassification of the thirty employees under 40 in Slovenia, but with their Italian wages and an expatriate status; The Italian delegation had been negotiating for over a year, knew they couldnt refuse since 68% of the workers were over 55. There would be 20 dismissals and the Italian personnel director had contacted local companies in an effort to find jobs for them. Their wages will be 10% lower, but the severance pay he was offering would allow them to balance their budget for the next 3 years. And the premium was clear of tax exempt Germany, the United Kingdom accepted the plan. In their plants there wouldnt be any layoffs, only early retirement of 420 people in the two countries.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/158 The only problem remaining was the Grand-Duchy of Luxemburg which had been losing industrial employment for years. Jerome felt that he had to make a gesture. In a first approach, they had considered not replacing 150 retirements and laying off 80 people over 50. And that was the problem. The Luxembourg trade union had argued that it was impossible, after 50 to reclassify someone in the Grand-Duchy. They had suggested first laying off the recently hired young people. Theyll stand a better chance of finding work in Germany. The union was ready with the companys help to set up a reclassification program for them. On their side the unions accepted that the 55 year-olds are put in early retirement and that these young people wished theyd have priority in replacing them. The agreements were then signed. Some labor unrest was to be expected, especially in Luxembourg, but theyd only be sporadic. This time France was going to pay the full price. And the trade union knew it. When Jerome met them, with their personnel manager and their marketing director, they a referendum on increasing the working week to 39 hours on a volunteer basis. On only one condition: that the company only layoff those over 57. 120 people Jerome thought to himself. He had done his figures, he could settle for 110 which would come off as a goodwill gesture, which would even exceed his goal of 1000 layoffs. 1010, exactly. If you can get away with that, you have our agreement, but it seems to me that you have an obligation of results and that youre going to have a hard time convincing your base and dont forget in the event of strike, the days will not be paid. Were used to the obligation of results, answered the head of the delegation, as for the nonpayment of days on strike, well, well just have to sell it to them. Jerome proposed to accompany back them to the airport, under the pretense that he also had a plane to catch. In the mini bus, they continued the discussion informally. He sensed that they were worried, and discouraged, obviously fearing the worst. He tried reassuring them.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/159 Weve passed from a factory shutdown to non replacement of departures. I know that it is difficult to manage, but our compatriots will have to accept the idea that their children will make a career in the same company. Those days are gone, except for the government civil servants. We saw it coming but nobody wanted to believe it. And that doesnt solve any of our problems! said one of the members of the union, adding, You do not know what its like to live on 2000 Euros a month! Dont you believe that! If its not the case today, you all know my salary today since its published, Ive lived on much less a long time ago, a very long time ago. I even went hungry sometimes. But even if I understand your problems, I have to do my job. And my only satisfaction today, which will seem awful to you, is knowing that we pay the highest wages in the industry, 10 percent higher, but that doesnt protect you from delocalizations, quite the contrary. he added with a sad smile. You have only got one card to play in this every man for himself world: you work better than anybody else! And then he added, Its up to the Governments to take their responsibilities. They got out of the mini bus at the airport. Weve done our best and avoided the worst. Not much more we can do, but keep me updated on how you get along. he said and shook their hands warmly. Once alone, he decided to go back to Paris. The advantage of having several apartments in different cities was you can go from one place to the other without having to run around with luggage. In Paris, he had all he needed even toothpaste and skivies. On the plane he ran into one of his school day buddies, an heir to a big industrial group. He liked him because in this family, keeping in the family what had been handed down to them by their grandparents was a duty. If they had sold their business, each of the 40 heirs would have become extremely rich, but they wanted to hand down to their children what they themselves had received. The Two men decided to lunch together in Geneva. Moreover the group was an important customer. After arriving at Charles De Gaulle, he called one of his old friends, a former Newspaper editor, who had sold his business to one of the big publishing houses eager to control the media. Come over this evening

The Bargainer/Hoffman/160 Philippe said, Im having some friends over for a Fondue Bourguignon. O. K., Ill bring some wine, Answered Jerome. The silence in his apartment after hanging up surprised him, making him ill at ease. It had been a hard day and he suddenly felt emptied. In his bath, he listened to Elvis Presleys lost grunge album from 1994. Were on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was Available Forever, he thought Chris Farlowe CD, he let himself be carried away by this music of the Sixties, the beauty and the richness of those times never wore out: the rhythm and blues made popular in the States by groups of young Englishmen. The irony of it all was that he was born in the south, but it was thanks to the Beatles, the Stones and Cream that America had discovered its black geniuses. His telephone rang. It was Christie, with her voice that would turn on a monk. They exchanged endearments like love birds for a quarter of an hour without having much else to say to each other, listening and dreaming of each other. Tomorrow evening the dream will become true. she said covering the mouthpiece with kisses before hanging up. He had the impression that he was being manipulated by her already or being her subject matter. But he liked the situation already. Maybe were both falling in love. Love, the word that kills and destroys everything. Philippes house in 14th borough of Paris was an old workshop which had been built in Gustave Eiffels time. Large steel beams, huge double glazed windows, 25 meters of frontage, gave the unit an impression of space and light. The living room itself was around 90 square meters with a Burgundy stone floor, and light gray walls on which hung paintings of known and lesser known modern painters created an atmosphere of warmth and taste. Not only had owner of the house taste but he was constantly searching out for new talent, being attracted by the ardor of young painters able to give live to their works.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/161 Lots of far eastern porcelain objects abounded. This brought to his mind the souvenir of old porcelain cups, brought back from the Far East by his grandfather, a navy captain. He cherished these old objects with all his heart or at the very least the images they gave him. He remembered his anger and the tears quickly dried when he lost some of these objects after his home had been burglarized. With the passing of time his reaction seemed childish to him. But for him at the time, these tiny objects delicately decorated by Chinese artists, belonged to part of his family history and the dream of far flung lands of his childhood. He learned later that his great grandfather, while a courageous sea captain of navy sailing ships during Frances colonial wars, he was also a real bastard, hated by his men because of his brutality and his authoritarianism. During his distant expeditions he did some smuggling as his last letter to his wife, announcing his return in April 1882, with lots of gold suggested. His ship arrived in Marseilles without him, he had died 3 days earlier off the island off Sicily and to his familys dismay there was no sign of the gold, if it had ever existed at all. All that was left of his treasures was a painting of him in his navy uniform, signed by an unknown 19th sea painter from Marseilles. The great grandfather had disappeared, with his secrets. Sometimes his grandmother wondered about her fathers philandering when sailing around the world, but she always ended up pretending that he had been a faithful husband to her mother. She had idealized her father whom she had only seen 18 months in all her life. In those days maritime voyages were extremely long and between each expedition he only stayed a month at home. When he passed away, Granny was 16. That evening, in a weird and strange atmosphere, the assembly of 8 people was made up of the president of one of the largest French companies, of a film producer, an advertising executive, a managing director, a business lawyer and a professor medicine. Except for the president and Jerome, all of them were part of the caviar left, who had voted Jospin in the first run and two years later bitterly regretted having voted for Chirac in the second run. Frederic, the president, pointed out that the risk of the extreme right candidate, Le Pen, winning the presidential elections was almost nonexistent and that this republican pseudo

The Bargainer/Hoffman/162 reflex had been used only to scramble the political mess. But none of them wanted to hear of it, their favorite scapegoat, this evening, was President Chirac, who they wanted to see in court. It aggravated Jerome who blew his top: I might be mistaken but Ive got the impression, he said, that after De Gaulle and Pompidou, those governing us are far from being men of honor or models of integrity. So lets take control and asking our elected officials to vote laws which will collectively protect us from abuses from elected officials But he was howled down. They wouldnt give in. The left wasnt into graft, the left was less mercantile, less venal. Out of his mind, Jerome asked these lesson givers, if any of them had ever broken the law just once? Thats got nothing to do with it! cries out the film producer, What we requests from our politicians, it is to be exemplary! This hasnt got anything to do with smoking a joint or running a traffic light. So politicians have to be perfect but its ok for you and I to break the laws. I mean driving under alcohol, having a joint or a line, is something illegal but not serious? Funny way of looking at the law and the equality of citizens before of the law. Or is there a law for the lower classes and one for the upper classes? Some of us have leniency while others are thrown in the can. Funny interpretation of democracy, especially for men of the left! Things got worse when the ninth guest arrived. They had changed the subject and the conversation was about the next vacations, in Maldives or in Mauritius, before the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq came on the table. It was the lawyer who launched the debate, for him Sharon was the right man for the job. The attacks on civilians could only be answered with force, namely targeted assassinations, even if there were collateral damage. Analysis which Jerome was inclined to share but which had the major disadvantage of not solving anything. For some time, he had even accepted the idea of Israeli the Prime Ministers wall, thinking that the mere merit of its construction, in spite of the events in Lebanon, a few years earlier, would determine the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/163 borders of both states. Arafat, himself, had a double or triple language, throwing oil on the fire with an Intifada which he maybe couldnt control nor wanted to control. When one of the guests went on about the Arab problem, Jerome decided to butt in. Turning to the ninth man who was a consul of the Hebrew State, he put a question, just one question to him: What would be said of Abraham if he was born today? That hes an Iraqi answered the consul, who had immediately understood what Jerome was getting at. So for the average Frenchman or even European: an Arab. Because from Morocco to the Sultanate of Oman, as far as our fellowcitizens and most Westerners are concerned, all these countries are Arab countries. And, he added, it seems to me that each one of us forgets a major element: if God doesnt exist, then Promised Land doesnt exist either But God exists! was the diplomats answer. Its up to each of us to prove it to himself or believe it! said Francois, the president of the multinational, but the more science advances the more the existence of God moves away. And if he never existed, he never asked the Hebrews to leave Ur for the Promised Land, added Jerome. Ones by North, the others by the South. The migration of Hebrews was only done out of Egypt said the Consul, Its written in the Torah. Yes, answered Francois, but if the Torah, which is the common starting point of the three religions, were written only 800 or 600 years before Christ, 1200 years after Abraham had his revelations, that also put everything in question. All the rest is only a mixture of history, which puts in perspective the history of several people, living in the same area, at the same period. Invented stories, and actual facts orally transmitted. And we all know the distortions which exist in this mode of transmission. The Israelian was a handsome tanned man, the blue eyes, the sharp glance, the brown hair graying here and there, a false playboy, because his bearing contradicted his looks. He looked

The Bargainer/Hoffman/164 like a jet setter, spending his time tanning under the tropical sun, but he could also pass for a Kabyle. After the departure of his family from Morocco, where his ancestors had settled centuries ago, fleeing El Andalusia after the Spanish re-conquest of southern Spain, his family had settled in Fez, and regretfully left city in 1956, but most of the family returned almost every year. When he was 18 David had wanted to take part in the 6 day war, not understanding the Generals haughty attitude towards Israel. Back in France, he finished studies Sup cum laud, first of his promotion. After a few short years teaching, followed by a short passage in the cabinet of a Minister of Culture, he had decided to settle definitively in Israel. The man was cultivated, spiritual, bright, music lover, open-minded, a free spirit with an absolute passion for the land of his ancestors. The Torah is history answered the Israelian. Jerome to intervene: Thats where well never agree, the Old Testament is part of history but its not THE history. The history of Mesopotamia is tied to the history of Babylon. The histories of Hammurabi and Egypt as Francois says, written a thousand years afterwards after the events. Texts which readily mix, authentic events, religious beliefs, climate phenomena and legends. And that applies to Christians, as much as to the Hebrews, Our texts are common, some await the arrival of the Messiah, others await his return. Those that dont believe in a unique Creator, regulating the Universe, have hard time buying all this. An truthful approach would be to dare to say that since ancient times Jews and Moslems, have the same roots, that you are more than Germaine cousins separated by different religions and that the worlds peace lies in your hands your four hands. But Im afraid that neither the Hebrew State, nor the Moslem States are ready to accept this vision of your history. I think, said Francois, that the whole world must be mobilized so that your two people can live side by side, and that we all get rid once and for all of all the priests, rabbis or imams and others intervening in secular and the political life. Two major reasons justify the existence of your State: an international decision, and above all the Hebrews have been living in this land since 2500 or 2800 years ago and that should be sufficient

The Bargainer/Hoffman/165 in itself, even if youre not the first occupants, the Cananaens disappeared a long time ago and no one expects them back. The Israelis and Palestinians will eventually come to an agreement, without a roadmap or any intervention from a super intervening usually for election reasons back home. I dream of seeing Patrick Bruel shake hands once again with Khaled! A womans voice interrupted: She had come in without anyone noticing her presence. She came to get her husband, the lawyer. I know that we woman rarely get the chance to speak, but like mens prattle, your discussion is as passionate as bar conversations, let me tell you about one of my recent trips: my first visit in Jerusalem. A city that most of us for one reason or another has wanted to see with or because of its places of worship which remain the symbols of the 3 religions. The Wall of Lamentations which belongs to the history of the Hebrews, dominating the Wall is the huge Mosque anchored in Islamic life and finally the cavern where Christians believe Christ was born. A poignant, touching visit, but what impressed me the most was this old city, with its lanes full of shops where Israelis families come to chatter, seek, and buy things from all these Palestinian tradesmen. In these exchanges hatred seems absent but which represents day-to-day life over there. In those streets everyone seems very far from the wild gun ho declarations from political leaders of any side, from the near east or the entire world. These are these images that I want to keep in my memory and they give us a glimpse of the future if Hamas doesnt win the next elections, which seems unlikely to me, it is the peace of the whole world that will be in danger. But most important is our attitude, we who consider ourselves civilized, organized, in short, intelligent, more intelligent than our neighbors and all those who surround us, we are, all, war mongers. In Palestine, in the Middle East, in Africa, Asia, Latin and Central America, we colonize, exploit people, without even giving them education, in other words the means of freeing themselves from this 21st century world of slave traders. We leave it to the Koranic schools, for luckiest, to teach them how to read, write, and count. It is better than elsewhere, where they have only the street, and work as of the age of 7. We are our own grave-diggers and ask heaven to listen to our

The Bargainer/Hoffman/166 prayers that Hamas doesnt with the elections in Palestine, the American big brothers might cut off any economic aid leaving them land-locked in absolute chaos. All the men present, looked at her, astonished, surprised. This small woman, extremely beautiful had spoken from the heart, but with a political insight that knocked them over. Come on guys, offer to me a glass, she added looking at all the men sitting around the table, and tonight or tomorrow, think about the comments of a woman who loves her children, her husband et life. She smiled. The atmosphere was heavy, the smoke of the cigarettes, the odor of joints, or more simply, heavy silences which seemed to punctuate the thoughts of one another. In this decoration of another century, with the enameled walls, the softened indirect lighting, which made the place seem like a cathedral, the debate remained passionate but dubious. The interrogations of some were followed up by the certainty of others, of which each knew, none represented true reality. Each one was prisoner of a past, a culture. Cultures which were difficult to blend, or even meet and understand each other. It was the lawyer who spoke: We are the last defenders of the white race, Israel is the last rampart, over there, our Jewish parents are the last crusaders of the Occident! No! , exclaimed, Francois, if the Hebrews are white then so are Iraqis and all other Arabs. Israel is not and will be never in the Occident and thats where lies all the difference. But Israel is the only democracy of the area and in that it defends of our Western values. Since 9/11 a large majority of intellectuals supported the action of the United States because they thought that it was necessary to put an end with radical Islamism, but a war, even a just war doesnt eradicate poverty. The West feels guilty and its not Bruckners white mans tears thats going to change anything but if we dont share our riches tomorrow, if we dont help people of the southern hemisphere set up education systems, were all in trouble. And the only heritage which we will leave to our children will be the hatred of each other. The only

The Bargainer/Hoffman/167 nation which seems to have understood is China and we would do well to study its 2000 year old civilization. As Julien wrote,for the Chinese reality is perpetually changing. Stuck in our certainty, it might do us good to think about it. Franois couldnt stop talking, Ever since the inquisition, religious States have made the world rotten. Catholics, Moslems or Jews, and radicals of any kind, theyre all the same, they only wanted to share their beliefs. Forcing is a better word. Im only sure of one thing: the absolute truth doesnt exist. This concept is perhaps the greatest lie of humanity. Its thanks to this supposedly absolute truth that we never stop tearing each other apart, humiliating and destroying each other. Im not a genius but I agree with those who think that ever since Galileo, the truth is forever changing, moving forward. What seemed true before turns out a lie afterwards. So lets be humble. Its the only attitude which should guide our thinking and our acts. The clergy of all religions created a world of intolerance, in the name of God, their Gods. In my heart I only dream of someday finding what existed in the kingdom of Cordoue, where three civilizations lived and worked together in harmony. An exceptional moment in our common history where culture, music, philosophy, literature, and the sciences were the fruit of men living together, creating together, hand in the hand. But that didnt last said the consul. Thanks to Isabelle the Catholic and her husband Ferdinand! Francois answered, thanks to the Holy Inquisition which sowed terror all over Europe. But I see reason to hope, to believe that all the inhabitants of this planet have a common destiny. And I hope with all my heart, to see in the end, two Countries whose existence will be guaranteed by the UN, which is already the case for Israel, living side by side in the name of the common good of their populations. And Id like to see Jerusalem become an international city, if only because the three religions have their roots there. But that must be done against the clergy of all religions, petrified in their revealed certainty.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/168 Jerusalem will never be anything but the capital of Israel. Nothing else. said the Consul. You are right, today said Jerome, But in fifty, or a hundred years, which is nothing in human history, it will all change. Seven million Israelis cant live in a perpetual fight with 800 million Moslems. Beyond your confrontations, world peace is being played in the Middle-East. And that neither you, nor I can forget it. Anyway, arent we all supposed to be Africans, so who gives a fuck about skin colors! The conversation went on forever, each one listening to the other. The large candles, planted on wrought iron candelabra burned slowly, diffusing an unreal glow. Only the noise of knives and forks and the gestures of the Asian servant gave an air of calm to this conversation. In this small assembly of 9 people it was difficult to find points of agreement on a subject which didnt relate to them directly, except for the lawyer whose parents were retired in the Israels Saint Tropez, not far from Tel Aviv, and whose life was punctuated by mad kamikaze attacks. Tolerance, is a word that should be added to freedom, equality and fraternity added Francois, bitterly. Jerome astonished by his apparent discouragement, only managed to let out ambiguously: Ive had enough! Here is whats bugging me: My company is doing well, Im making good money, lots of it, but I dont have the will anymore as in my earlier years, to fight and show the rest of the world what Im capable of doing. My life today is living with problems: laying off people, strikes, those of my workers and those of others. Social security taxes, Urssaf, scu, VAT, customers who want to pay in 120 days. The interpretation of new legislation for which lawyers rip me off, time wasted on having others handle the red tape, while being legally responsible for how they handle it. And you should know, I have to check it all since a president is the only person responsible because he is in charge. And to top it all, like all of us, Im living in a country scared of taking initiatives, a country which day after day

The Bargainer/Hoffman/169 closes up on itself refusing to look at the world in motion, going forward full of hopes for better days. All I want to do is sell my shares and to go off on my sailing boat elsewhere, without even knowing where! Come on guys, champagne for everyone, shouted Philippe, trying to warm up the atmosphere which became noxious as the old clock rang the hour, only trace of the pass in this modern decoration. Just an evening of exchanges where everyone hadnt moved an inch from their stand stuck in their opinions. Lets raise our glasses to ourselves, egoistical bastards, because, we, the nine of this evening, cant and wont be able to do anything to change things in this insane world we live in. Philippe in a sentence had summarized what everyone thought. To end the evening he invited those that wanted to see a video of one of the most talented comedians of the day, Gad Elmaleh. Jerome liked the guy; he watched the two first sketches, then his watch and swore that hed buy the DVD. Then he bowed out. Franois did likewise. As he had come by taxi, Jerome proposed to drop him off. On the way, they only exchanged a few words. All, almost, had been said. Simple good bye, swapping business cards, and a decision to have lunch together one of these days, because the two men wanted to confront their ideas. Each one needed the other to better understand their world, talk together, exchange ideas, in order to avoid thinking alone in a corner. While shaking hands they saw in each others eyes sadness and disillusion. Under other circumstances Jerome would have proposed to go for a last drink in one of the trendy bars of the city, a last journey abroad, in the Keur Samba or the Malibu, with its walls covered with masks, downing a rum ginger. To look at women who found the desire for singing and for dancing again, these two arts which belonged to the African culture. But this night one like the other wanted only the silence of loneliness. The full moon was out of sight behind clouds of pollution. All his left liberal with a bit of caviar on the side friends were converting themselves to neo-conservatism, in vogue in the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/170 American administration. In this country where former democrats had become falcons of GW. A phrase of Elsa Zilberstein heard on the radio this morning came to his mind: to live free without standard or to have a standard to be free. Zilbersteins voice ran around his head, a character out of the mould, a celebrity who took permanent risks in her work as an actrice by working with unknown directors because she was weird on the scenario. You could only find this kind of charismatic character in the French film industry. He tried to find the exact words used by the actrice but couldnt recall them. Which made him mad as hell. She hadnt used the word standard but rather guide. All his life it tried to remember sentences, words, heard here or there. For the pleasure of repeating them, because something well said had touched his soul. And carried by the swirl of his busy day, he forgot most of it, only remembering part of what he wanted to remember. It was his way of living, keeping fugitive images, of a man, of a woman, especially women. He didnt see their reality, only these fuzzy images chosen by him. It made them even more beautiful, as long as the reality of other moments didnt come and destroy his dream. Dreams, hundreds of dreams which were his real moments of happiness when he escaped from reality, locking himself up in his thoughts. Like each time he was in Paris during the Christmas holidays he decided to have a walk up the Champs Elyses, from the Concorde square up to the arch of Triumph, pride of passed wars, symbol of the quarrelsome character of France. He liked the Christmas trees decked with lights, balls, and garlands, streamers. The most beautiful avenue of the world, shone, alluring Parisian and tourists, even the stores with their decorated windows seemed to take part in the festival. In spite of the cold and the late hour, there were still many people on the sidewalks, especially on the right-hand side. In arriving at the arch he decided to turn around and walk back to the Concorde square, just for the pleasure. Then from the bridge crossing the Seine river he could admire the Eiffel Tower, which had been decorated for Christmas. Later on hed fly off to the sulfurous capital of the world : New York.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/171 Back in his place, he turned on his computer, the place was calm, a bit sinister even. He had a message from Eric. His cousin hadnt lost a minute: his memo on Arige was simple, specific and black. In spite of its ski stations, it was a department gone to the dogs, becoming a desert especially losing its youthful population. A mountainous department forgotten by the political community. The economic description made by his cousin hardly gave him any desire for thinking about the Ministers proposal of the Minister. Why wait for a change. When he was teenager, he spent 15 days with his grand father, and already in those days there wasnt much to do in the summer. Treking and the like, that was it. But once youd climbed the Nouvielle twice and had found the small local restaurant, the only thing left to do is to go hunting for mushrooms, or go fishing in the Salat river. And then the 2 or 3 bars in Saint Girons where all the young people of his age gathered. Sometimes, before having an aperitif, theyd have a of game of Petanque, under the eyes of the local girls. And God knows that they were beautiful. But in his dark painting of the place, Eric had put his finger on a point which could be important: An small group had created an agency to attract new Internet geeks, the new dreamers of a return to living in the countryside and who had understood that the province offered a quality of life that Paris didnt have any more. After all for lovers of art, spectacles and other theatres, Toulouse was only with 90 kilometers away. A track to be developed if he decided to launch himself in this battle, lost in advance. Strange, he thought its the first time in 30 years, that I consider the possibility of failure.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/172 In these moments of doubt, he had a ritual: having something to eat in the middle of night. In his kitchen, he cooked two frozen bread rolls in the microwave, cut himself some slices of Parma ham, and grabbed a bottle of Saint Joseph wine and took it all on the table in front of the TV of the living room, sat on the sofa and went from one channel to another watching news of the planet unravel on the screen. Without understanding, much, looking only at the images, images which day in and day out frightened him. Just at a glance all the worlds miseries passed before his eyes. In these depressive moments, he put mini views of a dozen channels on the screen (his youngest daughter had explained to him how to do it) covering the whole of the world and the reality of a planet running to its destruction imprinted itself on his brain. He spent ten minutes deciphering these 10 images then found a political talk show on the TV where two well known experts explained the present state of France, its political community and social conflicts.The French and Europeans only thought nowadays through the prism of the opinions of experts like these two, who themselves were the heralds of a political current. Each one right and the duty of shooting down the adverse policy maker. Always the same ones, so true that for 25 years, except for Oliver Besancenot, the charismatic leader of radical left, the political community used over and over again the same faces for the posters of their divine comedy. A spectacle which was played fully booked every 5 years. Without kidding, a deputy leader of the extreme right had affirmed that the new generation was ready to assume realities of the government. Without kidding because the vast majority was very close to around fifty, even more. Thus France went more and more badly. And this made him want shake up the game he saw before his eyes on TV.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/173

**************************************************************** ****** After their escapade in the Alps, Mary and Eric had decided to go to the last magic place on the French Riviera: Monaco. The two lovers had a leaning for this tiny country which was consistenly in the headlines of people magazines people in a regular way. Mary had wanted to practice in Monaco but the high cost of real estate in the principality had thrown her off regretfully, because she liked the security of living there. All the big jewelers and fashion houses were present in the city, which for a woman who was a convulsive shopper was a good enough reason to live there. They had decided to get around the problem by going to Monaco twice a year in January and September. The valet service of the Hotel of Paris greeted them with a broad smile. Madam had always been a good tipper, her husband likewise. Little gestures which help avoid the inevitable annoyances in a place where the police were quick to give out parking tickets. The valet took the luggage out of the cars trunk saying to Eric who just handed him a 20 Euros:Same as usual, sir? A 100 Euros was foreseen for the concierge. The soft voiced Italian greeted them asking if they had had a good trip and assured them that he would be at their disposal during their short stay. You have the 407 as usual. During the 20 years that Eric went to this de luxurious hotel, he always either had the 407 or the 507, with its magic view on the port, the princes palace or below the hotels terrace, whose access was worth a fortune during the Grand Prix of Monaco race. He had never supported the attacks of French newspapers against Rainier, accusing the Principalitys banks of sheltering dirty money but forgetting that the Banque de France was the overseer all the financial transactions taking place in Monaco. He and Mary especially appreciated the security in the streets of Monaco: no violence or purse snatching. The cameras were all

The Bargainer/Hoffman/174 over the place as a pledge of peace of mind and body for all. Eric asked the concierge to book a table for him at the Automobile Club at noon. The Clubs calm and luxurious atmosphere available at reasonable cost was why he went there as often as he could. In the evening, they would dine in Hotels Grill Room, at a table close to huge windows, overseeing the ballet of cars dropping off the casino aficionados seeking the thrill of gambling and losing. They also preferred the Grills sober decoration to the Louis 15th restaurant and its fastidious waiters and bombastic atmosphere. Above all he was convinced that a man who has 6 stars in Michelins restaurant guide book has 3 too much. If the Louis 15th was to have 3 stars, they should be given to the man who ran the kitchen all year long. Anyway that was his way of looking at things. His experience with restaurants accredited with stars had led them to prefer the word of mouth recommendations from friends who love good food or from journalists, and he knew, and Eric always knew one or two every place he went. They had thrown away all the gastronomical guides they had a long time ago. For a while he had thought of editing a restaurant guide like those in the States: the comments coming from the customers themselves. All hed have to do is to edit the customers comments. No big investment was needed since there was no need of hiring people to visit the restaurants and write their appraisals. Which brought to mind the articles he had to write for a big circulation weekly. One of his friends, an assistant editor of the national weekly had asked him to write articles on restaurants. He based his articles on chance meetings between a man and a woman in bars, planes, trains; brief encounters of seduction between consenting adults where the man proposed discovering a chosen trendy restaurant in the area not found in guide books. In two articles a month, he had allowed the readers, at least hoped so, to discover unknown places where the customer was not taken for a ride when he got the bill. But for more than a month his MS Word page remained white as snow. He had chosen a restaurant off the Riviera, but didnt

The Bargainer/Hoffman/175 find the plot: the chance meeting which set off the game of seduction. He did not have any commitments nowadays and since more than a month he felt unable to act or react. He blew his top every time he thought about being in retirement, had the impression of slipping into the unknown, into nothingness. He wanted, had dreamed, wished writing these small papers and suddenly it didnt interest him anymore. He felt Marys hand in his hair. Caressing his hair tenderly, female intuition? Sitting in an armchair, in front of the open window, the port of Monaco at his feet, the Rock and its Castle in front of him. And, like always, the superb yachts moored in view all their of the locals and the tourists. The name of the game was to see and be seen. Problems? . Problems, is a big word. I dont understand whats come over me, Im incapable of doing anything. I am unable to write and its driving me insane! Nothing really serious I know, just irritating. I spend my time in contemplation. Im happy enjoying the weather, the sun, and the colors of this post card city. I get all that more than before, its what my days are made up of now. I love our tenderness, our sexuality and despite of it all, I do not know where I stand any more. In a very egoistic way, I dont want anything else, not even a search of spirituality. However Im going in circles the moment my cousin gives me a job to do when I have these damn articles to finish. Damned articles because I write to give my readers a chance to escape their dayto-day life. Mary went around the armchair and sat down on his knees. I love you also for your fragility, these moments of sensitivity where youre like a kid lost in a world of adults. Her blue eyes were smiling. Her voice was soft, singing. The cry of a gull broke the silence that followed. They kissed for a long moment, then decided to go for a walk along the port, while going first in the small street at an

The Bargainer/Hoffman/176 angle with the hotel where Mary had found some jewelry, especially a Cartier necklace. Life for them the life was simple, marvelously egoistic. This 6th January 2005, the headlines of all papers in the whole world announced more than 3000 dead and disappeared, after the tsunami. The dinner at the Automobile Club had been superb, as always said Mary to the Director. They had finished with an Italian espresso, of a remarkable quality, which was rare on the coast. Even if familiar with the place, they decided to visit the ocean museum once more. In reading the life of little Monacos prince, Eric had been fascinated by the visionary side of Prince Albert 1st, an intellectual with a rare political vision. He had been one of the founders of the SDN, the structure running Monacos casino. He was also an explorer, one of the few to have undertaken the adventure of going to the north pole in the beginning of the 20th century and an ecologist before the notion existed politically. A visionary Prince at the head of a micro State. Mary who adored deep sea diving was always fascinated by the giant aquarium where Mediterranean fish mingled with fish from tropical seas for the awe and pleasure of the visitors finding themselves in a new universe, which man was destroying. Back in the hotel, Eric told Mary that he was going to write a paper on the Automobile Club restaurant in spite of the fact that the restaurant was open only to members, it would allow his readers to dream a little. He called the deputy editor of the magazine to propose an promotional operation to him: the reader who would make the best comment, best criticism, even negative if used in his articles would be invited to the Automobile Car. A trip to Monaco with a stay at the Hotel of Paris and a photographer would be the only costs involved. Lets say an investment of 1500 Euros, including renting a limo. The idea found a positive feedback because the competition between weeklies was tremendous and sometimes it was necessary to invest a little to attract readers.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/177 O. K. said Pierre de Maisoneuve, but I want a paper this evening. A paper for our cover that will launch the contest next week. Two hours later the text was sent by email and to celebrate the event Eric offered Mary some champagne at the bar of the hotel, where a horde of waiters catered to the needs of the customers, most of the time residents of Monaco who had their tables and their habits. By looking at the head waiters movements you could guess in a glance who the big shots were. The clientele was made up of very dignified old ladies, sipping their tea and nibbling small cakes, very beautiful young women and handsome men of all the ages most of them wearing silk scarves whose colors attracted the eye. Eric, laughting, told Mary that even if these amazones were to wear jeans it would be only trendy haute couture ones. Monaco smelled money but the true outward sign of wealth was the car you let the car attendant park in front of the casino which the tourists photographed from every possible angle. Thats what their dreams were made of. Sometimes in every day life of events became out of control and what should have been a romantic evening in at princely setting became a nightmare. Two phone calls replunged Eric in his fears. The first call was from his cousin Jerome, who wanted him to be in Cannes, the next morning, to run the meeting of building site with the architect. Before his departure from Megeve, he had left him a copy of the blueprints of the hotel which he had received from the architect by email. Afterward he wanted him to go to Arige. He had just sent him a list with the names of old vacation buddies. He wanted Eric to contact them. Before hanging up he specified that he had just transfer 10.000 Euros on his account to cover the expenses. All was to be done within two weeks. You didnt say no to Jerome who changed subject asking him off handed how the weather was in Monaco, swearing against the weather in New York where winter had decided to freeze the city for another couple of weeks. Eric, who had never worked for multinationals was surprised by the hard tone of his cousin and friend and spoke about it to Mary, who tried to reassure him:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/178 In these multi national corporation pressure is a management style, since you accepted his proposal, you become an employee like the others. And back in Megeve, it seemed that he was already under pressure in spite of his apparent good-naturedness. It mustnt be very easy organizing every day layoffs even if much money is made in doing so. Especially, making money this way. she added with a disillusioned smile. All of the sudden the Grill had became less cozy. Like the majority of those who lived in the artistic world, Eric knew he was fragile. He was used to tantrums throwing producers, screaming technicians and hysterical assistants... Under pressure every one blew their top and cursed the others to hell, but that lasted only one day a week, during the recording of the shows. Only a days work, said Mary, do you realize how lucky you were compared the millions of underpaid workers having to put up with the pressure of sergeants with overblown egos because of the little power given to them? You artist are spoiled children, my darling, living out of the real-world. You can thank God for never having to work for such people. You would have ended up in an asylum. Which, she added with a smile, would have been too bad for us? The real nightmare was the second call. It was from his ex-wife: their son had just had a motorbike accident and was hospitalized in Marseilles, in a serious condition. As soon as someone spoke to Eric about his son it made him made feel guilty. He and his wife had divorced, by mutual consent which he referred to as mutual disinterest, when the boy was only five years old and, since then they hardly saw or knew each other. Frederic had always had a grudge against his father for divorcing his mother and every year, spent his summer vacation with him against his will, he only knew his father through his radio talk shows, which he disliked. And even if it were the spit image of his father, there werent any vibes between the two men who never got along. And neither one, nor the other had tried to change things. Each one thought that it was up to the other to make the first step.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/179 Frederic was 29 years old and was assistant law tutor at the University of Aix in Provences law school, doing his final year to become a lawyer. Last summer, they had run into each other at the 55 club in Saint-Tropez, each one having made half of the way to have a quick lunch together. Eric, who felt guilty to have lived as if he didnt have a child, had asked him for forgive him. But it was a little too late, you leave a kid to end up with a grown man and the dialogue proves to be impossible. This night, he felt like a lost child, unable to react, or make a decision. It was Mary who pulled him out of the water. In spite of the late hour, she called one of her friends, professor in the hospital in Marseilles. They had known each other in medical school when medicine and dental studies were combined the first years. He promised to call her back recall in half hour. As they had finished their dinner, she took him to the bar which was at the entry of the restaurant and ordered two 20 year old Armagnac. His preferred Armagnac she thought that will help him get over his guilty feelings and his search for recognition. The professor called back an hour later: The helmet had protected the head but both of his legs were broken as well as an arm. Two months of hospital and 6 month of rehabilitation were needed. Hell be able to study for his diploma, thought Eric. Later it was her who made love to him, tenderly.

The following day was difficult for Eric. In spite of the blue sky of Cannes and the citys animation, he had a hard time following the meeting of building site. His cousin had left him with a huge amount of work. He wanted to transform a hotel of 42 rooms into a residence of 19 juniors suites and one presidential suite. It was necessary tear all the interial walls down leaving only the floors; He looked at the blueprints and with Mary they concluded that the architect had done a good job in doing what his cousin wanted. Once finished, the place would be one of the jewels of the city catering only to the most wealthy clients. The

The Bargainer/Hoffman/180 restauration wouldnt exceed the budget: a million three hundred thousand Euros. Eric searched the blueprints for the restaurant but couldnt find it. The architect explained that his cousin didnt want one. Marketing error. said Eric, even if these rich persons were used to the trendy eating places of Cannes, at times they look forward to stay at home or having a meal where they are staying. Try to find a place to put the restaurant, Ill call Jerome and tell him. Just a restaurant with 20 tables and a corner bar will do. As they were talking he realized he was really getting involved in the project, that he was into it and it occupied his mind. On his hand he felt the pressure of Marys hand. She was always there when he needed it and of this small furtive gesture encouraged him. The image of his son crossed his mind and he put an end to the meeting. He had to run to Marseilles, to show with his son that he was there and that he loved him. Back in the apartment, he sent a mail to Jerome, trying to give him commercial arguments justifying his idea, planning even to sign a contract with a hotel school to decrease the operating costs. A word on his sons accident and his own agenda for the next few days hed be in the Arige as soon as he would be reassured on the health of Frederic.

In New York, Jerome discovered the mysteries of Wall Street. The appointments succeeded with pension funds, with banks, financial analysts one after the other. With men as well as women, all under 30 and managing hundreds of millions of dollars, earning more than 300.000 dollars a year. The person who surprised him the most was the VP of one of the biggest banks in New York. He was just 27 and in complete

The Bargainer/Hoffman/181 control of his work. Small, sharp blue eyes and blond haired with a lock on his forehead, he was softly spoken but what he had to say didnt leave any doubts about his future: he was going to end up one of the major operators in the financial community and he had no doubt about it. Taking Jerome aside, Toms concise and crystal clear language threw Jerome a bit off guard: We always followed Marco, and well do it again to counter this tender but make it clear to him that we want some drastic measures taken and that he gets rid of everything thats not in his line of business.Just focus on your core business from now on as of now! As for our margin, well settle for 12% which is more realistic compared to what our competitors want. In 2 minutes all had been said without any possible alternative. Jerome who only very little about the tender promised to explain all this to Mr. Dimagio this evening. Marco, answered the young VP, smiling, we all go by our first names here, but that, doesnt change anything with our respective jobs, it just makes things easier and straight to the point. And everyone knows that youre both close friends. Lets go back in or youll miss the end of todays session, its going to be an eye opener for you. Tom hadnt lied. It was a real show. First rang the bell announcing the end of the session, then the five or six people who were on a podium started applauding, followed by all on the floor. But what surprised Jerome the most was that they applauding a new descent into the hell of the Dow-Jones. Later, at Marcos place, in the large living room which dominated 53rd street and from where he could see the arrow of the empire state building, drinking a bourbon one ice with his boss, he described the closing of the session of the stock exchange. That isnt very surprising and is part of the American spirit which always has tendency to think positive and to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. God willing. What fascinates foreigners the most is that God, the Christian God, is present form all things : guardian, benefactor,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/182 omnipresent in all human activities. This concept is inbred in the lives of millions of Americans who pray before their meals at home, even the President calls for Gods help before opening cabinet meetings. This supposed power serves the merchants of the temple who prostitute themselves and God on several TV channels and often allows to justify things in the land of the free. Jerome gave Marco a rundown of his day and his discussion with Tom Briski and gave him Briskis message. A nice guy from every point of view but a killer, without qualms, whos got only one aim in life: succeeding. And if he likes me, it because hes a little forced to. A very old friend of mine once gave me some crusty details on his life as a young student. Everybody has got a right to make mistakes, continued Marco while rubbing his chin, who never made a small mistake in their youth? He looked at Jerome with this dark look which some knew, not mean, just a little goguenard. But Marco, like all his fellow-members, also had a killers heart. It only is a problem when you try being a prince among the princes, continued Marco, and Tom is really very young with a disproportionate ego. He needs me and some of us and as their fund managers have made a lot of with us, his bank will be leading the anti-tender operation. It is essential for the company. But also for me, he added with a predators smile. How in the hell did Marco get this information? It intrigued Jerome who didnt have to wait long for the answer when John Browning appeared. Marco, who had decided on a dinner between the three of them made the introductions. Browning as an old accomplice of the chairman who had been all over the world and Jerome as faithful friend before being a faithful coworker. The three men sat down around the glass table on which a Master D put down several plates of liver pate and toasts, shrimps in hot sauce with rice and a bowl of fruits. Marco got rid of the waiter. He wanted to remain alone with the two men, without witnesses.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/183 The two men whom I trust the most! and this evening I wanted both of you, each one in your own field, you are experts and experts in whom I have full confidence. He looked at them one after the other, the gave Jerome an update on the situation: the tender, the sale of I-Tech, the sale of two other companies, the part played by De Witt in these different operations. Turning to Browning: John, I want a complete file on De Witt, his wives, his habits, his weaknesses, all the shit he does or had done in the past. I want to find his Achilles' heel and if, by luck or misfortune, you can dig up some photos slightly compromising, I am certain that the newspapers people would be tickled to use them. He slammed down his fist on the glass table.

None of us are beyond reproach, not us, nor I, but the individuals like De Witt are vultures, real predatory bastards, who never created the shade of a richness, and I believe its time to give this guy a lesson. Browning looked intensely at Marco: Its playable but with tact and cool. The only people I can trust this kind of operation are old guys retired from the Agency. The others would be capable of blowing the whistle to De Witt. How much? asked Marco who putting some liver pate on a toast. I wouldnt take any money for myself but I have to pay the guys and cover their expenses: 500 dollars a day for 5 people over a month, 75000 dollars a month. I think that in 2 months we should know the guy better than his mother especially if he goes to Russia. I have some former colleagues and old adversaries over there who will be happy to render me a service. But Brussels is his home town and thats where I think hes the most vulnerable. Two months said Marco who had just signed a check of 200.000 dollars that he handed to John. Jerome felt like he was in another world, a world which he had never imagined. He looked at Browning and asked very worriedly: The CIA?

The Bargainer/Hoffman/184 General, was Brownings only answer. Which say all and nothing. And you Jerome, what about the Europe presidency ? Without any interest, answered Jerome, but Marco I have to talk to you about a proposal that was made to me. Jerome spoke about his meeting and the Ministers proposal. Marcos eyes turned coal black as he looked at Jerome. He had his fork just before his mouth and looked at Jerome as if he were an extra terrestrial: Jerome, you have been my friend, my accomplice for more than 30 years, I made your career and you helped me in all the steps that got me where I am today, I love you as a brother, and all the sudden you hit me with this bullshit. When he was angry or put off guard his Italian accent came out And whats worse, continued the chair, youve got a superb girlfriend thanks to whom we had a marvelous Christmas supper, which you should take better care of. But, Jerome tried to place in a word but was ignored by Marco. Jerome, my friend, I need you and I know that youll do the job that I asked you to do, that you will be faithful for me, but what have you got to gain from this political shit? You want to become a member of Parliament of a country which hardly exists now days, a country which doesnt anything to say in todays world. A country which voted against Europe, which doesnt understand anything about the 21st century. A sensitive country looking at its belly button and lesson giver. I only give the French credit for two things, youve abolished capital punishment and you refused to follow us in Iraq. All the rest, my friend, is wind. At Jeromes surprise Browning put in his grain of salt: They were in the living room and Jerome was looking out the windows. He wanted to profit from the view of the city but he hated the place. The windows were floor to ceiling glazed surfaces, slightly tinted brown and when he approached he got dizzy. When Browning started to speak, he had a backward movement which Marco saw:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/185 Im like you, I have the impression that I will fall into the streets. But that pleased ... Ive put the apartment up for sale and looking for a place with a terrace overlooking Central Park. But lets hear what John has yo say. At their surprise Browning was for the idea: There arent pro American in the French Parliament, you can probably count them on the fingers of both hands, especially since our second intervention in Iraq. One is a former leader of extreme right, the others, even if they have a conservative mind set, only support us because of our fight against terrorism and our support of Israel. Jerome, how much time do you hope to spend on this adventure, if you agree to launch yourself in the battle? 3 weekends a month to campaign and a whole month for the elections. For the remainder, I will take on an assistant, somebody from the area who will receive the visits from voters 3 or 4 hours a day. The important thing is to have a daily presence and to help people. For 35 000 Euros I should find a person good for the job. A woman would be the ideal if she agrees to work late. I wouldnt win the elections without being backed by the elderly. Thats going to be the hardest part of the campaign. If the person I find can write their letters, help them in contacts with the administration, that might do the trick. For the young Ill sponsor the local soccer and rugby teams, which will cost me another 35000 Euros. The campaign should cost me 100000 Euros out of my pocket. I have the money, I can afford to lose it. Marco, seated in an armchair, his back to the windows, listened to the two men. Jumping up suddenly, he went right in front of Jerome and looked straight into his eyes; Why not! But dont start anything until Ive succeeded against the tender and the restructuring plan is done. After that if this little game amuses you, go ahead, I think that you are wrong but maybe a year off will do you a lot of good, but one year not more and I want your word, right now! After you will assume the chair for Europe and the Swiss federal authorities will be delighted to have a former member of Parliament at the head of our European headquarters.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/186 Youve got my word! and turning to Browning he repeated in English this time, taking American as a witness I give you my Word Too bad said Browning. His eyes, suddenly smiling, too bad that you do not present yourself in the Dordogne or in a department in the south, I could have introduced you to the British and the Dutch whove invaded the places. But Ill try to find some useful information for you and Ill introduce you to a real estate agent who might be happy to open up a branch office in the Arige. Its harder and harder to find houses elsewhere, so why not try the Arige! Toulouse, if I remember right, is only a hundred kilometers from there and there are many flights from there to the U. K... The three men discussed together for a while about all and nothing. Marcos apartment was pleasant, and Marco a perfect host happy to have his court around him. A court of a dozen people, who all had one thing in common point. They had known the man the chair as the liked to call him for more than 25 years. And for him, the horizon seemed to emerge. The Stock Exchange had reacted as he expected: the announcement of the sale of two subsidiaries had made the stock climb, the banks of the group had played the game and De Witts tender offer was in difficulty. Only Kates absence spoiled the evening. He needed her at his side. He had cruelly felt it the evening he passed with Jerome and his new girl friend, he had even envied his old friend. Their happiness disturbed him because, without their wanting to acknowledge it, they seemed very much in love. Little gestures, glances which never mislead. He was even irritated when they touched hands. After midnight, they had wanted to have a drink in one of New Yorks trendy night clubs but the line waiting to get in so long that they gave up. Marco could have called the owner of the establishment, originating in Little Italy like him. They had known each other since their teens doing mischief together all over town and with the passing years there friendship remained intact even if they didnt see each very often, but always once a year, a habit they kept going. Somewhere along the way the two men needed to keep their Italian roots alive. Last year they had spent 48 hours in Italy, using

The Bargainer/Hoffman/187 Marcos plane, who had an appointment with the President of the Italian Council, about the closing of the factory. After the appointment the two friends were happy discovering Rome, the birthplaces of their parents. Rome and its colorful streets with the waltz of scooters contrasted with New York. They had done some shopping in the shops near the Spanish steps before ending up Trastevere, the old district of the robbers on other side of the river. In the Trastevere where you could find some of the best Italian restaurants if you had the right addresses, which they had. The Italy of their ancestors had preserved the art of living: good natured, warm hearted and passionate. Hardly what you could expect in the new world. And if money was important for some Romans, there was the behavior of all Romans something much more important, a wonderful desire to live the present. Carpe Diem as their ancestors were saying 2000 years ago. After their pasta dinner, they had gone down via Veneto, to return to their hotel, the Excelsior. Marco only liked old hotels with character and atmosphere lacking in modern hotel chains. Even if this high class hotel had been bought up by an American hotel chain, they had been wise enough to keep things as they were. In this beginning of April, even after midnight, the terraces of the bars of the most famous street of Rome were full, overcrowded. It seemed like Romans only live at night. The same atmosphere was on every corner of the citys streets.

This morning of January 1, 2005, Christie, Jerome and Marco had found themselves drinking champagne in the Hilton, where, in the large hall, a jazz trio was desperately trying to create a background animation. For Marco it was better than to remain alone at home dreaming of those absent. He had imposed this dinner on Jerome and he head had to use all his persuasion for Christie to accept. She only accepted to be with her new lover. Marco who only dreamed to have Kate in his arms, had thrown an envious glance at the couple. But he could only bide his time. Kates carryings on were her raison d'tre and without her wild character they would never have been together. Kate over there in the mud, the rubble, amidst deaths on the other side of the world seemed to have made things move. News on the American

The Bargainer/Hoffman/188 TV screens showed the endless ballet of American Navy helicopters over there in Asia. And there were even images of the Boston lawmaker holding a small orphan in her arms. Images reproduced in the Italian papers. A good point for her image, even if it was not her goal. Proud of her, he hadnt been able to avoid showing these articles to his friends. Beautiful woman and courageous said Christie, adding I would be unable to do it! And that had warmed the Chairs heart. At least there was a reason for his loneliness. Later, a very a long time after having made their bodies vibrate, with enthusiasm and passion, Christie and Jerome had found themselves, in dressing gowns, on the fitted carpet of the hotels suite. It was the Chairs New year gift. Make love tonight, he had whispered in leaving them, its maybe the most beautiful thing which you can give each other. And in the first hours of the New Year, they breathed their new happiness, stupidly holding each others hands, looking in each others eyes, not daring neither one, nor the other to break the silence, a silence that says all, explains all. The silence of people in love, a pure moment of selfishness. He took his glass of champagne and poured some golden drops between the Christies breasts. And in an instant a new part of the night ending to let the day rise was shrugged off by their bodies intermingled. Enjoying every second of a virtually unreal instant moment second. A part of the night or was it the day in which their tamed bodies slept till the end of this first day of the year. The pale gleam of the gray the sky awoke them, kissing the two intertwined bodies. Christie grabbed her dressing gown to hide her breasts, a strange gesture of decency after a night of torrid and tender love. A night which swept away her certainty, her universe, and that of her family. She suddenly realized that her attraction to Jerome was a perfectly devastating if not destructive event. She posed her lips on the forehead of her sleeping lover and went to take a shower.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/189 One night, one day, one man, the first man? Well forget the question!, she thought, as the warm water ran over her body. Later, a long time later, Christie and Jerome looked through picture windows at the hustle of New Yorkers down below people lined up waiting for a dirty old bus, while others seemed to be doing a walking marathon on the sidewalks. On the streets the traffic was slow and congested. New York was starting the New Year. The city devoured its millions of inhabitants, taking them along in their infernal daily madness. With rage, passion and for some, a real desesperation .

The day was a typical day of New York geek routines spent in bar style steak houses, of buying fever in small shops, dozens of useful and not so useful American souvenirs, made in China, in a city where buying allowed to mix the useful and desire, right before the departure of Christie at 7 in the evening. Where the next time, wasnt even mentioned. They both knew that it would be as soon as possible. Two lives which would be parallel while each one would be living apart carrying out their daily activities more or less lonely. At the moment their separation, Christie, turned to Jerome and in a whisper slightly hesitant, dared to ask the question. Will you be true my friend? The word friend surprised Jerome. He expected a lot of things from his lovers but except this kind of question which he answered in the simplest way of the world. At least he thought so. True? He looked right into Christies eyes. Thats a word which has often been a problem for me, its like an aggression. True to who, to what? He paused a moment. Ive got, I have the impertinence to think that apart in love relations this word hardly has any meaning: to be true to political ideas, to a religion, to an education would mean, in my eyes at least, that the world in which we live is fixed, that our common destiny is known by each individual, in each plot of land, each animal living and is part of our universe.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/190 Undoubtedly Im sensitive, and convinced that there should be a truth, only one, which guides the steps of each of us. He went silent once more as if to find the right words. But its a myth in which I dont believe any more. Our own discoveries often shake up our beliefs and the only people to whom I can remain faithful are my old partners. Those who always were there in the moments of anguish and fear. Does that mean that I share all their ideas, their phantasms. No, good God no! But faithfulness, the faithfulness that two lovers swear to each other, I only believe in it during this transitory moment which is called passion. This feeling which gets every human high whenever they are lucky enough to live it, even if he or she knows that failure is at the end of the road. He took Christie by the shoulders: I love you Chris, but because I dont know why, I could add up a thousand good reasons, which I couldnt admit, that causes this feeling or state of dependence. I loved you at first glance, ever since this first shiver, this small ridiculous moment, idiotic moment might be more exact which led me to look at you, to catch, seize your glance, without wanting it. The thing Im sure of one thing is that I had to look at you, to catch this very small moment when two glances cross, discover each other and know that there will be another small step, a very small step, which will bring moments of intense happiness. I cant really explain all this. To say that I will be true is so obvious right now. But tomorrow, who knows? Maybe, we might want to prolong these moments in spite of all those who surround us. Today, I wish, I want that it be this way. Without knowing why, or more simply because I have the feeling of loving you even if I cannot give body to this word. Youre in my thoughts, I dream of your body, your touch, your words and the sound of your voice. Until when? I dont want to know. I only want to enjoy you like a gourmet whose eyes shine before your beauty.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/191 So, yes, Ill be true because nothing up to now has been able to make me forget your face. Its dramatic and marvelous at the same time. Jerome had let it all out without really knowing what he had just said, or what he should have said. The words had come out spontaneously as he talked. He put his lips on Christies lips, a simple pledge of sincerity. They both knew that there would be many more nights and mornings together. But the Universe didnt give a damn about love stories. Humans opposed each other in the trappings of non love, in being true to principles which led them to their loss.

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The Bargainer Chapter 7

Eric came out of the hospital, with tears in his eyes, Mary seemed to guide him by holding his arm, her grip firmly fixed on her man, like helping him to overcome his stress. The bedside visit his son had upset him terribly. His son had the two legs and the left arm in casts, the swollen face turning to a yellow blue and the fractures with the members seemed to have cracked his brain. He seemed completely amorphous. Eric was only able to hold his hand and whisper I love you, my boy. He paused dumbly then added, Lets try to get together soon. I know its up to me to make the first step, up to me to make up for lost time. To erase this waste of which I am the only one responsible. He left a post-it with his cell phone number on the bedside table. Please, call me I have to go Saint-Girons, but, lets see each other when Im back in a weeks time The door of the room opened and a friend of his son entered, giving him a dirty look as he went by.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/192 Instead of saying Ill bring you along to Corsica. Eric said, Come to Corsica, both of you whenever you want, soon please. And its problem with his son was surely, there right in front of him, this boy, handsome as Adonis, who had the wild beauty of a desert Berber with sky blue eyes of a Viking. In leaving the hospital with a breaking grip on Marys hand, he told her, My real problem, my one and only problem with my son, was never having understood nor accepted his homosexuality. Im hardly in a position to hand out lessons, but I didnt accept his sexuality. The very idea of imagining him in the arms of a man, making love, was for me sheer punishment, hell. And there he added squeezing Marys hand harder, but seeing him there suffering on a hospital bed and the way his lover looked at me, I understood that I had lost my only child, because of my intolerance, a purely egoistic intolerance. He looked into Marys blue eyes of Mary, please, help find it back Mary agreed with a simple beat of her lashes. Later on, a long time later, he thought about this meeting. Mad at himself for not having found the right words, the right attitude. The side road to Camargue was longer than the motorway but he liked looking at the country side with its trees, its fields with bulls, and the water everywhere. He even made a detour to Saintes Marie where he stopped to look at the waves breaking the small dikes, before going to lunch in the only restaurant open in. The road sign of Saint-Girons appeared when the church bells of Saint Lizier rang 8 P. M. He deposited his only bag at the Eychenne hotel, before doing a round of the towns bars. He knew that hed find some old friends of his teenage days. Would he recognize them, that was the only question. His cousin had sent a list of names and places and his first stop was the right one. The man, behind the counter had replaced his father who himself had replaced his father. A family business still meant something in this slowly dying place. Luc had hardly changed if it wasnt for the wrinkles on his face, when he was 20 he was already lean and angular. He

The Bargainer/Hoffman/193 dominated the counter with his six feet and served a round assisted by a man around 30 who must to be his son. The eye always so black, only his hair formerly black was now gray. Seeing Eric he cried out: Geez, you resuscitated! The two hugged each other and Luc offered his first round of drinks. And there would follow many others this evening and many more. Too many maybe. He lived with the top of his bar, because the entire house belonged to him his younger brother, who had just turned fifty the day before. The meal was typical of the Arige region: vegetable soup, cold cuts from a small local butcher, beef stew made by Lucs wife. A traditional meal. But in these places, this kind of menu was an everyday meal. Eric looked at Lucs wife 6 years younger than him. They had known each other since their teens, she was 15 then and he had just turned 20. And theyve been in love for over 39 years, not without some hard times in the beginning. The old folks in Saint Giron werent indifferent seeing the handsome young couple. At first some neighbors disapproved the age difference and their parents were given the cold shoulder. Around here, men preferred to be out of sight, even if people were not easily fooled. To save face was the arguments. After studying accounting and working an as junior accountant, Marie, heres that name again thought Eric, quit work to look after her husband and their children. And they seemed perfectly happy. Luc had understood Erics mission. Your cousin can count on me. Even if people around here think hes a billionaire, hes one of us, his family is from SaintGirons and a guy like him who knows the right people might be able to revive this dying place. Youve got my word for it and you know what that means! Well be a team like when we used to play Rugby together. Well get all the old players back together behind him. Looking at the couple, Eric had an idea.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/194 He asked Marie: How would you like to be Jeromes representative in Saint-Girons, only a few hours a day for a couple weeks receiving visits from voters. After all everyone is aware of ideas which makes you an ideal person for the job. My cousin is offering 1500 Euros a month. It was Maries turn to be surprised. She looked at her husband, her eyes asking him what he thought. Eric didnt see Luc answering yes with his eyelids but he guessed it. Why not? Marie answered simply. The four children are grown up, the bar doesnt really interest me any more and the distractions are rare around here and Jerome is a nice guy that we all know. So it was yes, without any hesitations. Her eyes as black as a pearl from the Pacific smiled. Her grandparents, and her parents came in Arige region back in the thirties escaping Franco. Her grandfather was a mason, a hard worker, a rough laborer who loved his trade. He had, partly rebuilt Jeromes family home. In a small town with a population under 10000 a lot of people knew each other. But clans existed. Clans didnt mix or even speak to each other since several generations back because of some murky forgotten or distorted story. It was like a tradition, hereditary enemies existed, and lasted. Quarrels often originated in arguments over heritages, unfaithful partners or even fences. All this less existed in a town less than 100 kilometers from the regional main city. Marie got up to get a bottle of home-made brew my fathers last moon shinning before he left us. Sharing it was ultimate sign of friendship, fraternity, user-friendliness. Outside it was snowing. Huge snowflakes whose weight banded branches of 100 year old, the wood burning in the fireplace popped in burst of flames. The two men stayed on for a while recollecting memories, then Luc offered to drop of Eric at his hotel who politely declined the offer. The hotel is only down the street and I like the smell of snow as well as walking in it. He wanted to be alone and recollect his past in the mountain regions of Savoy. Odd, he thought, that the two branches of our family come from regions where life was hard. His mind carried him in the Alps, to the cradle of his mothers family, a small

The Bargainer/Hoffman/195 village above the town of Modane. He had never understood how, living such a hamlet, his grandmother and his grandfather had been able to become government civil servants. In his rare dreams, he imagined them gowing down the mountain on foot to Modane, more than 8 kilometers in wooden shoes, heavy overcoats and woolen mittens. Sometimes, not always, a neighbor with a horse drawn cart or sled would bring them down. He never figured out the answer. His grandmother loved neither her father, nor her only son and the rare times when he had tried to question her, trying to understand the whys and wherefores of her dislike, she avoided the subject in a way that discouraged any further talk about it. It was perhaps because of the embarrassment she had in knowing that he had the same problems with his own son that she had had with her son. What was the terrible secret hidden behind this hatred? Hed never know. Probably better this way. He thought as he arrived at the hotel. Once in his room, he couldnt sleep. No one can say that I hate my son, unless the indifference that I have had towards him for all these years was worse than hatred, he thought. We must get together again. I have to exorcize this waste, and try to understand and accept a sexual orientation which isnt mine. He fell asleep, full of regrets and creatures coming from another elsewhere, born out of memory lost. He awoke five minutes before his cell phones alarm went off: 5 minutes before 7:15, as he did every day since he had retired, without being able to explain why his body or his subconscious drew him out of sleep. Mystery of Nature! He looked out the window. The snow had stopped falling but the white blanket covered the roofs, streets and sidewalks. The town was calm, almost quiet, some rare passersby, wrapped in heavy coats and scarves. Winter at the foot of the Pyrenees mountain range separating France from Spain was a season of subzero temperatures. He ordered caramel tea in his room, had a quick shower and decided to go for an half an hour walk in the old town center. In the small street which led to Pasteur square, he noticed that the pork butcher had already opened his small shop. He made one of best liver sausages in the whole

The Bargainer/Hoffman/196 region. Passing in front of the bakery the smell of hot croissants made him want to get in the nearest caf bar to have and espresso coffee with a croissant. Pasteur square had hardly had changed, stuck in its never changing architecture. His cousins family home, a massive stone house with time worn walls dominated the square. The smell inside was musty. The cleaning lady, knowing that the owners were rarely there didnt bother ventilating the house. After inspecting the premises he decided that only the ground floor allowed the installation of offices. A good paint job, the installation of an ADSL line and they could open for business. It shouldnt more than five days. The rest of the day was spent finding a mason, a painter and a decorator. All had to be done as soon as possible, the cost wasnt an issue. The effectiveness was to take precedence over any other consideration. Each one promised to finish their job as fast as possible, which was all the more easy in winter when the customers were rare. He spent his second evening in Arige, with the departmental secretary of the ruling party, a doctor, who was going to stand in for Jerome. He was a small conceited rat faced man wearing rimmed glasses. He hadnt any charisma. The conversation was long and tedious. Eric politely listened to his guest running on about national and international policies. Not surprising he had a record of constant electoral downfalls! Eric thought. After having remade the world, the party line, French politics, left and right, Eric decided to politely take leave. His night was like a nightmare, without him understanding why, he plunged in the darkest dreams. Memories of childhood and teens surfaced: the first refrigerator, his first and single outstanding graduation award, His fathers first record player, Jean Nohains radio shows, his first night clubs, his first love when he was 10 years old. The lost of his father, the death of his mother when he was 16 years, had plunged him into a despair from which he had never recovered and who had led him into juvenile delinquency and closing him up on himself. From where did this surge of memories come from? Why this feeling of anguish in this hotel room of a small village of 6000 inhabitants lost at the foot of the mountains? The anguish, which eats the brain like a crab, which destroys the small glimmer of hope which still makes it possible to live or to

The Bargainer/Hoffman/197 survive. He had never taken sleeping pills in his life and so didnt have anything in his toilet bag which would allow him to escape from these nightmares. Nothing. In the hotels mini bar he found relief in the two tiny bottles which he swallowed at one go. Which allowed him to fall into a heavy sleep. The following days, Eric set up Jeromes campaign office. The decoration of the ground floor of the old house was completely changed into that of a lawyers office, comfortable, and staid. Only a couple paintings gave a modern touch to the place. After giving the keys to Marie and putting an ad in the local paper announcing the opening a campaign office of the ruling party, he decided to go back down south. He had been able to federate a dozen of old friends, all of whom in various degrees had a social position in the region, all of them had a common point: they were all old Rugby player. His cousin had lent him his preferred car : a 607 V6, complete with all the options which was a real pleasure to drive and a comfort that the most expensive Mercedes couldnt beat. Jerome had even imagined an ad at Declerck, Peugeot it is also a family affair. And he described an imaginary photograph with the grand-father, the father, the mother, the children, each one with a different Peugeot. His cousin had always dreamed up ads without knowing if advertising could have attracting him. He rediscovered the pleasure of driving with this car on the motorway, even if, contrary, to Italy and Germany, speed in France was limited. The French were worse drivers than their European neighbors, the question deserved to be studied but it was politically incorrect. After a having a real traditional cassoulet in Catelnaudry, he decided to go home in Cannes, without going to the hospital in Marseilles. His son was better but didnt want to see his father yet. Eric had renewed his invitation, ending the call by laconic When you too feel ready to come! The arrival in Cannes was hectic, heavy traffic on leaving the motorway put him in a bad mood. Cannes was getting ready for the annual Midem which was to open its doors in days later and huge trucks were bringing tons of material, which would be used to decorate La Croisette and to set up reception areas for the guests.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/198 One of the most important audio-visual market shows in the world was being dressed up like a call girl preparing herself for her client. It was almost 7 P. M. The restaurants and bars of Cannes were full: hundreds of others were installed on the terraces, seeming completely indifferent to Januarys cold winter wind. That was also Cannes, its myth going full strong in a Fiesta mood. He was amused by the good humored hordes running all over the place, proudly wearing their badges showing that they are part of the special few having access to the Festival Palace and to the Midem. It amused him. It all seemed to be childish, it made him think of Formula 1 Grand Prix racing events. But there were more pretty girls, more beautiful hostesses, during a Grand Prix than at the International market of the disc and music publishing. He liked this atmosphere all the 5 star hotels were fully booked and you had to a badge to get by the gorillas filtering the accesses. He called Mary What if we had a meal at the Festival Palace or at Chungas. If you are not too tired and have enough energy for what will follow, its a marvelous idea. Its been a long time, since weve seen invaders in town and Im weird on watching them, theres always something new. Must be something like what an entomologist feels when he discovers a new species of insects. During the winter, the Chunga only opened when there was a special event in Cannes like the Midem. The small restaurant was jam packed with invaders which was not very difficult, because the place was so small. The place was a miniature tower of Babel. Conversations were in so many languages :Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Italian, German and of course American that you had the impression of being in many different countries at the same time Outside, people waited in a line to get in. Others mingled with photographers in front of the Martinez hotel waiting to catch a glimpse of stars coming out for their evening at the NRJ radio Awards.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/199 The only common point of the invaders was the absence of originality in their dress code, they all seemed to come out of the same mould: formless jeans and jackets, sad colors. Very few could be qualified as fashion victims. Only in the luxury hotels like the Martinez and the Carlton where you needed to be well dressed and not disguised as the new clowns of the 21st century was there any hope of seeing fashionistas. A generation of the robots were slowly invading, year after year, the streets of Cannes. Only the people actually living in the city had fun and enjoyed themselves during these days which gave a new life to their city. The atmosphere of Chunga changed when a group of musicians came in under an ovation from the hard-working tourists. A yuppie atmosphere made the place cool as the French had recently learned to say The end of the night was as beautiful as the beginning of evening. Mary had had a shopping spree in a lingerie shop in view of turning him on. She had never told him that her sexual pleasure was more than equal to his. A woman had to let the man think that all she did was only for his pleasure. It would have been unbearable for a man to hear such things. Mary was ready to bet that in a few years, there would be more men than woman in the governments in our advanced democratic countries. But that was another story.

After his one-week immersion in the small closed world of international high finance, Jerome decided to return to Europe to finish his restructuring plan. The tender offer had been transformed into a tragedy for its initiators. The meeting with Marco was short. Marco sported his Italian seducers smile again. He had one more detail to iron out.: find a way of getting rid of the traitor on his Board without a scandal, give him an honorable discharge of sorts. He played and lost. Marco told Jerome, with a carnivorous smile.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/200 Marco blissfully enjoyed his successes and those of Kate. A survey published in the Wall Street Journal put Kate up as Americas preferred female candidate for the presidential elections of 2008, ahead of Hillary Clinton. Only by a small lead certainly, but the two women didnt share the same popularity and Kate didnt have the advantage of having been a first lady. Adding to his joy, an English daily rag sheet had published a photograph of De Witt holding the hand of a handsome young man. That wouldnt upset the predators life but rumors always left traces which could be used as a perfidious weapon, sometimes fatal. John Browning had done a good job. Finish this job quickly, Jerome, said Marco as he was leaving, Afterwards youll be able to commit yourself full-time on your dumb election campaign. But, he said staring into Jeromes eyes, youll not get anything out of it, youre making the biggest mistake in your life.. Jerome hated pressure from wherever it came. He mumbled one or two words in leaving the Chairman. He would weight things out on his flight for Frankfurt, seat of the German subsidiary company. Sitting in the first class section in front of the plane, he went through his e-mails: some social movements in Germany, which had lasted less than two days, a tough strike in France with the occupation of a plant. The strike had been disrupted by a group of hooligans coming out from God knows where. But Jeromes little finger gave him a clue. It had the face of John Browning. Browning could be a useful man and seemed to have many resources. The strike had ended in some broken backs for a handful of the CGT union. But nobody had been able, or wanted, to connect the events. Only some graffiti on walls, signed by radical left groups, had led the police with not much to go on. A street brawl like many others. A refusal of the capitalist world. Nothing more. All was back in control and the CFDT union had organized a referendum which had obtained the support of more than 65% of the personnel. The problem had been quickly resolved for the common good of the companys shareholders. The survival of the

The Bargainer/Hoffman/201 company was ensured for the next couple of years. Dimagios plan was a success, Out of 1800 employees only 132 were layed off. It was a miracle of intelligence, effectiveness and profitability. Jerome felt relieved. The satisfaction of duty done in limiting social conflicts, and a newly found freedom for him. All was well in a Brave New World.

CHAPTER 7

In Frankfurt, he took a room at the Sheraton Airport, only one hallway from the hotel where the steering committee awaited him. It was going to be one of these two hour Airport meetings. A meeting, which mainly covered the new marketing policy to Europe: a specialization of the plants by product line, a distribution system with only two general warehouses, one in Germany, the other in Spain and contracts with two transport groups having subsidiary companies in each European country. Under the clouds of Frankfurt, the horizon seemed cleared. After a quick lunch, Jerome took another plane for Geneva at 3 p.m. He was happy to be back in Lausanne. The pleasure of a traveler returning home after a long absence. To find familiar surroundings , his home with its furniture and paintings, his office and colleagues, Laussane and its lake. All the thing familiar to his past which he didnt have to share with anyone. He read the e-mails from his cousin and decided to give himself 24 hours to make a decision. The storm was over. His mission was ending. Even if his new role as regional VP will be increase his work load, it should enable him to give time to time. It was time to move on to the operational phase, if tomorrow he decided to throw himself in the political arena. He decided to have a TV evening all by himself and wind down He made himself a tomato salad with mozzarella and Spanish ham. Topped off with some Corsican of rose wine.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/202 The French networks were mostly offering musical programs, with all that the singers he hated. Singers without voice and lyrics: Lio, Aubert and the wife of a gossip writer. The three had one thing in common, they all sang out of tune, which was seldom the case with rappers. But in the hexagone, France is referred to as a hexagone because its borders are made of 6 sides, real talent was ignored. The producers preferred pushing what they decided the public wanted. The lyrics included refrains ingrained in the collective memory, the rest was useless crap. He regretted the old singers of yesteryear, they sang each others lyrics but they had voices of their own, and didnt hesitate to play with another singers lyrics for the publics pleasure. Today, the promotional material of the recording companies is made up of a void. All they had to do was make a song less than three minutes long with a pseudo refrain in it every forty five seconds. Marketing had become more important than creation and talent. He almost applauded the last winner of Frances Star Academy. At least she had a voice. His phone rang. It was his son. Ive got some bad news, he said in a strange voice. The girls dont know about it. Mom doesnt want them to know. Jerome lost himself in conjectures. What the hell was going on for his son calling him in the middle of the night? The answer hit him full blast. His wife had a breast cancer and his son had just cracked. He felt it in the sound of his voice, all the sudden broken and teary. His grief was almost overwhelming. Struggling to make sense of the tragedy unfolding, he learned from his son the first symptoms had started a few months ago, during a routine examination and that she had begun radio-chemotherapy in the beginning of the month. The goal was avoiding breast surgery. He tried to comfort him, to find the right words. Then tried to know his wifes frame of mind. He wanted to find the words to show his care for his son, but he didnt know how.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/203 He had a phobia of the diseases and doctors. Hed lived all his life with this unreasonable fear. He was well aware of being mortal but pushed back the idea of death. Hiding his head in the sand like an ostrich was his choice. He was like a lost kid, looking for his father in the middle of a crowd. Hopelessly unable to react. Unable to comfort his son, unable to call his wife. Overwhelmed. Even if he knew that Paris was his next destination in the coming days. If his eldest son, 27 years old, was devastated. In what condition must his two younger sisters be? Dealing with this, helping in some way was beyond him. His cowardice revolted him, but the yellow streak was there under the surface. He spoke with his son, swore that hell come up to Paris ASAP. He gave him the addresses of two eminent doctors in Paris that he wanted him to call if your mom agrees Dad, please, speak to her Jerome repeated that he couldnt do it. It was a subject he couldnt talk about or even entertain. (the word surprised him). He didnt know what he was talking about, using inappropriate words. If he wanted to stay on speaking terms with his eldest son, the conversation was taking a dangerous turn Ill speak to her, Jerome promised, but face to face. I cant handle things like this over the phone. Forgive me son, Im a bit of a coward in circumstances like this. Ill be in Paris tomorrow. Lets meet around 7 in the caf bar across the street from home. To be a coward, live like a coward, to feel like a child lost after his first spanking, or the first reproach from his parents. All was messed up in his head. Contradictory feelings of love, hatred, passion, indifference went through his head at the speed of light. He and his wife had been through all the extremes of love. But their mutual indifference was now melting away in the face of this new drama and the inevitable suffering in store for them. All his life, all that had been his life was suddenly falling apart.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/204 The feelings of guilt which he held back when he treated his companys employees like expendable pawns on a rotten chessboard, in a faked game where he knew the outcome beforehand. All these guilt held back for years suddenly surfaced now. Simply out of fear in the face of pain, and because at this very moment he didnt have a clue as to what to do. He no longer had control over things. He was used to play with the lives of thousands of people without any qualms. And here he was completely lost in a situation in which he didnt call the shots. He rehashed these thoughts for hours, trying to find some sleep. The memories of their first meeting came back, the first heart beats, feelings he couldnt control. The attraction of opposites, the meeting of atoms attracted to each other. The bewitching smile of this young woman who overflowed with ideas, happiness, and brightness. Her natural side had immediately subjugated him. From their first meeting to their marriage, bypassing the traditional engagement, Jerome had found himself with a ring around his finger, proud of showing it to his college classmates. Most of them had put off marriage preferring the single life in the mad seventies. In a country where sexs triangle of Bermuda went from Castel, Rgine and the Rosebud. Jerome changed his ways for her, going out with the gang only twice a week; they called themselves the four musketeers. A group of merry party goers who only saw the good side of an easy life. Fridays was reserved for going out with his wife. Integrating work life was easy for the Musketeers. Their days were spent in business meetings and their nights in the sound of the disco music, Otis Redding or Roberta Flack, the only disagreement between them was about those who were fans of the Stones and those preferring the Beatles. Summer vacation getaway boiled down to spending a couple days with Pauls family in Saint-Tropez, before running off to Cadaqus to spend some time with Jeromes parents for a stopover in Catalan and ending the summer on the sea-side in Arcachon, where Patricks ancestors came from. Their parents preferred having their young offspring with them at least a week each in

The Bargainer/Hoffman/205 summer, even if it meant putting up with their boisterous goings-on and great outbursts of laughter. An open fraternity, with only one condition: setting up the summer vacation agenda in May so that their parents could organize themselves.

During the first five years of their marriage Jerome and his wife spent their holidays with the musketeers, for the greatest pleasure of the members of the group. The arrival of the first child modified the rules of this summer agenda. Jeromes nomination in Belgium also. Little by little, the relations of those which called themselves Phy, the friends, from the Greek word philos broke up. The pressure of the business world, the introduction of stress management had forced the anti-sixty-eight iconoclasts to give priority to their carrer. Only one goal stood out; succeeding and the advantages that success brought. Why? Nobody knew, but none of them was ready to sacrifice their professional life for their private life . They had only one objective in mind: ending up running in their company. The first one who made it had to invite all the members of the group to a dinner in a trendy restaurant, the word tony didnt exist yet in those days. And every member of the circle of the friends, in the process of breaking apart, had succeeded. Once their positions consolidated, one of them, more mercenary than the others had succeeded in becoming President of the French subsidiary of an American data-processing group, number 2 in their sector. In the middle of the Eighties, aware that their combined differences were an advantage in the closed world of high finance, the clan came back together. New musketeers of the end of the 20th century were reunited for only one cause: theirs. Their fraternity had allowed them to get rid some idiots, too sure of themselves and too stupid to imagine that there were other networks than those of the selective pinnacles of the French higher education system like the Ecole Normale dAdministration (ENA) or the Ecole

The Bargainer/Hoffman/206 Polytechnique, (referred to as X) whose graduates have long formed the top tier of French public life. Images of lost happiness overran his mind. He had the impression of seeing a fast motion film. Parts of his life unraveled at the speed of light without being able to section them. Jerome threw, a glance at his watch, a steel and gold Rolex Datejust whose self winding mechanism did away for the need of a winder or a stupid little battery, the only piece of jewelry he had. He had bought this iconic symbol of style on an impulsion in the Seventies, when he couldnt afford it. He never forgot its price: 12800 Francs 2000 Euros back in those days. It was half past nine. Time to call the eminent doctor who was looking after his wife. They had done Math Sup together. Jerome had then chosen law school instead of Political Sciences, royal route for math students whereas Thierry Pons set out for Medical schools long studies, with only one idea in mind: getting his diploma. Which he ended up getting as one the youngest ever to get it. Their conversation was friendly, even casual. Thierry confirmed that his wife was undergoing radio therapy which should stop the cancer dead in its tracks. The doctor was under the impression that Jerome was just discovering all this. She never talked to you about all this? he asked. Jeromes surprise was total. No! his wife had never said anything to him, nor to her son, either. He felt dumb, empty. His old classmate brought him back to reality: Every couple goes through difficult periods, and thats an understatement. Your took you along elsewhere, without sharing day-to-day living with your loved ones. Dont feel guilty about it. We all choose life styles which arent appreciated by of those around us, family, parents, friends, co-workers. I wont even try to judge you. I wouldnt like to be judged, myself, so I refuse to judge people. Your wife overcame her breast cancer, but shell lose her breast. She wont be able to undergo breast reconstruction because of her previous implant.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/207 Jerome thought he was in hell: An implants . She had never spoken to him about it. Its been so many years that he and his wife didnt live together anymore that he suddenly had the impression of being in a hostile world. He opened himself up to Thierry: The doctor tried to find the right words to avert a depression trying to get a smile out of Jerome. As soon as you get in Paris, lets have a meal together, just the two of us. I cant promise that Ill save you from all your anguishes, or failures, but a cancer specialist should be able to do some psychotherapy. I never understood colleagues whose bedside manner boils down to: Its useless, in any case youre finished. I dont like this attitude which literally kills, first the patient and secondly any psychological support that the loved ones have to offer which helps the patient survive a bit longer. Your wife is going to be all right, his old classmate told him, but like thousands of women and now days men, she thought that beauty could be bought. Our ancestors dreamed of immortality, the desire to remain young today has allowed some dishonest doctors to make fortune in making their patients dream. The silicone implants, like your wife had can cause systemic diseases after a leak of the silicone, like sclerodermas, polyarthritis, sleep disorders and so on. Traces of silicone have been found in the liver and kidneys of some patients. If it interests you, a remarkable report from Inserm, raises the issue. In the case of your wife some silicone oozed out of the implant and fixed itself on some of her ribs. To remove it, well have to scrape the ribs which wont allow any new breast implant or prosthesis. It this means that your wife will have only one breast and an enormous psychological problem. Its one of the dramas of this money oriented society we live in, it lets us believe that science can do miracles which isnt totally true.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/208 Some of my fellow-physicians on both sides of the Atlantic are only merchants of the temple, magicians of the illusion who swallowed their Hippocratic oath. Real bastards who abuse the credulity of people in promising eternal beauty. Makes me think of a well known a French TV news anchor woman I forgot her name. She has marvelous talent, but look at her carefully. The right-side of her face looks paralyzed. Her lips are perfect, too perfect, but she cannot smile anymore. The small outgrowth of flesh which she had above her right eye is gone, her face is a perfect. When you see images of her past interviews with politicians you can spot out small imperfections on her face, nothing serious, unless you think that perfect lips are necessary to exist! The doctor stopped Im bothering you Jerome, with my old fashioned way of being a doctor, but fortunately its my way. Ill help your wife, but do your part, go to her Jerome!. Okay, shell only have one breast left, but even if you life apart shes still your wife. Think about it Jerome! See you soon, my friend. For the moment Jerome had only one thing in mind: nurse himself on his bottle of 25 year old pure malt and forget that his personal life was in shambles if not a total failure. Maybe phone a call-girl, he had some phone numbers here in Lausanne on hand for some of his companys special customers. Classy young beauties loving easy money and its advantages. Some were specialized in spending a week with a client at 12 000 dollars a week, free of taxes. He dropped the idea and made a gesture to call Christie but decided that sharing his thought about his wife with his mistress would be a silly and a lack of education. The yearning to please and the myth of beauty were going to make to his wife a disabled person. Bottle in hand he went out on his terrace, and tried to find the peace of mind by looking at the lights of the Leman lake, swallowing a mouthful of Scotch from the bottle, thinking when the alcohol was going down his throat, that it would have been

The Bargainer/Hoffman/209 better to open a bottle of champagne instead of this malt burning his throat. Around midnight, after swallowing part of the bottle of malt and a whole bottle of Champaign, he fell dead asleep on the livingroom sofa. The cold air coming in from the open picture window awoke him around 3 in the morning. He took a shower, got dressed, downed a big cup of black coffee and decided to take the first plane for Paris. Before leaving his apartment he sent an e-mail to his president telling him that he would be absent for a couple days. Later in Paris, he had lunch with Sylvie at the Guy Savoy. It was one of Sylvies favorite restaurants featuring her dish fetish: crawfish in butter and citrus fruits. Jerome looked at his wife. Even if her face was beautiful, under the make-up her face was tired and drawn. He wasnt the most courageous guy in town. Their eyes crossed. Sylvies eyes were full of questions. She no doubt wanted to know if they were going to divorce, or on the contrary if he was with her through all this. In old couples, the words are often useless, too many seconds, minutes, hours, days and nights, together. Jerome took her hand and said, Ill be with you all the way!

Very hard to erase 30 years of a shared life, even if it was an up and down experience. All had been said. They could now eat their lunch, in an atmosphere of tenderness. The removal of her breast was to take place in fifteen days and Jerome invited her to pass those days in Lausanne: Ill be with you for the operation. Dont worry about the children, theyre enough now to manage without you. I have to be in Switzerland tomorrow to finish the restructuring plan. So come with me down there. It will allow you to think about other things and your brother is only a few kilometers from Lausanne. The brother and the sister were very close to each other. His brother-in-law had always had love sick eyes for his kid sister. Yes, she simply said.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/210 He had chosen a small table in the back of the restaurant avoided by customers because it was dark back there and they couldnt be seen. Not knowing how their get together was going to turn out, Jerome thought this setting with Jean-Pierre Rives sculptures was ideal and discrete as could be. Once again he was mistaken about his wife, she didnt shed a tear even if she couldnt hide the distress in her eyes which hurt him. Humans thrive on emotions, He thought. He thought of his cousin Eric who found joy in a blue sky or in noise made by the flight of a turtle-dove. The voices in the main areas of the restaurant was part of the atmosphere as usual the place was full of businessmen making deals or alliances. At the end of the meal the owner appeared, imperial in his immaculate white clothing. He went to their table, kissed Sylvies hand giving complimenting her on her looks then turned to Jerome. The first time they had met in Le Barrier de Clichy, his former restaurant, Jerome had immediately liked the guy with his merry malicious eyes, and by his passion for cooking. Today he was known worldwide and was on the verge of opening a restaurant in Las Vegas. He offered drinks and stayed a few minutes with them, before leaving them and wishing Sylvie the best of luck. He knew what she was going through, his own wife had gone through cancer a few year back. They left the restaurant around 3 in the afternoon. A chauffer from the Ministry, who had waited for them, dropped Sylvie off at her place before driving Jerome to the Ministers office. The conversation was short. Jerome gave his agreement and his friend, the Minister, told him right away you should hit the ground running NOW! which to Jerome seemed like overdoing things. The French political scene was full of rumors, the new Prime Ministers general policies were announced in a De Gaule like manner, without much affect on the political community, or in the media. Everybodys mind was preoccupied with the coming 2007 presidential elections. The president in office had left interior matters to his government, mainly devoting his time to foreign policy in an effort to get France out of its pessimism.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/211 The two old friends talked about the political life of the presidents party, which seemed to have found in its Interior Minister a Chimne. Treason was in the air, everyone maneuvering for a place in the future government or at least a party nomination. Were all so busy concentrating on our careers that we forget the voters, our constituency, without whom we wouldnt exist politically said the Minister in a disillusioned tone. Which is both reassuring and terrifying, for all of us, conservative right and liberal left Sometimes we manage to wake up and show some common sense, even some remorse, but it doesnt last. Were all too used to the honors, chauffer driven cars, bodyguards and other cabinet trappings, even if the ENA guys in my office bore me to death. Theyre only there to prepare their future careers in the private sector. Id like to propose a bill that would not allow them to reintegrate their civil servant positions once they have quit. But I havent got the guts to do it. The light in his blues eyes seemed to have faded. Sorry, he said, putting a hand on Jeromes hand, but listen. A politician should not a conscience or hed better be a small town mayor. A very useful role in society. Whos the candidate? asked Jerome. Bayrou, Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior, but were having a hard time determining his course. Our militants will decide but its the beginning of the end of this fifth republic which doesnt finish. The presidential elections arent and shouldnt be a face to face between political parties and the French people but between a man, or a woman, and the French people. Its not about being chosen by a party. Its necessary to give the people a vision for France and Europe tomorrow! His voice was earnest sincerity like in their college days that got him elected head of the student body. His passion for politics had taken over once more. Like a president coming back to live just before a new election campaign.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/212 Politicians, at least some, thought Jerome, are born again phenomenas. Seeing his friend getting carried away, Jerome dared bringing up the question which had been on his mind these last months: And your exiled friend, Juppe? Here is someone who seems straight in his boots, as he likes to say, who doesnt a party card and contrary to what people believe can be a real charmer. I have in mind an interview on France 3 Aquitaine TV where the man contrary to his image, was interviewed in his country house, appearing calm and smiling. Beyond the caricature image we have of him, he has presence, a voice, and ideas. He lacks only a bit of persuasion and going back to his roots. Hed be perfect, and he has the bearing of a president, a real president. The minister who had listened with astonishment to Jeromes monologue, his chin in hand simply answered: why not! That would solve a big part of our problems. Why not continue Pompidous strategy? Well speak again about it Jerome. Not a bad idea, he mumbled. Meanwhile go and see versions). Hes here future constituency. he opened a file and the Assistant editor of the V.O. (original today just for you. Hell brief you on your Then, to show their meeting was finished, started read.

Ave, oh Minister. Said Jerome leaving unimpressed. He had never been able to bow or give out Your highness to anyone. He just didnt give a damn. The Ministers private secretary led him into a small office. The meeting with the secret service man was friendly and brief but destabilized Jerome. He knew he was getting himself in a rats nest, but the secret service memo described the beginning of an apocalypse. After reading the memo, anyone in their right mind would just drop things then and there. But his Arigeois blood boiled. Beaten for beaten, all the more reason to go for it and enjoy the ride. Even if Im sure to lose the fight, Ill not back down. In his family everyone agreed to say that his aggressiveness, his strong will, came from his paternal grandfather. A man who

The Bargainer/Hoffman/213 had always succeeded, what he undertook. A son of an ariegeois school teacher had been the first to store chains with branches all over the region: practically a shop in every big village in the Arige region and two caravans for markets. One caravan was driven by him for the markets he had chose, the other was driven by his first wife, then later on by her replacement. He worked seven days out of seven and had become thilthy rich. He drove around in a convertible Bugatti, parading his mistresses or the whores he picked out in the whorehouses for the rich in Toulouse. Quick to anger, he could have made a political career with the radicals but after having served as mayor of Saint-Bosoms he had decided that his fellow-citizens were just beggars, and back stabbers. And he went back to running his business. Jerome remembered how he was afraid of this grandfather. A good loking intolerant and temperamental man. As a child he had to spend part of summer vacation in the huge family home, he couldnt wait to leave. Only the presence of his cousins who, like him, had to put up with the grandfatherss tantrums and fits allowed him to stay quiet and obey his father. But this tyrannical egoistic grandfather had his soft points. Once a year when he had his grand children around him for 2 days, he was a real Santa Claus handing out gifts to them. During the rest of the 363 days hed be grumpy again as they said in the family. But youre going to be useful to me this time Grandpa! I will use your reputation! Jerome thought smiling to himself. You and our family had its roots in this region and thats going to make me win the election! He left the Ministry whistling, to the astonishment of the ushers and guard. His driver couldnt believe it, a broad smile spread across his face. It was the first time that he saw his boss whistling. This same evening, all the family was united around a table in the large living room for a Chinese dinner. Sylvie had ordered Tong Yen and had requested that a Maitre D be there to serve. The tension of the beginning of the meal had gradually disappeared. The oldest son, who had eyes only for his mother,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/214 realized that for the first time, since years, an illusion of family unity seemed to exist. The paintings on the wall this evening seemed more beautiful, even the modern, paintings. Ultra modern said his mother, who added theyre not paintings, its just paint spots. No talent in them., but even this painting which must have cost a fortune, seemed in its place. He studied his father. His usually dead pan face wore an impenetrable smile, just a salesmans smile, he seemed alleviated. Almost calm. Had he and his mother made their peace? He didnt dare ask. But the atmosphere of the moment, in the rooms neoclassical setting with a bit of modernity here and there, led him believe that his parents had buried their hatches for the prresent, facing together the blow dealt by fate. Their departure together for Belgium then to Switzerland seemed a good omen and the three children, accomplices as always, had enjoyed this sudden moment of family happiness. If their parents were not in love any more, hints of tenderness profiled behind the words and the smiles. The whole family was a clan grouped around the household head. Astonishing! he thought, the concept of being a clan was the only common point between the two branches of his families. It was in this that the members of the two families were one. Jerome had two phone calls to make. He withdrew himself in his den and called the police chief: He wanted to know a bit more about Browning, know ho he really was even if he swore he had been a CIA operative and remained one of the agencys antennas in Europe. Before having lunch with Browning the following day in Brussels, Jerome wanted to have a better picture of the guy who was too smooth and unpredictable. His old classmate called back in less than a quarter of an hour: Bingo! he cried out, You were right, most of Brownings career was with the CIA. In South Asia East, during the Viet-Nam war , ending up as general, advisor to the American ambassador at NATO in Brussels. The rumor has it that his company was financed by money from American companies close to the vice president.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/215 The guy who controlled and still controls the American arms industry, the lobbyist, par excellence, said Jerome as an afterthought. Right you are! Jerome put an end to the conversation thanking his buddy. This wasnt good news, thought Jerome.

In any case he wasnt going to be Brownings toy, who due to or because of Marco, he already put a foot in his private life and his relation with Christie. He had to speak to Christie, explain this aspect of his life to her which he didnt control because of his wifes disease. He had tried to do it, only tried, held back by the fear of losing her, to lose their moments of happiness because of her discovering that their 10-month old relation was dirtied by the word adultery. But it was, neither the time nor the place. He was afraid of her slipping through his fingers, as she had whispered in his ear during a weekend in Marrakech. In the soft light of the Stylia, one of the restaurants in the Medina, her eyes full of desire. He was under her spell, even if he refused to admit it to himself. Her phrase was sensual while playing indifferent. Youll never have my soul would have been more difficult for Jerome to admit, who had an incredible desire of possessing things and people just for the pleasure. This time he had the unpleasant impression of being manipulated and to his astonishment, he accepted it. Body chemistry. That maybe the beginning of an answer. For the moment, he decided satisfy himself with this face saving assumption. His second phone call was fast and authoritative.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/216 His cousin was to be in Saint-Girons in fifteen days and prepare everything for the kick-off of his future electoral campaign. He did not even notice Erics hoarse disillusioned voice answering Do this, do that.

On the other side of the Mediterranean sea, on his dream island, Eric had just gone through one of the worst days in his life. Even the chirping of a bird who seemed happy to be alive and sharing his happiness with those around him, without the knowing if he had cheered them up. The weather was gray, beautiful but wet and his fingers osteoarthritis made him suffer awfully. He had even spilled a can of black oil paint on his terrace and spent hours cleaning up the mess with a Karcher which was turning into an ugly painting on the terra cotta tiles. In the end of the afternoon, he sat down at the marble table, drinking a glass of Casanis and looking angrily at his mini garden. He was mad not knowing how to tame this wild garden, where in spite of all his efforts he couldnt even manage to grow a single rose and where he permanently had to trim a hedge which never stopped growing. He wondered how people could ever dream of having a garden, as far as he was concerned gardening was akin to hard labor and frustration. In the midst of cursing nature and the whole world his cousin called him. The voice was dry and gave orders. Not even a Hi. Eric felt like one of the 15000 employees under his cousins orders . Just a piece of shit! he mumbled after his cousin had hung up. If he thinks he can take me for one of his pawns just because hes giving me 1500 Euros a month. Hes dreaming! he cried out.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/217 Six months ago he had set up an office in Arige. While at the same time overseeing the work in progress on the Cannes hotel site. He learned how to follow the progress made by the plumbers, the electricians, the painters, and the masons. He played the watchman in the interest of his billionaire cousin, and even if it had been a real pleasure to do so, since it allowed him to be near Mary. But he just couldnt put up being treated like an underling. He had inherited his tough and often impulsive character from his Savoyard/Arige ancestors. In the midst of his anger which he had never learned to control, he sent a laconic e-mail to his cousin: No one has ever talked to me this way. So put your money, your hotel and your electoral campaign up yours! One of the major faults in their family, unless it could be considered a quality, was their hard-nosed character, seen as a quality in their eyes and as a susceptibility by others. But in family they always ended-up standing up for each other when friends disappeared fed up their useless bickering often beyond comprehension for anyone not in the family. Eric knew what he was missing: A vision and a past. A view of the years he had left to live. The past, his career as a radioman, and his private life. His present intimate life which with his profession had one beautiful spring afternoon marked his existence forever. An encounter wanted by God, unless God was only destiny. The destiny that we create on our own without the help of others. The little event which puts in question all we had believed in. The meeting of two souls. Unexpected gestures, glances and smiles. The smile which we shouldnt have had, disciplined by thousand year old inhibitions where we all live under a yoke. A yoke accepted out of ease and fear. Due to the education, culture, and media which turns us into almost identical beings, reacting to the same stimuli, with the same dreams and desires.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/218

And for some a chance encounter changes everything, a small gesture, a hint of a smile puts the world upside down, carries you away into a sudden irrational passion which generates the only force able to destroy you. We are all the craftsmen of a misfortune of our own choice . It was blind luck. Freedom and luck is only a question of distance. A separation. Did he understand? More or less, said X, looking tired. He looked at his watch. The rules governing probability, continued Z, werent unchangeable. They arent laws of nature, exceptions are possible: His intelligence for example or an idiot winning the Grand Loto. X asked if he was joking. I dont really know, answered Z, closing his eyes and falling asleep.

His lifes only regret was this love at first sight, which 7 years later had left him it broken, destroyed for the rest of his life. His only future was a desert of bitterness, folding back into himself, for himself. Fold back to try to relieve his heart which would never know again what the idiots call with a mocking smile love at first sight. The blow which drives you crazy, which happens only in posing, day after day, the bricks of a cell in which you shut yourself in away from the world just living one for the other. Thinking youve finally met the soul sister youve always dreamed of.

The source of all joys, and all hatreds but the only thing that makes it possible to put up with the idiocy of life.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/219 From these days past all that remained were memories. Memories embellished over the years by nightmares full of regrets. He though he remember the moment when Mr. X introduces Mrs Z. Usually his souvenir was beyond that first meeting. This afternoon he thought he remembered the warm handshake, so different from others. He thought he could see in those beautiful blue eyes, much more than a pleased to meet you. Something like a heart beating to a new tune. Just another way of shrugging off new lovers excitement. However this time, a long time ago, he really did think his heart was beating differently, feeling or believer to feel something new in his life heralding an obvious disaster, for all to see except himself. As one of his friends said, he had gone head-over-heels like a pilot losing control of his airplane. During one week he had done everything to make this happiness to be real. He used all the means available to nurse it with passion, ardor, laughter, seduction, and imagination. And finally one evening, in Trouville, they went out for dinner in a restaurant where he was used to go and was sure to be welcomed with eagerness. Afterwards, thanks to the wine or the apple-brandy, they ended up in Deauvilles Normandy hotel. It was spring, he remembered well, and the hotel was almost empty. When the bellhop had wanted to take the luggage in the trunk, Eric handed him a small leather toilet bag. The page-boy a little surprised, had accompanied them to the reception desk, carrying this ridiculous piece luggage, his eyes lowered. Even if we all know that we never really discover the other, he was sure of one thing in these first moments: he was madly in love with an image, an expression, gestures of tenderness, and passion, which he would keep deep in himself to his dying breath. And all this made life worthwhile.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/220 This morning, stiff with the first pains of ageing he remembered, unable to regret, what had been the most beautiful failure of its life. A failure leaving an indelible trace of suffering. Neither the clouded sun, nor the noise of the waves breaking on the shore, nor the song of the birds or not even the image of Mary, could erase this part of his past. His only escape, his search for interior peace could only come from his piano. He sat down in front of the white piano facing the turquoise sea, wondering why his first keys introduced a melancholic stormy weather. He played only with his right hand, his fingers slipping over the white and black keys while trying to keep an eye on the sea, trying to find refuge there. The rest was habit, a ritual of a pseudo pianist, but which, so he thought, let his imagination run wild. Like a sleepwalker, he went in the kitchen, grabbed some ice cubes out of the freezer, pourred himself a shot of Bourbon. He powered up his computer, chose some DVDs, opened wide the window and accompanied, with the piano the music played on the computer, the opened large window, following to the passage the take-off of a corbel which caws, whose cry was only one call, for one as of his, which flew a little further, small black task, in the pale blue sky. Even the umbrella pines, cypresses and other palm trees couldnt bring out of his blues. The windswept landscape, whose gusts of winds driving out the last clouds left him indifferent. The phone rang startling him. He pick up the phone with a gruff Yeah? He changed his tone recognizing the voice of one of his old buddies, a former Liberation journalist who in spite of his forced retirement, kept invaluable contacts in the small world of political journalism. Eric was all ears to what he had to say.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/221 The right had made a big mistake in nailing the left on the pilori, when the scandals came out in the press with the indictments of the political leaders. Sensing Erics incomprehension, he added: Nobody ever managed to untangle the retro commissions (back payments) on the sale of warships in Asia. A few deaths isnt going to perturbe the Republic, adding after a pause, to whet his friends appetite, the leaders of the majority are passing one hell of a hot potato which theyre going to have a hard time getting rid of. Eric imagined the sharks grin on the other end of the line. A murky story of secret accounts abroad, supposedly involving, personalities from the right and of left. But the amusing thing is that its like the story of a guy facing the wind and pissing on himself . Nobody knows from where the blow came from, an examining magistrate is investigating the affair, the whistleblowers are having a ball, but, because there is a big question mark. In the brawl opposing the top five characters of the State, nobody can figure out who started it all, which should all splash all of them, including some of the leaders on the left, who were used as involuntary bait, to get the papers interested. And the worst should come out, according to my sources in one or two months, after the holidays, pointing the finger at the head of the government. Who isnt an idiot. His voice had been suave, obviously he was enjoying seeing the party he hated caught redhanded but his tone hid another question: Some wonder if this wasnt the last trick found by the Head of the State would to gracefully bow out, his sickness and a scandal opposing his succesors. His sickness? It was the first time Eric heard anything about it. Since 1974, every president had lied about their health, except for the candidate who didnt get elected in 1981. But he was too young anyway to have health problems.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/222

It was Erics turn to speak. You mean to say that the president is ready to step down and resign honorably when the guy hasnt run the country during the last three year. Machiavellian! cried out the former journalist adding, thats like the plot against Chaban in 1974. When everyone dropped him at the last moment, with a thousand and one smiles hiding traps and corpses. In resigning the president will make a last thumb nose to his adversaries in his own camp Any other person would have stepped down honorably, after the failure of the referendum. He chose to remain because the Presidency was a shelter against the malicious and the perverts around him, but the situation couldnt last. Leaving later because old age was sure to have the ordinary voters in tears. Contrary to all the others presidents, French sincerely liked him. They adored, it when he said: Im out of the game, Ill lose, but Ill try. They loved his tours of France, his musketeer way of going to the people, his love of traditional cooking, his way of shaking hands, even when he was already looking elsewhere in holding their hands. He gave them the impression of being one of them. It was his unique force. But he couldnt run for another term, even if he was dying to do so. History is cruel for politicians. Too many Cans around. The guy who had taken over the party he had created and remains his major political error, would eat the shirt off his back. As in the 1995 primaries? You wanna bet!he added laughing. Youre going to bet on a woman winning the race for the Presidency? asked Eric.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/223 On a Sego and DSK ticket, hell win over the business leaders. And Sego, the first woman president of France. If the polls and her team dont lock her up in an ivory tower.

That seems quite a hasty and convenient assumption. Said Eric. Even if we are not yet in the 6th Republic, nor in the USA. I just dont see how, on a constitutional level. such a tandem could work, especially in a super macho country like France.

He suddenly remembered a scene of the past: The undeclared socialist candidate, with his companion on Calvis beaches. Curious like any man about communication, Eric had watched them from afar. And a gesture if not had moved it, at least touched: Two hundred meters from the shore, far from being seen by anyone just before diving in the blue water, they held each others hand. And Eric had thought back them: These two will go very far!.

He told the story to his friend who didnt seem surprised: Theyve know each other since the Elysee, had four children and are very close, which nobody believes and thats their force. O. K. so lets bet on his resignation and the victory of the liberal left?

12 bottles of champagne. As I always lose our bets, at least our political bets, this time, an ordinary bottle of champagne will do, I cant afford more nowadays. And as you know nothing about Champaign, youll not even see the difference. And even if I dont agree with you, Ill still be my generous self.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/224 After this conversation, Eric started to look for news on the web, to try to corroborate his friends statements. He found bits of information, but nothing to confirm his journalist friends statements. Except a wire from the French news agency, AFP, dated May 14th, 2004, talking about an anonymous letter sent to a judge with a list of French politicians who had received kickback commissions from the sales of warships.. Letter from a whistle blower. Then an article in a weekly magazine dated July 2004 whose cover was titled: An affair of state frightens the government. He had missed the subject. He was wary of titles of this kind. He however knew that in his career when he had produced emissions of investigation, his team had often unearthed information which hurt and disturbed.

Interesting Eric thought, but Jerome (thinking of his cousins future campaign) is likely to run into a wall. He wanted to tell about his cousins arrival in the campaign which was sure to shakeup the local political life. But decided not to, being wary of his journalist friends temperamental outbursts and his total commitments to the left. Hed learn about the whistleblowers letter soon enough

The Bargainer CHAPTER

The telephone call had the effect of a red hot pepper in his life. Legislative campaigns in France vehiculed only lies. A contest of the biggest liars in the country. Acts of faith which engage only those who listened, creating a swirl of collective hysteria, which in the results of the second run popped away with the champagne bubbles of victory. Absolute negation of democracy or of the image they tried to give of it.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/225 He thought of his cousin. He wasnt a party man. He spoke frankly and his political ideals were definitely Christian socialist, with a Gaullist view of the French society.

Jerome did not have any qualms in his job. He carried it out. In the interest of his company and for the happiness of his bank account. Eric who was put off by his offhanded manners had simply answered It wont last. A million people wont cut up this planet forever. But Im not a Messiah, if our fellow-citizens and all other Europeans prefer TV shows let them pay the consequences. Their children and grand children once grown up and free in massacring this consumer society. Eric had been shocked by his cousins aggressive tone in saying all this. Two long wrinkles appeared on his forehead, proof in his case of anger, held back too long. And almost as brutally, he changed the subject to talk about his favorite book: Gatsby the Magnificent, written by Scott Fitzgerald in Paris in 1924.

I never tire of this writers prose and the destroying madness which accompanied him every day, every night of his life. Turning to his cousin, he had added I would have liked to live in the Thirties with the big artists of that period, painters, writers, philosophers, musicians. But you Eric who lived the madness of exacerbated passion, the passion only good only for pimpled-faced teens, you should read Fitzgerald over and over again. Eric had read, discovered this Gatsby imagined by a man that passion and fragility had thrown into alcohol.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/226 He also had fantasized on the American cars of the Thirties, with the leather seats, in which, he knew it, he would have humped his lady friend on a deserted dirt track, facing the Atlantic Ocean howling winter noises. He easily imagined these black limousines with their red roofs. Life in the Thirties must have been like it was for his generation in the Seventies. A collective overdoing, where those in power mixed up with tugs who shared their hustlers with them, where Ms X was an intermediary pimp between her husbands full wallet and a down and out would be starlet. Writers, painters, musicians, singers and other artists of all sorts gathered in the same places to live moments of unique collective intoxication. Only to gather the following day and set out again in these festivals, these orgies which locked up them, already, in paradises of the forgotten.

68 had dressed the old hexagon in the veils of freedom. Veils which temporarily hid a reality, stuck in its conservative habits. Edgar Faure a brilliant mind and charmer had introduced freedom and responsibility in the high schools and colleges. In those blessed days of teachers and parents being buddies, of draft, of entry in work life, those who had believed in the 1968 myth of freedom found themselves suddenly facing the real-world and its reality. Private industry and public administrations were run by petty department heads, sure of their privileges and trembling out of fear of losing their jobs. In the United States, the least tolerant executives came out of Berkeley, the cradle of the revolt of American youth, the cradle where the new ideas were born. Over there, the desire of inventing, of creating was still alive. That generation had wanted and imagined part of tomorrows world, todays Silicone Valleys.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/227 France had produced graduates whose only goal was private enterprise. By day dreaming Edgar Faure had been the grave-digger of public education.

He had to get to Paris to see his cousin. His projects worried him. But at the bottom of his heart, he knew that they would both jump into this battle. In their families consanguineous solidarity was a reality which went beyond socio-professional and political cleavages. The idea of being members of the same entity which since hundreds of years had grown rich by the contribution of other cultures, other visions of the world. One common virtue had been constantly handed down to the new generations: tolerance.

Eric got up and looked at the sea which turned into an emerald color. He went back into his kitchen, into his personal hells kitchen. He thought about the guy who in creating his news agency managed to break out of his monotony. A thing he couldnt ever do nor even wanted to try. In spite of the fact that he knew he was becoming a social alcoholic or more exactly a lone drinker. The only time his need to drink disappeared was when he ran off to Cannes, when he found Marys arms, her presence. When in Cannes he only drank while working on his manuscript. Anisette was Toulouse Lautrecs drink, his was vodka vanilla, which he liked to pour into a glass borrowed from British Airways, back in the days travelling first class was his daily routine.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/228 In the 30 degrees below zero freezer, the liquid looked like a silver plated cascade of snow melting under spring sunshine. The transparent liquid, slightly frozen, ran out into his glass, leaving on its sides, some white frost. It had become a ritual which he enjoyed. Glass in hand, he went back on the terrace and sat down in his Burmese armchair, discovering the first white, pink and red blossoms of the bougainvilleas. Life was made up of little things like this, small things which a minute ago, he wouldnt have paid any attention to, his mind set on every day things of no importance. Downing his vodka he thought of the frozen and windy January landscapes of the Swedish lakes region. And the streets full of policemen in black leather uniforms, looking for people who had exceeded the amount of alcohol authorized by law. It gave him an idea. A sudden desire of partying somewhere far and yet close to civilization. Images crossed his mind: pink flamingo birds, horses, wild bulls, marshlands, luminous sky. The Camargue region of southern France would be his next stop before going to Paris. He called Mary on the spot: Join me in Marseilles Friday evening; Im taking you along for a weekend escapade to Camargue! The young woman who knew the neo-cultural phantasms of her lover agreed. Forgetting the open stinking mouths of her patients was just what she needed. By the sound and tone of Erics voice she knew that it would be a wild everything goes weekend. Well stay at Fouques lodge said Eric enthusiastically. He had spoken to her about the place, on the edge of the marshes of the Camargue natural park. A West-Indian lodge overlooking the pink flamingos, wild duck, horses and bulls grazing and lakes surrounding the place. Luxury out in the wilds.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/229 Men have stereotypes, memories hidden deep inside which one day, they need to relive, she thought. Memories of lost happiness? she said out loud. He had never told her where this passion came from: a woman or a just a beachcombers past life? For Eric, things were much simpler. He had accidently hit upon the place about twenty years ago while he was covering the Camargue region for a newspaper. Driving randomly along the roads of the region leading nowhere with the risk of getting stuck miles from any inhabited place. The name itself, Fouques caught his attention and turning back he penetrated a chaotic dirt track which seemed to really lead nowhere. He was in sheer amazement seeing the zany place. In spite of the reception of the owner who, obviously, didnt want customers dropping by just because they lost their way, unable, to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings. Between two hardnosed characters, it all was in the way of doing things. Seeing his host wary at the idea that he was only going to have lunch there, without taking room, Eric offered to pay more than the lunch so as to be able to have only a lunch. Sitting around with champagne on the table they talked and shared past souvenirs. The champagne took on a golden color in the sunshine and the bubbles seemed to want to fly away... Privileged moments belonging only to the present and could not be explained an hour later. Le bon moment at the right place. As his cousin used to say mixing French and English

His problem, his only real problem, was staying in the same place for hours, plunged in his souvenirs and dreams, in a world without gods, without past or future. Each start of a thought

The Bargainer/Hoffman/230 seemed fixed in eternity, like a statue. Periods of contemplation which he hated with a real pleasure.

He decided, before calling his hotel to get an Andalusian gypsy friend to set up part of the atmosphere. He wanted a show and share it with those who had come there to find some peace and calm. He watched Mezzo, a local amateur TV channel specialized in covering centuries of cultural, musical phenomena, sometimes plunging in the near future with creations from avant-garde talents, encouraged by senior government officials knowing what they were doing. The TV screen was illuminated by flamenco dancers and gipsy guitar sounds, but what caught his eye was the woman. Eva, a fishmongers belly, a backside like an Italian mama having raised four or five children and light as a ballerina on the dance floor. Her body and the music were one, seeming to want to dominate everything, becoming rhythm, creating notes with the movements of her feet. She was wholly in her art, creating and sharing emotions with the viewers. That was what this channel was all about: curiosity and a desire of sharing it with the viewers. He fell asleep in a nap full of images and pleasure.

About 1500 kilometers from there, in the Belgian fog, Jeromes private jet landed at Brussels. Outside the airport the driver of the Belgian subsidiary was waiting for him. A big, strapping man, looking like the new bodyguards seen nowadays all over Europe. One of Brownings men Jerome thought. The sort of problems which he couldnt understand and didnt want to understand. The drivers French hardly understandable because of his Flemish accent, Jerome managed to understand Amigo hotel and nodded in agreement. Nobody ever knew that he was used to staying at the Amigo, not even his secretary. Obviously this wasnt an

The Bargainer/Hoffman/231 ordinary driver and he had been briefed on his habits. All other the executives of the company stayed in Hiltons or Hyatts. Only Jerome was an exception in preferring the obsolete charm of the old European luxury hotels which Marco Dimagio knew it.

The driver, in this case, could be only one of Brownings men. Since being taken over by the Forte family, a pizza merchants who had made a fortune in the the grace of Her Royal Highness the Queen and work, the Amigo hotel had taken on new colors her out of date aspect. family of Italian hotel industry by the founders hard while preserving

The hotel had the incredible advantage of having part of its rooms looking out on the famous Grand Place of Brussels. Situated in the center of Brussels, it was the ideal place to stay and shop. He had chosen an Executive suite, with a living room in bright colors and retro furniture. A very warm decoration, redone by the architects of the new owners. The price had also been redone: 550 Euros. But what he preferred was the space. He let his wife organize her day with her friends and went down to book a table in the restaurant, in which he appreciated the beige tones, just like in the bar. The bar with its barman in a white Spencer, very British. As in all his stays he booked a corner table for two. His conversation with Browning did not need eavesdroppers and he did not want to eat in his room. Browning arrived at exactly noon, the general wearing brown a jacket, probably made to measure, a beige shirt with a dark green tie, beige trousers and maroon loafers. Very chic thought Jerome, surprised to see American so well dressed. Its a sure way of melting himself in the European crowd, he said to himself. The two men greeted each other. Brownings handshake was frank. They moved on to the bar. They ordered two malts, without ice. The bar of Amigo offered the biggest and best choices of whisky and cognac in the world. The general started bluntly:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/232 What do you think about the incidents with these hooligans in our French factory? Browning looked at his interlocutor with a malicious smile, before adding: I discovered that in the press, a little surprised, like everyone I suppose, but something good always comes out of the bad, even if these incidents allowed a return to situation normal in your plant. After all, not so long ago in France, the CGT union boys had their thugs. Freedom to circulate and to work seems to me to be two inalienable rights in our democracies. It is simply too bad that all gets back in order thanks to a gang of little scoundrels. In this country the authority of the State is unceasingly ridiculed by minorities, including trade-union. Jerome understood that Browning would not say any more to him. If he was behind all this Marco would know it and thats not even sure! How far are you, asked the old CIA operative, on your electoral campaign project? The kickoff will be in fifteen days. answered Jerome. Jerome, Id like to share with you, out of friendship with your boss who is also our mutual friend, some he paused, his transparent blue eyes looking into Jeromes eyes, lets say intuitions. Im not trying to discourage you or anything you, especially since our first meeting in Manhattan, Im all for it, even if you dont give a damn for my opinion. But maybe youre not playing the right horse if you want to win. Seeing Jeromes interrogative air, he continued: Youve no doubt, read the cover story a State Scandal of a French weekly magazine last July. Not paying any attention to Jeromes denials who didnt read all the weeklies, every week, he continued: A strange affair, big money like always when a bank in Luxembourg is involved, with charges filed against the banks president in the Grand Duchy. The charges wont go very far,

The Bargainer/Hoffman/233 except shaking all the Luxembourg banking community. It doesnt matter. I ran into a French officer over there that Ive known since my first assignment in Asia, our roads had crossed before ago in the Middle-East. In my past profession there is no such thing as chance meetings. I was in Luxemburg to investigate on kickback commissions given to Russians. But what seems to be only a small money scandal now can quickly become un affaire dtat if some guys with bad intentions start mixing things all up in view of endangering the government and its party. And of course, interrupted Jerome, you happen to be one of these guys? No! cried out the head of the Intelligence Economical Group, but in my new line of business, as in the old one, we have access, thanks to mathematical models developed by our agencies and universities, these models along with some data mining allows us to make certain assumptions. In France youve got very professional people doing the same thing. And I dont believe in God, or in chance meetings, so running into this guy in Luxembourg, shows beyond doubt that something fishy is going on. Maybe an attempt to involve the left in the scandal, but a former minister has already been involved. At any rate someone is behind all this, like they say in my country too many suds on the soap. The majority of the politicians in the world hide their money in numbered accounts and it is dangerous for any journalist to try to prove it, like playing Russian roulette with a fully charged gun. Marco asked me to inform you, up to you to decide. But the party whose colors youre going to bear is likely to be jeopardized. Lets have lunch. said Jerome, our table is ready and well be more at ease there to talk. Ive got a curious streak in me and Id like to ask a few things, free to you to answer or not. His black eyes looking in Brownings blue eyes.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/234 With pleasure! was Brownings only words. They moved on to the restaurant. The restaurant, like most of the hotel was decorated in various tones of beige. Just like my room thought Jerome. The colors associated with the wood created a comfortable atmosphere, cozy and calm. Jerome had chosen a big table, slipping 20 Euros to the Maitre D. They sat down on the half-moon bench not really facing each other, almost side by side. After the Maitre D had taken their order and served some white Burgundy, Jerome attacked: Tell me the truth John; if you can or want to, how did you get involved in this mess in Luxembourg? The old CIA operative squinted his eyes, raised his glass, looked at it, admired its color and slowly drank a mouthful. Very slowly, giving the impression of enjoying the moment.

A long, very long story, my Jerome. When you work for the intelligence services, especially on the ground, like me, you see things a normal man refuses to see: misery, hatred, faith, you brush shoulders with uncultured people, you chase up dogmatism, especially those which arent based on JudeoChristianism, but the only bond, the only cement between these different cultures, these women, these men remains money. Revolutions are born out of misery, everything in sight is burned down, and opponents are wantonly killed. Its all done under the good intentions of redistribution wealth to the havenots. But its more of a power switch replacing those in power. Inevitably the new ones in power suddenly discover the pleasure of power, the power of the money and you end up with an outright dictator. This is the scenario in poor countries, much less in countries like ours. But it all started over here in the western countries.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/235 Thanks to handful of men, a couple hundred or thousand or so, I cant tell, who raised money to the status of a God. Ever since weve known about the existence of supernovas, this matter which exists a million light years away from us, the idea of a God regulating the universe took one hell of a setback. Some must have said to themselves, If there is nothing, then lets become equal to the image we have of these Gods who do not exist. So now, for everyone on this huge planet money represents power for the thousands of men and women who run this planet behind the backs of our politicians. Money is the real power. None of them needs more money for him or his family. Theyd even find the idea stupid and laughable. They dont need to own more things. Theyve got everything they want plus the power that comes with their wealth. Sure these old and young puritans hand out a few bread crumbs to the politicians around the world, especially to countries who lack raw materials because they are puritans, he smiled mischievously, Puritans void of their forefathers moral convictions. The system couldnt exist without the banks feeding it. They oil the system. All the corruption in planet goes through their desks, secret desks not even accessible to people like Marco. He isnt rich enough; his fortune just gives him access to the door. What does he think about it? asked Jerome. The same thing as me! We need terrorists to sell our weapons, the Russian also need them and soon the Chinese will join us. And we all need certain banks to handle the commissions and the pay-backs. A dozen banks handles it all, especially in Europe. When you look for the money of terrorism, youll find these banks. Jerome listened, amazed: How did you find all this out? You know that Internet was created for defense purposes, just like the GPS and they are both great tools for spying, invented by the man to control mankind. Researchers have created systems making it possible to extract and analyze ordinary information to discover what companies want to hide from view: activities, projects, and research. Its

The Bargainer/Hoffman/236 useless to launch into something already handled by a company elsewhere. Our customers give us key words, subjects and we retrieve all the information published on the Net, especially by researchers who have only a scientists view and only think of improving the human condition in our world. Others discovered how to break into the banks systems to follow dirty money. And there is dirty money all over the world. Its useless to extract listings, like a French journalist did some time ago, weve entered several banks systems and we know, who in Russia or in Europe received commissions and they are numerous. And the system depends on the banks that hold the planets by the balls because they need the banks to do business. The IMF, he continued, evaluates the dirty money going through respectable banks in amounts varying between 700 million and a billion dollars. Our projections, thanks to our own information, make it closer to 20 billion dollars. Thats one sixth of the budget of Israel and five times that of Senegal. The latest estimates carried out by our services multiply this figure by 20, for this year. And Im only talking about the big fish, there is also the small fish. Sometimes it is ridiculous; I found the trace of pay backs given by an American airframe manufacturer to a European purchaser. As he couldnt bring the money in his own country, he bought thousands of acres in the States. After 9/11 the files on all foreigners living in the States were screened carefully and our services wondered what this guy, who here only since his retirement, was up to in the middle of nowhere sitting on his thousands of acres. All is faked, my friend, everything. And you Europeans havent understood all that yet.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/237 When Boeing files charges against Airbus, because in Europe you guys grant Airbus government aid Boeing forgets to mention in its consolidated balance-sheet that they receive financial aid from the pentagon. But its for military research, for our countrys defense and Boeings contracts come mainly from the orders of the American army. De Gaulle had held the same reasoning for Dassault: in the interest of National independence, therefore national defense, first of all. His transparent eyes studied Jerome, then he gave out what must have been to him the supreme confidence: When youre young, you believe in all these values, those of our Western civilizations, you join the army to protect these same values, to defend a way of living, a civilization and towards the end of your life, you discover that it was nothing but lies, that the blood poured by millions young soldiers was used only for small private interests, that those who control us or their ancestors sometimes made a deal with the Devil, in the name of the dollar. Some US banks, like the Swiss banks, banked on Hitler just to make some quick money and I dont give a damn if its millions of dollars. Read the Tarpley and Chaitkin book, The money of the Nazis, especially the chapter on the fortune of the Thyssen family, one of largest German fortunes at that time, whose money was funneled into Holland and forwarded to the States and returned to Germany in the whenever the family needed some money. Better, and his expression become hard In 1932, or 33, I do not know any more, the German Chancellor von Scheilcher tried to bar the rise of Hitler. The English and American bankers did everything to have Scheilcher overthrown. During this period of economic crisis Hitler represented, in their eyes, stability. Finance and Moral do not mix. These same bankers had sided with Trotsky and helped the Russian revolution. Ever heard of the Berger Group? Seeing Jerome silent, he continued: It is the pseudo moral attitude that Im driving at! He let out a sigh before continuing

The Bargainer/Hoffman/238 The older I get, the more I believe that I would have been able to launch a cultural revolution on my own, with all the deaths that it would involve! It is what the majority of our leaders deserve. They know that I know, but they also know, that if something should happen to me, a handful of journalists whom I can count on would be informed in minutes thanks to Internet. But Ive already said too much, privilege of old age I guess. I like you Jerome. And he added with the smile of an old fighter: Im never mistaken about people! The word never made Jerome smile, but he felt that John Browning wasnt lying. On purpose the man chose the right time to speak out frankly as if he wanted an answer out of Jerome, as if he had told him all this to hear Jeromes answer: I guess these are the reasons why I will run for office, because I do not need their system. But I have just one question: youve so often had your hands in overthrowing governments that I wonder if all youre saying right now isnt another one of your manipulations, after all your government didnt appreciate the position of France in the UN, at the time of the Iraq war? The general made a pretence not having heard. Jerome repeated his sentence Even if I havent got access to your famous banks, I have enough money so that my small children wont need anything. Ive taken care of that, he added. Having 10 cars, 12 apartments, is not for me. And all that you told me, John, has just reinforced my inward conviction, correct me if Im wrong, that I must run in this campaign if only to redeal the cards, and get the women and men of this country voting. To get them to react to being jobless and watching an idiot box all day with its talk shows, serial films and live entertainment. If we let the pervert producers have their way, well soon be watching men being hunted down by armed men, manhunts sponsored by Coca Cola. And in America

The Bargainer/Hoffman/239 youve run the yellow traffic light with your system of live denouncement.

Anyway, Ive had enough of these racist theories about the superiority of the white race, on the color of someones skin and I will say it loud and strong. We all are the descendants of blacks and monkeys and any human being on this damn planet is entitled to a decent life. Ive reached my level of incomMarconce work wise in the company and I find no pleasure trying to please Wall Street and F*cking financial analysts bastards. His expression turned to anger. So I will go out the in the boondocks, with new ideas, fairer and more human. Im not thinking about absolute equality, which I dont really believe in, but trying to have my fellow-citizens think about these concepts, with a little brotherly love on top, without overdoing it because even love is just a creation of our civilizations and our beliefs.

Browning look at him vituperating, a slight ironic smile on his face. I was almost sure of your honest John reaction but dont go. he starred into Jeromes eyes. Youre only going to disturb people, youre not part of the first three circles, youre only an acrobat living with the images of his childhood or teens. Youll be chewed up in less time than it takes a cobra to swallow and digest a field mouse. Its what I came to tell you. Only that. Youre not a yes man, except maybe in your company because of your close ties with Marco, but out there youll be facing bitter people convinced of being brighter than you, more productive even if they only write obscure texts which will be

The Bargainer/Hoffman/240 voted by women and men whose badges of office on their windshields makes them feel important. You havent got any political convictions. On the right because today, with globalization its obvious. On the left because they give themselves a more social hue to the globalization. But they dont know how to get out of the rut. A predicators look was on his face now. Communism killed Marxism but that doesnt mean Marxs ideas are good enough to be thrown away. But the left hasnt understood that yet. Dont go there, Jerome, even if my interest as an American and patriot, wishes it with all my heart; theyll tear you to pieces if only because you are neither on the right nor on the left. Well said, John, Im right-left, left-right. I want the best of both worlds for my fellow citizens and it will be theme of my campaign! Then, good luck, but Ill keep an eye on you. By the way the campaign will be tough if the president resigns, because unless we have a collective suicide on the left, the next president will come from the left. If they still exist, and if theyre not suicide prone. Which I doubt, he added it with a smile. The being a bit nasty has your family always voted left? Thank God Jerome said to himself. Even if I fail Id still be vice president of my company. And I can stop working when Im 56! Isnt life great? Great and beautiful! Brownings voice was suave, warm, and provocative. At the end of a career as a senior officer I am discovering that and enjoying it in the arms of a beautiful lover for whom I have deep feelings which she reciprocates. I am finally discovering the pleasure of the senses which has nothing to do with a blow job in a country whorehouse or a Vietnamese or Russian hooker, even if these women are sometimes, quite often very beautiful. But whats worse, whats despairing is that my vision of the world radically changed. I dont see myself anymore as a defender of freedoms since I know what I told you presently.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/241 I dont believe in a God anymore since Asia and the discovery of the alarming vastness of an endless universe. I hope simply that this universe of which we do not know the limits didnt come out of nothing because I cannot imagine the appearance of the first atom ex nihilo. So I will continue to fight for my country, for our ideas, mine, yours, and Marcos, we who maybe remain men of good will, in spite of some of our misdoings. But Id like to see these heartless predators bite the dust. The President of the European commission has just created a special service and part of my company will work for them, depending only on him and his cabinet secretary. We have started brainstorming together, organizing think tanks, and organize actions, with only vision: mankind. If you fail in politics Jerome you can always to join us.

As you said you dont this relation with power that turned our heads but youve got enough of money for two generations of Declercks. Think about it, keep it in a corner of your mind, even the word is that weve never had this conversation. Browning seemed on a cloud. In peace with his heart, even if Jerome though him capable of setting up a crooked blow, by conviction or to render service to a friend. And he knew, suspected his capacities of harm even if he seemed to have become wise. At the end of the meal, they had ordered two coffees, acceptable for a hotel restaurant (perhaps because of the Italian origins of the owners of the place) and drunk two 30 year old Armagnacs. John heated to it in his two large hands like a real expert.

Jerome didnt understand what Browning was after. Only an immense dissatisfaction of the system in which they lived could have been able to lead this kind of man to such a decision. Then they spoke about art, of music, and painting, Brussels was becoming the artistic capital of Europe.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/242 The spectacles succeeded spectacles, from theatre workshops to Opera. Dance, musical comedies and tour of Rolling Stones grown old but playing fully booked. Even in the field of Art, France, so pretentious, was going to have to be wary of Belgium and Switzerland. One era disappeared, that of the cultural preeminence of his old country. They spent a long hour talking about all and nothing fully enjoying the pleasure of sharing common tastes, in many fields. Later, a long time after, in his hotel suite, Jerome wondered whether this conversation had existed. For years he had suspected that the real order of the things was not that which served, with an exemplary regularity, the evening news, if the concept of information on TV still had any meaning, which he doubted. His only bond with information was the press which he bought only after having checked who were the majority shareholders, and to his disappointment it seemed that only the satirical Canard Enchaine and the New Observer had escaped being eaten up by financial predators. Imagining an international plot of super powerful, a Mafia of men of good would be too convenient and he banished the thought. However in aligning end to end certain economic realities in certain sectors like weapons and oil it could easily be imagined that a phantom multinational consortium managed these sectors.

He decided to keep his opinion to himself, sharing them even with friends know for over 50 years would bring only denials and he thought you never knows the real convictions of old buddies from high school. But the conversation with Browning had disturbed him. He remembered arguing with the Minister: 300.000 people control this planet, he had told his friend. Today he had some doubts, 300.000 might be a bit too many in view of what Browning had revealed to him, many only a few hundred decision makers.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/243 Sitting on the beige couch in his suite, his cell phone on his lap, he sent a message to his cousin: Write up a synthesis on the Illuminati, the Bierger group and the Masters of the world. Check with your journalists friends, with the usual discretion.

His wife returned around 5 p. m. her arms full of packages, each one prettier than the other, maybe the shopkeepers in Brussels liked appearances and took great care of making their packages look good. Jerome knew that all these bags were for the children. The desire for giving pleasure had always been one his wifes primary motivations in life. In spite of their arguments, their rancors, he was only with half surprised to find a small package with his name. Better than anybody she knew his tastes, desires, and small pleasures which each in various degrees give a festive air to daily life. A very small package, so tiny, thought Jerome that it can only be cufflinks, of a tie pin, a watch or a pen. She knew his tastes and his passion to collect these things. This time they were gold cufflinks, small spheres which normally only existed in colored strings interwoven in a ball. He had a whole collection of them in various colors but he always wanted to them in gold. She had kept his unsatisfied desire in a corner of her memory and had taken advantage of this Belgian escapade to please to him. It was sure that since the day before, she made dozens of phone calls to her friends in Brussels to find this small object of desire. He hugged her tenderly giving her a kiss on his forehead. It was the only gesture which he could still allow himself to do. To put an end to the emotional atmosphere, he proposed going out for dinner in a restaurant of her choice. He wasnt surprised when she chose: The Shepherds hut a simple restaurant which had the advantage of being to a few hundred meters from the hotel and of offering genuine Brussels cooking, a blend of

The Bargainer/Hoffman/244 Dutch and northern Belgian foods. The restaurant was a bit too show off, with a bronze metal chimney, red armchairs and tables, a little too much bling bling for Jerome, but a good food with products typical of the Belgian capital. Lobster and clams will be great for me and if all goes well the evening will be fine. On his way to Brussels Jerome had decided to offer a beautiful evening to the woman who had shared more than 25 years of his life. In spite of the noise of loud conversations around them, to which neither of them were used to, the atmosphere of the evening was fine. Due to the noisy crowd dinning around them they were able to avoid being alone with their questions and their personal problems. Sitting in the eye of the cyclone, they were at peace with each other. Back in their suite, without putting on the lights Jerome hesitantly went to the big bay windows. He opened the shutters to the light of the Grand Place in. There place was full of multicolored windswept garlands put there for an unknown Festival, giving an illusion of thousands of fireflies lighting up the walls of the suite. A diffuse light played with the shadows of the furniture. He drew his wife close to him. They made love with tenderness, like two old lovers who knew how to find pleasure.with each other. This magic moment when the world explodes or is born. Sylvie had kept a black silk shirt on to hide her mutilated breast. In spite of her situation she still needed to resort to useless tricks just for the sake of seducing. Useless but delicious trick. She definitively knew what she was doing!

CHAPTER

Eric found his old friend, Dominique. Were it not for the hair which started to gray on the temples, he hadnt changed. The

The Bargainer/Hoffman/245 walrus mustache and the impenetrable faded blue eyes were still there. They had joined each other in the Balcony one of the oldest restaurants in old Nice. The place had nothing to do with the trendy restaurants in the city. The owner had created an atmosphere of the Thirties with candles on the tables, filtered light and a dark wooden parquet floor, a cozy place. Far from the wood and steel decors that abound in Paris or New York as well as Berlin and London. A return to old values. The charm of the place was due to its dcor of wood and books on shelves. He had never dared ask if the books where phony. He only hoped that the owners had thought of placing some real books here and there. The kind of books that can be found in second hand book shops with the smell of old paper and old leather covers bringing back memories. They chose a corner table apart from others clients. Neither of them liked sharing their conversations with eavesdropping strangers. After exchanging news of those who, one day or another had been part of their small clan, Eric asked him the question which had justified this rendezvous: What do you have on the Bildberger group? The retired journalist looked surprised, behind his gold rimmed glasses, his eyes scanned Eric, but he readily answered the question. I worked on the subject and also on the Trilateral for a few years without coming up with anything worthwhile. I think that a lot of people have imagined conspiracy theories like with the creation of the WTO, the World Trade organization. One thing is for sure, there is a link between the Skull and Bones, the secret society of a select few from Yale who co-opt themselves between people of the same world and whose acknowledged goal is the installation of a system of reproduction of the elites where one finds of John Kerry and the Georges W Bush who both leave Yale and belonged to this association.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/246 Skull and Bones is the oldest of Yale's secret societies and by far the most determinedly secretive. As such, it has long been an inspiration for speculation and imagination. It still is. Still, as I recently discovered in the course of looking into Skull and Bones, not all Bonesmen see the necessity of remaining tight-lipped about a society whose biggest secret may be that its secrets are essentially trivial. All these Bonesmen have the same vision of the world and of the social relations. And it is perhaps in there that links with Bildeberg group, the Bohemians, and the Trilateral Commission can be found among all the great names of wild capitalism and American politicians who are the mainstay of Bildeberg group and the Trilateral. All these groups publicly acknowledge and share common objectives : the deregulation, the precarisation and the disengagement of the State from Economy and Education. Actually, he went on massing the chin, in seeking explanations, I ended up getting scared and I dropped the whole thing. A Bonesman warned me not to get too close: "The alumni still care," the source warned. =d[poo]=-0"Don't laugh. They don't like people tampering and prying. The power of Bones is incredible. They've got their hands on every lever of power in the States. You'll see -- it's like trying to look into the Mafia." The experience we have come to value in our society depends on privacy, and we are unwilling to jeopardize that life in order to solicit new members. The life which we invite you to share in our society is based on such intangible factors that we cannot meaningfully convey to you either its nature or quality. Hardly a tool of Hades, but rather a staid wayside for students, its heyday past, its glory faded, Skull and Bones may have little more than this to conceal. Even my newspaper wasnt big enough to run against these Masters of the World, with these bankers, who without qualms helped Hitler and the totalitarian ways of the Soviet Union. Eric interrupted him:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/247 For an old member of the Communist Revolutionary League, you seem to have turned coats! When you were younger you justified the Soviet totalitarian ways, but Ill not hold it against you. Everybody can come back to reason. Which reason, that seems to be the question, Dominique said driyy. Eric attacked his lamb chop while his friend enjoyed his duck a la Japanese. Youre probably right, he finally said after downing a mouthful of his Chiroubles wine, But why all these questions? I tell you soon! Eric promised. Now that this subject comes back to me, the former journalist said, I think that none of us has gone to the end of the subject and thats a shame. One thing comes back to my mind, a simple thing which I had then considered as just Franco-French: The former president of the IMF, Michel Camdessus report to Nicolas Sarkozy on what hinders growth in France. One of the recommendations of the report, the main one, suggested dusting things, a modernization of labor regulations with a main objective replacing the TDCI and other CDD by a unique job contract. However its a step going in the direction desired by these various associations of big industrialists to make more money and, he added it with a forced smile, the money is tied on time worked especially to the working time of others, the laborers and clerks doing menial jobs, the underlings. The more they work, the more their margins of their trusts are big. He was suddenly was passionate, Look the United Kingdom and Germany have already pushed back the retirement age in their countries. The German trade unions feel responsible for the future of the workers of their country but without any real political vision. As far as the English go, their trade unions have very little power in things like this. Meanwhile our unions spend their time quarreling between their ranks.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/248 And we an open avenue for our political community, if we still have one which I doubt. Normal! interrupted Eric, the politicians only think of themselves and surf on the poll results, but coming back to the purpose of our lunch. Ive read quite a few articles on these secret societies. One article was published in Acadie Nouvelle, others were published in our daily Le Monde who described this group and more I read these articles, the more I get the impression that they are the true owners of this planet and that the politicians are only puppets in their hands, in their power. I brought along an article published in the Monde Diplomatic. Its dated November 2003 and written by Olivier Boiral, teacher at the University of Laval in Canada, Id like you to have a look at it and give me your opinion as an international politics expert. I already told you, answered his buddy swallowing a mouthful of food, I dont believe in the theory of a world plot! So much the better however certain facts are disconcerting. The 1994 treaty of Marrakech which fosters the creation of the WTO, and the liberalization and the globalization of the exchanges. It is the first point, according to Boiral, wanted by David Rockefeller and the members of the Trilateral which intends to become a private body of dialogue and orientation of international policy and the founding charter states that the commission endeavors to develop practical proposals for an joint action of the 3 areas, North America, Europe and Japan. And then, continued Eric, we are only in 1973, on the baptismal funds of the Trilateral Commission. Dominique grabbed the ball on the rebound: And thanks to its 200 members, owners of multinationals, bankers, politicians, all American at the start, and followed by the rest of the world later, the Trilateral was to become a means, the means, of protecting the interests of the multinationals and suggesting their analysis to the political communities in view of influencing the decisions of those in government or in office! Theyll even go much further by defining the criteria of good governance

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And do you believe, like another Canadien, Gilbert Larochelle, wrote Eric stopped to look at his notes, that well being can only come from above, through those who are the best qualified to determine the criteria and hand down the solutions to us. Of course not! , Dominique cried out irritated, but not a single European politician dared to publicly question what the Trilateral Commission proposed and wanted: the creation of an international order with a global solution which they openly stated and even wrote. Like any journalist still a little curious would, I followed their work or more exactly what they let filter out of their 2002 meeting in Washington, after September 11. And they know better than anyone how to react to whatever freaks out the lower classes by proposing, in the aftermath of 9/11 a series of apparently common sense measures, but right in line with their initial agenda. Theres more to come, not a single politician except in the States, dared to react back then in 2003, after having learned what the managing director of OMC had declared: I am citing from memory cause unlike you I didnt bring notes with me today but this guy Moore dared to say that it was necessary to always recall over and over the overpowering evidence which shows that international commerce reinforces economic growth. Seeing the smile of Eric, he burst shouting: Do laugh, you F*cking idiot, the president of the WTC is only talking about economic growth without a word for the women, the men, the under developed countries or those in the process of development, and you like all the other idiots, just laugh!

He was outraged. To calm him down and not disturb the lunch of the other customers around them, Eric didnt react beyond saying: But its you who told to me at the beginning of this lunch that you didnt believe in a plot!

The Bargainer/Hoffman/250 And now you go and hit the ceiling suddenly discovering that nothing is clear and that richest among the rich are trying to or are already manipulating the whole world and all the politicians around us. If they are coherent with themselves theyll try to overthrow, by any way they can, new Latin American pro Castro presidents and the old Arab dictators put in power decades ago by the Western world I certainly agree his friend conceded. They cannot admit that certain countries want to nationalize their energy resources. It is contrary with the sacred principles of globalization and this new vision of things tears to pieces the neo liberal creed which only aims at eliminating protectionism and putting in question national sovereignties. If I were one of these Heads of State I would start looking over my shoulder! After all, Salvador Allende was just one of these errors orchestrated by some of these people! From Kissinger to Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz and other former Secretaries of State or Secretaries of Defense, they all had one goal: to protect their country and their companies, playing around with titles and functions in doing so. Eric did not want to understand any more. What the former journalist was saying was more than obvious. To the powerful of the world the truth. For the others, only right to survive. For him who had always considered the left-wing ideas as a pure Utopia, these revelations, or rather pseudo revelations, shook his convictions. The two friends looked at each other at the same time. Each one reading in the expression of the other, the same existential anguish. The same fear for their children, for all those who supported without the knowing the whims of the Masters of the World.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/251 Dominique, was playing around with the left side of his moustache, proof that he was irritated, really irritated! Eric thought. He suddenly slammed his hand on the table and said: I will take up my investigation again! After all he continued, at our ages, we dont risk much anymore! adding after a pause, Maybe. Creature comfort and material well being have made us what we are today and its high time I take up my revolutionary stick. In leaving the restaurant, Eric crossed eyes with a young woman. Black hair cut short, she was definitively attractive in spite of the ear-plug phone in one of her ears. Damn cell phones! he said to himself going out of the restaurant. He wondered what a attractive young woman could be doing alone, in such a place, an ear-phone plugged in her right ear. Waiting for her lovers call or a business call? It didnt matter, he thought. With each one his own life but for the present his life or rather his cousins life didnt seem very rosy. These true or false stories about the Masters of the world upset him. When he was upset he only had one thing in mind: sex. He thought of Mary.

On the big balcony, sitting at her table, Samantha lit a cigarette and cursed herself. How did she manage to shake her head just when Eric and Dominique left the place. She hadnt had the choice. In leaning over to pick up her glass of white wine she had made a clumsy movement which dislodged the small earplug in her ear. Spotting out the waiter, she asked him to move to the table left empty by the two men who just left:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/252 I dont want to disturb the other customers and I have to make an urgent phone call. And, she continued, if you could give me a coffee, that would be superb. Without giving him time to answer she moved to the table which a waitress was clearing. She sat down and dialed a number in Belgium, while her left hand slipped under the table to recover the chip that she had placed there. A real wonder of technology developed by an MIT lab specialized in this kind of high-tech toys. Erwin Claemens, her favorite boss had told her that this same laboratory had come out with another chip, the size of a grain of sand which when place under the skin of a person makes it possible to locate that person anywhere in the world. The chip she had put under the table where two men had lunched was used as relay towards her phony cell phone. It had allowed Sam and to listen to and record the conversation of the two men. At the second ring her boss answered: Youre right, the journalist will pick up again his investigation on our group. Im flying back to Brussels toady! Her boss had had the fine nose by giving him this mission in Nice. Sometimes, often even, Erwin Claemens intuitions paid off. His knack of things, his experience in intelligence, and knowledge of men in general made him an expert. After more than twenty years as analyst with the CIA, he had created a company of analysis and security whose customers were made up of the biggest fortunes in the world. His contracts were iron-clad and his client had never wanted to know what means he used to solve their little problems. He only had one philosophy: avoiding all and any problems for his clients. He often anticipated his clients whishes by eradicating things that could stand in their way and obstruct their control of the economic power of the world.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/253 He had no qualms was sure to act in the interest of those who had a vision of what was to become of the planet. A handful of visionaries, who wanted the good of the humanity of which they were the new Gods: Masters of the World. From her years of studying psychology at the University of Louvain where she had obtained a master in political sciences, with an option on International relations, Samantha had precise memories: first her friends, most of them heads in the stars, youngsters refusing the reality of the news in Belgium, Europe and whole world. They refused all political compromises, all hatreds, especially, between Flemish and Walloons. Their frustrations were borne out of this country of theirs, where every thing goes, blows below the belt, influences of small social networks, including the worst of all, abusing under age children. Her small group dreamed of another world throwing away this rotten Europe where just looking out for yourself had become the new political creed. Just take care of your own little ass, nothing else counts. Sam liked this band of eternal friends. Their first meeting had been in kindergarten. They all came from well-off families from Brussels and they had woven bonds which had naturally carried them on to the University of Louvain.

The catholic university of Louvain had programs open on the world. Everything was done so that its students enter by the main door in professional life. It was, during a seminar on European and American relations that she met a man who was going to become her mentor and part-time lover, who seemed to know all the hidden secrets of the world which for an young woman was extremely attractive. It was during this period that she discovered her other family, the PHI short for the Greek word Philoi (friends) as they named themselves and they remained friends long time after.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/254 Twenty years of loyalty cant be erased at one go, but Samantha dreamed of other horizons. Deep down in her heart she had the need to be useful, to believe in something. That something had taken the form of the liberal values. These values had become her only creed in a refusal of repentance which undermined old Europes values. Raised in a very catholic family, her faith and belief in God was one of the pillars of her mindset, which drew her close to the American neo conservatives : belief in the superiority of the white philosophy, conservatives in face of all other forms of thought, even if European. In addition she was horrified by a virus that hit all the major European political communities: repentance. Errors during the colonial period, had been made by the majority of the European countries, disposing of indigenous peoples lives and drawing new borders which carried in them the germs of future fratricidal wars, but from there to throwing out the window everything accomplished was something that she couldnt put up with. At least the USA didnt have any guilt feelings about their past. The globalization which conveyed the liberal values seemed to her the only vision able to save planet.

It is also this form of thought, turned towards absolute selfishness, which had decided Erwin Claemens to hire this beautiful and brilliant young woman. She started in the group as a simple one analyst who tried to understand international relations and the formidable economic political issues involved, especially the economical issues at play. The queen of the synthesis, was the nickname she gave herself throw herself heart and soul into her work, spending the nights on her computer to try to decipher and synthesize the news of the world, even the most insignificant. In two years she had been able to make herself useful if it is not essential, attending the forums of Davos where she sat among the planetary elite as well as finding herself in the Bilde Group meetings

The Bargainer/Hoffman/255 The more she knew them, the more she admired these men, the only ones, she thought who had a vision of things, a vision that the worlds elected politicians desperately lacked. In her view the political body lacked more than vision, their hunger for recognition and temporary power rendered them incapable of leadership. For months, the all these powerful people had been only concerned with China. If the majority of the big multinationals had signed contracts with Beijing, very few were going to reap the expected profits. The Chinese government imposed its prices and it was necessary to sell at a loss in the largest market in the world. It was the price to pay to get a foot in the door. A Chinese government official had made things very clear: Youre free to fix prices of exports in your markets, but as far as selling in the Chinese market is concerned, either you apply our prices or... and, according to Erwin, he left his sentence hang, and pointed his index in the direction of the west. One of the great strategies worked out by the experts was a revolt of the Chinese poor, but they soon realized that it would take too much time. The new Asian billionaires maintained close ties with their respective governments. It was even more so for China. In a country where the growth rate easily exceeded 11% ties between government and business were inevitable. And the would be masters of the world soon realized that theyd have a hard time destabilizing a government ruling over a third of the worlda population.

But destabilizing people was one of Claemens main activities in life who was a master in doing so. Sam thought about her next voyage to China and in paying her bill she had a thought for the two men, who had just left the restaurant: Wanting to get too near the sun, can be very surprising. She thought and the image of Icare as she imagined crashing down into the sea can to mind.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/256 Too bad for them, she thought even if she would have gladly jumped in bed with Eric and his walrus mustached friend. A quick love nap would have done me a lot of good the young woman said to herself. In spite of her Catholic upbringing, she felt free to do what she wanted with her body until the day shed marry, until then she decided with whom and when she would have sexual pleasure.

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Jerome was in Montreal. The CEO had convened him for an extremely important meeting. Those were Marcos exact words and the tone of his voice didnt allow avoiding the meeting, of which he knew absolutely nothing when his plane landed n Montreal. Later in Marcos suite at the Sofitel hotel, Jerome had the explanation: Marco wanted to reorganize the company, by putting in place a vertical organization and separating the plants by product line, which should make it easier to delocalize the most expensive productions to the countries where the labor was cheap. This way Ill break the little barons and centralize everything on regional levels. His face was stuck against the window, pretending to watch the traffic on Sherbrooke street, he continued in a soft voice, as if speaking to himself: The real power will be in your hands and your responsibility to the shareholders will be only greater, but he continued, I dont want, to give the impression that this decision comes from me, so Ive asked one the biggest audit firms to join us tomorrow morning, here in Montreal, officially their mission is to do an audit of our organization, but actually their roadmap and their conclusions will have to correspond to what I have just said. He turned around and looked at Jerome, his its glance shone: Youre the only one in the know Jerome. Its going to allow us to layoff some people but thats not my main objective. I think we have to adapt to the changes going on in the world today, I am sure Im making the right decision, but I dont want to put a fire to the company, so the decision must come from outside thus the choice of bringing in the auditors. They will be able to sell the project, thats what theyre getting paid to do! he a smiled wryly and looked like a cat at Jerome. Let get us something to eat! I leave it up to you to find a good restaurant.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/258 But it is too early answered Jerome, who upon saying it realized how goofy he was. In North America, dinner was at 6 p.m. Especially for businesses meals. A souvenir came to his mind: what he had believed to be an invitation to dine with one of the vice presidents of the company. At so long ago. He had arrived in a large wooden house at exactly 7 p. m. thinking of discovering culinary expertise of the wife of one of his bosses. After a few cognacs he realized his error: obviously no meal would be served this evening there and he managed to get away under the pretense of jet lag. He rushed back to the Hilton where he was staying and devoured their MacDo equivalent. The following day he had told his mishap to Marco who broke out in laughter: From now on you know that invitations around 7 or 8 are invitation to drinks.. He decided to take along his boss to one of his favorite restaurants in Montreal: Le Petit Bistro. They went out of the hotel and found themselves in a full blown blizzard sweeping down Sherbrooke, they rushed into the first taxi lined up in front of the Sofitel: Another Haitian, thought Eric in seeing the driver, a black guy wearing a broad smile. The drive lasted ten minutes. Jerome had learned that their driver had arrived at Canada 5 years ago and didnt regret the sun of the Antilles islands: Better to have a job in the cold north than starving in the hot sun of the south had been the words of the man. They arrived at the restaurant. A small village house, like in France. A main room, and several small rooms in warm colors, wooden tables and a bar on the side near the entrance. It all gave an impression of life, of human warmth. Located not far from the local police station, the customers were numerous to coming here in this lost area of Montreal. The proximity of the police station had transformed the area into a trendy haven of peace.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/259 Claude, the owner, seeing Jerome ran towards him, and hugged him whith a slap on the shoulders: So hows my Swiss friend? For him the fact that Jerome had lived in Switzerland for more than 15 years made a special kind of him Frenchman, a Swiss Frenchman. Jerome introduced Marco to him, which brought out of the owner an immediate answer truer than nature: In this case, Ill avoid saying too many foolish things! Jerome thought that it would be a miracle but limited himself to say: Lets accept the omen! The owner led them towards a table near one of the windows leaving them in the hands of the waitress who could come off as Mireille Mathieus young twin sister. They had hardly sat down when she came and put on the table small dishes of pork pate and two glasses of Chilean chardonnay on the house she whispered as if doing something naughty. The owner cried out, have a go at this marvelous Chilean wine. And he disappeared as quickly as he had come. Marco chose duck conserve, explaining an expression of sorrow, that his girl had put him on a vegetarian diet which he had a hard time following. My Italian side. He added slipped with a forced smile, like a kid lying. Jerome ordered beef tartar with French fries.. The meal proceeded in a friendly atmosphere. Marco was anxious for his girl who had decided to give a head-on opposition to the US president in visiting the soldiers stationed in Iraq.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/260 Shes crazy! cried out the Chairman with an expression of beaten dog. Suddenly the atmosphere of the restaurant changed, becoming heavy. Black angels seemed to have taken possession of the place. Marco Di Conztanzo had imagined the worst during the risky trip of his partner. Insane, he repeated as if to convince himself. And he went on, G.W is afraid of three women, the former first lady, Nancy Pelosi and Kate. He tried to destroy the last two by launching rumors against them: putting forward their irresponsible attitudes because they both had voted against the war in 2002, Patriot Act, against wire tapping. So that the democracy still has a meaning in this country, if thats still possible. In short, these last months had been martyrdom for both Kate and Nancy. But funniest thing is that if the democrats win the next elections, Nancy Pelosi is likely to become the third character of the State in becoming the President of the House of Representatives;

It appears that a femininist ticket Hilary/Nancy is growing in the minds of some Democrats. The former First lady might reasonably aim for the presidency.

And Kate? asked Jerome. Beauty laugths at her future answered his friend. She wants to remain the free electron shes always been. An independent woman putting her independence at the service of her convictions. Who are, he added after a silence, more and more iconoclasts even if tune with the spirit of the times. Her commitment to have the United States adopt carbon gaz reduction is starting to bear fruit. Even men like Schwarzie, the ex Hollywood star and pure and hard republican is taking steps to reduce the greenhouse effect.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/261 And public opinion is starting to wake up. Al Gores film even disturbed my countrymen who werent shocked. And Kate is riding on the citizen ecologist wave. Actually, citizen isnt the right word, lets a beginning of awareness. His cell phone rang: It was Kate who told him her helicopter had just landed in Larnaca from where she was going to take a flight to return home. Jerome saw Marcos face drop, the two vertical wrinkles on his brow seemed to have disappeared. He got up moved towards the exit so as not to be heard customers in the restaurant. A few minutes later, he came back. His face was illuminated, transfigured: Shes even crazier than I thought! Id have never imagined that from a middle-class WASP born and raised in Boston. Iraq is a mud pit out of which she doesnt see of getting out of it without losing face. and she has just decided to go to London to try to find a common exit solution with the British. On both sides of the Atlantic people are fed up with these deaths. The important thing, said Jerome, it is that youre head over heels in love with her. The remainder of the dinner went on happily. Towards the end, when the majority had gone, the owner came over with a bottle of Armagnac and sat down at their table. Just looking at the walnut colored alcohol made Jerome want to smell the stuff from his native south-west region. To the friendship Claude said in filling their big balloon shaped glasses. They talked about a thousand and one things, until the moment Jerome gave the signal of leaving. Ill drive you guys home. Said Claude getting up. In front of the refusal of his guests, Claude almost had a fit. Otherwise you guys can hitchhike, there arent any taxis now! The alternative discouraged the two friends who had a hard time imagining themselves trudging the streets of Montreal in freezing cold.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/262 The ride back to their hotel was a world championship rally with some scary moments as a bonus. In front of Sofitel Jerome suddenly remarked, Youre damn lucky to still have your drivers license in this country! I know, said Claude, the Canadian police are as intolerant as their French counterparts and speed limited to a 100 km an hour on the highways. The next morning Jerome awoke in a bad mood. He didnt have any news from Christie which was supposed to arrive in Montreal the following day and hadnt found a kettle to boil water for his morning coffee. Mad as hell, he put on a pair of pants and a Tshirt ran his hand through his dishelved hair and went down to the reception hall. He hoped to find down there a Thermos bottle of warm coffee reserved for clients on an early morning flight. After grabbing a paper cup, and pourring himself a cup of typically weakly brewed American coffee he went back to his room cursing these French hotel chains that ignored traditional French habits, like having strong coffee available for their French guests. Especially that a ridiculous small electric kettle and some freeze-dried coffee was nothing compared to the outrageous price of the rooms. He sighed, dropping in the armchair in the room, and sipped his coffee. Vanity, vacuity. The two words seemed to dance in front of his eyes. It was only a quarter past five and the night still covered the Canadian metropolis. He didnt look forward to the day he was going to have. The close scrutiny of the audience he was going to face, an audience which would scan his expressions to try to guess to which race of managers he belonged to: killer or follower? Those who would like to know if he could, without batting an eyelash, turn his thumb towards the ground, without a thought for the hundreds of men he had ever met and sending them into despair without any regrets. The terrifying despair of no longer having a life because of being suddenly jobless, fired and joining the ever growing ranks of unemployed in the world. Geez, Im finally getting wise at 56! Ever since he met Christie, two months ago, hed been having guilty feelings which confused and upset him. What if the love he felt for her was changing his life? A changement whose forms

The Bargainer/Hoffman/263 were gradually becoming clear. A feeling, a state of being transforming his mind, his outlook on things, leading him to take interest in others. He was becoming conscious of people around him, near or far. A feeling that was slowly destroying, his selfishness and his exaggerated self-centered. He dived under the bed cover of his king size bed. Goose feather bed covers, a must of this hotel.

Soft, warm, perfumed and ever so light they seemed to have been made for love making. A fugitive vision: Christie, under the covers, a cascade of auburn hair, her head on the huge pillows, a tanned leg slightly folded hanging out of the bed. He imagined the picture hed shoot if he was a photograph, an artist, stealing fugitive moments. The phone rang and wiped out the mirage. The chairmans voice with his early winter morning humor. He thought he heard, or understand All right you bum, still sleeping! and guessed it was an order to join Csar for breakfast. He had no choice but to say yes, and he did so in cursing himself for not being able to say no. The difference with kings was that they merely their court without forcing anyone to eat with contrary with Marco, you had to eat along with wanted to or not. And if he was in a good mood bill, which was a proof of friendship. ate in front of them. On the him whether you hed pick up the

One way or the other it all went under company expenses. It was only a gesture but Jerome had learned how to decipher all the chairmans actions and gestures, without ever daring to ask why he did them. He knew it and that was enough for him. He took a fast shower, swallowed the rest of the now cold coffee and went to the closet to choose a suit. Knowing the dress code of Wall Street and top management consulting firms, he decided to leave the gray color to the chairman and chose a blue Yves Saint Laurent suit. A dark blue shirt and a light blue tie both from Hermes. He was ready to face the sharks.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/264 When he entered the breakfast lounge, he sought out Marco in the sea of men in gray and blue suits until the moment when he saw a hand waving at him. Marco was there, drinking his orange juice. How do you find me? asked Marco. Surprised but great! he answered detailing him from head to toe. Marco was wearing a beige alpaca jacket, dark gray flannel pants, dark brown loafers, and a light beige shirt with his monogram on his left wrist and a red tie with small drawings. Hermes thought Jerome, which was easy since hed been providing Marco with Hermes ties over the last 20 years. I would have preferred to see you wearing a blue blazer, but as you chose stripes and a blue shirt, that will do! said Marco. There Jerome didnt immediately get his friends remark, but thought that he must have a good reason to give so much attention to what they were wearing this morning. Seeing the interrogative expression on his closest coworker, he only said It is important to destabilize our friends! Strategy, oh strategy, the things you do to our minds! Around 7h20, the two men went to the meeting room on the second floor of the hotel. A nice big room where as soon as the sun rose light flooded the room. The furniture was modern, an octagonal shaped precious wooden table surrounded by strange chairs with high backs. Marco and Jerome seated themselves facing the windows, leaving the door wide open. At 7h30 sharp the president of the consultancy firm entered, dressed in dark grey. Marco took him apart and explained in a few quick words, his vision and objective: to tighten the lines of command. The conversation lasted less than 5 minutes. All had been said.

Michael Hardgrave then made his colleagues enter. They were six all built on the same model, clones: tall, crew cuts, dressed in

The Bargainer/Hoffman/265 blue with clean black shoes shined like a mirror. They proudly wore club ties with large stripes, only the colors differed. All men except for a young woman, a brunette with blue eyes, her hair neither short nor long. She wore Armani gray trousers with a tightly fitting 3 button jacket over a white blouse with a mandarin collar. He knew the label, Christie had bought the same one at Saks on their last romantic escapade in NY. A 1500 dollar whim. A little less than 1000 Euros, its worth it, she had whispered in his ear. They each had the same black leather attach case in their right hand. The company must be handing them out confirming their membership. The president of A-K introduced all the participants finishing with the young woman who had the title of associate and who would be the director of this assignment. Then a long session of questions and answers started. At 11 o'clock the meeting was finished. Europe and Asia would be audited, the trade unions consulted as well as the company executives. All the executives Marco made a point of stressing. The proposals of a new organization should apply to the other geographical regions. Jerome would be the interlocutor of the group. The mission should not exceed 6 months. Marco invited the small group to a business lunch, in order to get to know each other better, he specified. The lunch wouldnt be longer than the three quarters of an hour he usually gave to lunches. Once the auditors were gone, Marco just said the dogs are released, hope that Im not wrong! Jerome who was discovering this small world and didnt have any idea on the subject shook his head in a dubitative way. For the first time of his life he didnt know what he was getting into. It was pleasant to be the favorite slave of the big chief but he was still a slave.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/266 The voice of God drew him out of his thoughts. Howd you like an escapade to Quebec? I came in with the company plane and it shouldnt take more than a half an hour to fly there. Is this a way of thanking me for the additional work which you so nicely have just put on my back? Or because in a small corner of your brain a light named Jerome just turned on reminding you that Ive always dreamed of discovering the city? Its yes if you bring back to Montreal tomorrow. Itll only cost you an additional landing additional fee.

Stop complaining Jerome. Ill bring you back. Go and pack your bags, well meet in half an hour in the lobby. Time enough to call my pilots. The flight for Quebec was fast, the two cities being distant of only 270 kilometers, a shorter distance as the crow flies During this short trip Jerome discovered the Saint Laurent river, a silver plated snake, lit by the orange rays of a declining sun, surrounded by wide snow covered fields, with a few islands here and there. Snow covered roofs of what appeared to be farmhouses could be seen at times. The flight at low altitude made the spectacle magic, almost fairy like. They landed at Jean Lesage, a snow covered airport around 4h30. A car, with driver, awaited them to lead take them in less than 15 minutes to their hotel, the Frontenac Castle, Quebecs deluxe hotel, a renaissance construction from the end of the 19th century, born out of the will of the managing director of Canadian Pacific railroad in those days. Located on the top of a hill in the old city the phony castle dominated the river. Jerome was given a junior suite. The apartment was both old and modern. Dark wooden furniture, a pink wall to wall rug, heavy thick red curtains and in the living room, oh surprise! a chimney with gas burning false logs. Marco had a regular suite, the difference being the number of square meters of the two suites, Marcos was bigger. Both suites looked out on the Saint Laurent river, flowing majestically at

The Bargainer/Hoffman/267 this spot. In spite of the cold and snow the two friends decided to go for a walk in the old city. Quebec looked like an old European city, it could have been in England or Belgium or even France, but in a warm setting. Small streets with houses fronts in pink or red brick or old grey stones, bright colored window and door frames and pink, green or dark red roofs. The contrast with Montreal was striking. The capital of Quebec resembled a small provincial town with a soul and memories. They walked along the small town without talking. Probably because of the cold. The temperature in Quebec was always 5 or 6 degrees lower than in Montreal. This evening the thermometer must have been around 10 below zero. Nearly frozen, they rushed into the first place they saw open. It was the Orsay, the both of them surprised by the atmosphere. A cordial, noisy, and fun loving crowd. A U shaped wooden bar was in the middle of the room, above which hung stained window panes representing tropical flowers in shades of green and blue. The beer flowed freely. The place seemed to have all the beers in the world. The owner or the boss wearing a white cooks jacket, installed them at a small table facing a window. They both ordered a seafood plate: clams, scallops, giant shrimps and smoked salmon and white Californian wine. During the meal, Jeromes cell phone rang. He had a message. He showed the phone to his friend so that he could read the SMS that Jerome had just received. Jerome saw a hard look on Marcos face, he looked at him right in the eyes and said, Be careful!.

That was all. He then launched out, in a big discussion on Eskimo art, and proposer to bring Jerome to see an exhibition on the subject in the Quebec Museum the following day. You will see they have marvelous collector's items. Real artists in primary art. All the collectors are after the polar bear sculptures, cut in stone but I more into the paintings, they fascinate me. And he went into a big great speech on this art form which was going to soon disappear, just like the polar bears, if the ice-barrier doesnt stop melting. Marco was impassioned by the subject but Jerome did not listen to him any more. He was with his back to the wall. The SMS was

The Bargainer/Hoffman/268 from the Minister who informed him that the election would take place in 5 weeks. He was awaiting his definitive answer which he gave immediately by sending a simple ok. After the meal they took a taxi to return to their hotel, which made the waiter smile Its only at three minutes from here on foot.. Snow was coming down in big flakes but their walk, in the town all lit up with Christmas garlands didnt take more than five minutes. What hadnt been told to them was that the streets ran up and down. They finally arrived out of breath in the hotel lobby. There they discovered a exact replica of the Fairmont Gold Lounge, a closed club executives in the United States. They settled, themselves in a comfortable beige sofa between two typically English foot lamps and ordered nightcaps. They spoke at length about day to day things, memories and future plans. Marco got carried away on Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. He spoke of the lives of these two authors, their common experiences in the First World War, their meeting in Paris, asking himself if in the sun also rises Hemingway in describing men who became futility wasnt talking about Scott Fitzgerald. He looked at Jerome, his eyes shone as he concluded: Even if these two men have many common points, writing, women and drinking, if one like the other played hero characters in their respective lives, theres one big difference between the two of them: Hemingway was a hero when he was alive, Fitzgerald only became a hero after his death. And thats a shame. Jerome also liked the two American novelists with a preference for Fitzgerald, he had been surprised by the passion with which his friend spoke about them who disappeared tragically and almost for the same reasons. He looked at his friend, wondering whether he had tried to tell him something in opening up to him. Im probably overdoing it, thought Jerome. The evening went on relaxed, almost cozy. But Marco couldnt be stopped. Memories overran his mind. For once, Jerome said to himself, hes decompressing. Hes unwinding and in reverie.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/269 You Know Bruce Springsteen. He suddenly asked Jerome in ordering a pure malt without ice. The singer, yes, answered the Frenchman, and man engaged in the political battle, but nothing more. He came to dine at home, Kate had invited him. An astonishing character who everybody calls the boss. Id like to be like him at its age, to have the same looks even. But its impossible, he said looking at Jerome with a smile. Its impossible because we already have the same age. Can you imagine, this guy just turned 57, just like me. He paused for a minute. Hes much richer than me especially much more ... free But what really flebergasted me is when he showed us his Internet site. Even Kate who knows his engagement in favor of the democrats was knocked over! This guy dares to refer to articles on the Irak war that clearly shows the administrations lies making themselves the biggest liars in the world. I even found a paper from the New York Times which I had completely forgotten about. An article by Thomas Friedman, a master piece worthy of Hemingway, where this guy of whom Ive never heard of, comes up with a header that must have made Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove turn white: Insulting our troops and our intelligence. A real master piece published just a few days before the by-elections. I believe that for the rest of my life Ill never forget the first line of this paper. Here it goes:

Georges Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld think that you are stupid. Yes they really believe it. And in the article that follows the author analyzes all the reasons of the failure in Irak. Simply remarkable but what seems to me more remarkable is the implication of this rock star in this combat.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/270 Maybe the world isnt so rotten after all! He concluded delightfully. You know what ? Get yourself Bring them home its a title of a former Vietnam veteran recorded by Springsteen at his best! What wasnt, was that after their dinner between New Yorkers. you know that Bruce was a New Yorker, afterwards my sweetheart decided to go to see more closely what was going on over there in Irak. You know the rest of the story. Thank God she came back safe! Jerome wanted to get up but Marco put his hand on his arm to make him stay seated. Marcos black eyes grew darker and he simply said: Jerome, I need to know right now, how are you going to organize things for the next 5 weeks. Jerome had mentally prepared himself for the campaign. He described what his next weekend would be like, his cousins role, the stock options which he had sold to deal with his campaign expenses, his secretary on site, and the car he had bought for excursions. In short all the details he had tried to think of. Sounds great. What youre saying sound fine. I hope that youll make it, but dont forget your promise: two years, no more! Jerome agreed with a nod of the head. Now, continued Chairman, Ill do something for you. You know that I have use of the company plane 300 hours a year, for personal purpose, its in my contract. This means I can do what I want with the plane within the limit of the 300 hours I have coming to me. Up to now Ive never really used up all the hours. One, two or three trips a year to Europe, and one or two personal trips to Mexico or San Francisco, I never exceed a 100 hours form my personal use. This year well probably reach the 300 hour limit thanks to you, he finished with a broad smile. Ill put the plane Monday morning. at your disposal from Friday evening to

The Bargainer/Hoffman/271 Were going together to Geneva in two days, both of us. I have to go afterwards to Zurich to meet with the bankers. Afterwards, youve got challenger at your disposal every weekend for the duration of your campaign. I havent got many friends over here. None in many in North America either. All my friends are European and can be counted on the fingers of one hand, you are in that count. Im also lucky to have you as a coworker I can count on. Its that way and I have to admit my European friends are all southerners, if I can say it that way, from southern Europe. Hoe about that? There was no hope of refusing Jerome understood it. But he appreciated the gesture. They talked on a while enjoying, the moment, the atmosphere out of time, and the view of the dark river flowing below them. The magic of friendship. Later in his room Jerome sent an email to his: The campaign has started, finally! Prepare a one page letter to be sent to all the voters, only one page, announcing my candidature Why I am? My objectives which will also be yours You know the music, avoid referring me as vice president of the company, an executive will do fine. Hugs, your cousin. He then decided to put off to the following day any other thing and dropped out on the bed. When he woke up in morning, the magic of the now blue Saint Laurent river with snow covered banks put him in a good mood.

He had a big American breakfast in his room, he put the small table in front of the window and helped himself to a big American breakfast watching the marvelous scene before him. He later joined Marco in the lobby and the two decided to visit Quebecs National Art museum and see the collections of Inuit artifacts which fascinated his Italian friend.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/272 As soon as Jerome saw the museum, he was struck by its post modern entrance. The interior architecture was dominated by rose, not red, bricks. It reminded him Toulouse, his birthplace, rose was the dominant color of the brick houses. Especially in the Saint Rome street, his Dominican convent with its contiguous church and his old school, named Pierre de Fermat. A special church where he made his first communion, made up rose bricks. And here was the same rose colored bricks thousands of kilometers away from Europes aeronautic capital. They took the stairs to go up to the third floor, ignoring the elevator. The Inuit showroom held the Brousseau collection, a lover of this primitive art who had given the museum over 300 pieces of Inuit art. Marco played the mentor, showing off his passion. Look at this dancing polar bear, a pure master piece. Jerome agreed, admiring the purity of the sculpture, limiting himself to say He seems to be smiling. He suddenly noticed three small black birds or a kind of ducks whose stylized S shape was fascinating. Its really beautiful! he said. He asked Marco how the Inuits could have done such beautiful sculptures without sophisticated tools. Sheer talent! in complete osmosis with nature, that to this day, they still know how to observe and take in with the eyes, a sensitivity which allows them to fully appreciate and live in the natural reality around them. The vision of a world in the process of disappearing where the artistic tradition seems deeply anchored in the imagination of a chosen few among them. Most likely handed down from father to son. And those who have this artistic intuition which seems to run in their veins express it beautifully. At another window, Jerome fell upon some paintings of white owls, about ten of them on a bluish background, an indefinable blue. Primitive beauty. Other paintings most of them representing birds.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/273 There was a big blue stylized bird on a red background, its body constellated with tiny white beads. He felt a hand on his shoulder: It was Marco. Isnt it marvelous? Magic, answered Jerome. The original purity of art, which we pretentious bastards define as primitive! OK then, lets call it primitive and thank God they exist! Look at these colors! Said Dimagio, they play with your imagination when you look at them. He was also under the charm. When you think of it, these men and women are surrounded by only one color: white!

We all are of the assassins, all of us and especially business leaders like me. Cried out Marco a dark look in his eyes. We destroy the world around us in the name of profit, leaving a ruined planet behind us, for the future generations. Sometimes Marco could make Jerome blow his top and this was one of those times. Then explain to me, my friend, why arent you doing anything about it? You afraid of the board of directors, because of the expenditure which would have to be earmarked? Because of the competition? What if you were one of the first to do something to fight this damn pollution, like investing a few million dollars into doing so? Think of the goodwill it would bring you! And on top of it, you would be on the same wavelength as the American citizens who have joined the republican governor of California. Youd be one of the first business leaders entering the fight against pollution. Think it over Marco. It might be worth considering. The idea is great, but its just an idea, answered Marco. But oh, damn it! Youre probably right Jerome, and after all, we all have our own free will and you cant hold God responsible for all the wrongdoings in the world.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/274 Let's go this way! Jerome stopped him: And that will avoid you from crying over the disappearance of the white polar bears because of the melting of the ice-barrier and that programmed end of all these artists.

I think Ive got an idea: lets equip all our plants with solar panels. Which will drastically reduce the pollution, itll probably cost a few million dollars, but he added, you will be well viewed by rating agencies like the Stoxx sustainability index set up by Dow Jones. On top of that we would be one of the first heavy industry multinationals to produce products with ecology in mind. Hey, wait a minute! I dont remember seeing Inuit art in your place! Surprising some crazy about their art! Marco smiled. He wasnt listening to him any more. He had just grabbed his cellphone, sought a number and dialed it. Jerome picked up some words of the conversation: Owls, bear and at Sofitel two hours from now. Ok. Seeing the look on Jeromes face, Marco told him that he had just called a well know dealer in rare Inuit art living an hours drive from Montreal, asking him to join them with at the hotel with some sculptures and paintings. I hope that youll also spend some money just for your own pleasure! he added teasing him. And how much do these things cost? asked Jerome. The paintings are around 2 to 5 thousand Canadian dollars, say 3000 Euros. Can you imagine the money that these men and women could make if they printed lithographys! Im a damn idiot howled Marco which made what made a BCBG woman visitor turn around. Jerome burst out into an enormous laughter.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/275 Whats wrong with you, man? asked Marco a bit peeved. Christ, Marco, its the way you say Im a damn idiot with that damn Italian accenmt of yours Christ youre American and have lived in the States for over 30 years and youve still got that Italian accent. On the company plane bringing them back Montreal, Marco di Conztanzo had sat in his place: the second fawn-colored leather armchair on the right-sided of the plane, the only one with being able to swivel 90 degrees, all the others turned only of 45 degrees, to be able to face the boss. The two men looked at each other in silence, Jerome sitting on the armchair of the left side. Marco seemed worried by his friends proposition: Ive got the impression that Im the only one or just one of the first industrialists to take measures to fight against pollution. I know that you are right, but theres not much we can do alone? In this kind of situation, when the pressure was on his shoulders too much, or that a situation escaped to him, Marco Dimagio had a mania which irritated Jerome He rubbed his chin in ceaseless movements with his right hand. Always with his right hand. Marco seemed to speak himself out loud: What can be done when marketing and advertising create new cravings and production for consumers who only exist to satisfy income. And only exist to serve the capital, in other words us. You know whats bothering me in this affair concerning our kids future? he went on. Before Jerome shaking his head, no. he went on, Its the incapacity of all the governments, I really mean all the governments. And it wont be the presence of a Pascal Lamy at the head of the WTO wholl change anything. Hes just an alibi. And, if my memory is right, he takes an active part in Bild group meetings. The name made startled Jerome:

The Bargainer/Hoffman/276 You really believe in their power? Which can doubt it nowadays! . These men who are part of several circles, the skull and bones or other similar ones like the Illuminati have the real power in their hands, the power coming from money. Next to these guys, Im only a kid, and an immigrant at that! To put an end to the discussion he helped himself to a glass of Glen Morangis, without ice. Less than two hours after their departure from Quebec the two men arrived at the Montreal Sofitel. It had taken twice as much time to go from the airport to the hotel than the flight between the two cities. Marcos contact was awaiting them in the hotel lobby. Around forty, with a jovial face, the man friendly. During their flight, Dimagiohad made a portrait of what he called the phenomenon. A former oil engineer reconverted into Inuit art out of pure passion. They sat in the bar, around a table which was close to big picture windows. Pierre Villeneuve took out the objects which he had brought along.

A dancing polar bear of about thirty centimetres, two birds like those Jerome had seen in the museum in Quebec, some sculptures of owls, hunters and other characters of the Inuit culture as well as a painting of two white owls, one of facing the viewer, the other showing his profile. Jerome wanted it. He looked at Marco who gave him an accomplices smile. That was an essential part of his force, a capacity to immediately understand what the other wanted. Anyone. An hour later Pierre Villeneuve set out again his hands empty, his wallet full. The two friends had bought the whole mini collection he had brought today. Jerome looked at his two white owls wondering which kind of frame would best emphasize his new acquisition. They had sat down in the lobby to look at the objects they had just bought. Jerome let his hand slip on the polished black

The Bargainer/Hoffman/277 stone of one of the two birds. Marco couldnt get his eyes off his dancing polar bear. When he finally looked up, he had a movement of surprise which drew Jeromes attention. He followed the glance of his friend and sat there open-mouthed. Crossing the big lobby a woman advanced towards them, a black coat with mandarin collar and three silver buttons, black loafers. She had the walk of a model in a prestigious perfume ad running on TV in France: Christie moved towards them imperially. After having kissed Marco, she deposited a kiss on Jeromes forehead, and the attacked him head on: Well then lover, you dont answer your phone anymore, forcing the woman of your life to come to your hotel? Not a word out of you!. He had the impression of hearing Marco laugthing under his breath. It was more than an impression, it was simply the attitude of an SOB! . Hes enjoying the situation Jerome thought. His chairman seemed to be having fun, witnessing this unexpected scene and Christies wild arrival. He, obviously enjoyed it all but like any Italian who respects itself, he rose, gave Christie a furtive kiss on the back of her hand and said: Ill leave you children alone. Im sure that you have many things to say to each other! Ive got to run off to New York and to find the woman of my life of the moment. The advantage of having your own plane is to be able to decide at the drop of a minute what youre going to do the next minute.

I feel sorry for your, said Jerome, dead pan. A second later Marco was signing their bill at the desk. He was turned around to Jerome: Dont forget, after to be at the Montreal airport tomorrow around 10 a.m. My assistant will call you to tell you what time we land. Well take off immediately and Ill drop you off in Geneva. Ciao!. And he disappeared, swallowed by the hotels revolving door.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/278 The two lovers let destiny decide remainder of their day. They made love, remained intertwined a long moment, until Christie suddenly catches a shopping fever. She wanted to do some shopping, which left Jerome cold as marble. He had never understood this vital need of women to run for hours in shops full of fashionable items, some beautiful some outright ugly. Jerome discovered a city whose existence he had never suspected. A city under the city, with its shopping malls, its luxury shops. An entire small world which seemed to have to pass its life under ground to avoid the sub zero winter cold and the frozen sidewalks above. His lover living her desires fully, her passions of the moment, buying a charm, here, a sweater of alpaca there, a pair of shoes elsewhere, finding the time to speak to him at breakneck speed, without him managing to understand a single word of what she said. No doubt she was more talking to herself than to him, forgetting the poor Jerome who started to collapse under the packages that this beauty handed him after each raid the word came to him naturally to mind in a shop. When they emerged from this hidden world, night had fallen upon Montreal, an a icy cold night, that they spent keeping each other warm in Jeromes suite.

The early dawns Goodbyes resembled everything they both hated: Lots of I love you, me neither interrupted by furtive tears, wet kisses on promises paved of the worst intentions possible.. The same idea crossed their minds at the same time and they spoke at the same time It couldnt go on like this forever! In leaving Christie opened her taxis window and yelled out to him, by the way Im pregnant of you! Before he had the time to react her taxi was off into the traffic on Sherbrooke. Jerome hadnt reacted because her words had literally petrified him on the spot. A flood of thoughts ran through his mind, going into the smallest corners of his brain and progressively paralyzing in its progression each one of his neurons.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/279 He grabbed his cellphone but knew immediately that she wouldnt answer. She dropped him, leaving him alone in this city that he suddenly hated. The city of the announcement made to Jerome! Suddenly, in the seconds that followed, he wanted to hate himself, curse Christie to the worst possible hell and throw his glass of Malt on the first person who dared sit beside him at the bar. In moments which he found difficult, his first reaction had always been going into the first bar. Which hadnt been very difficult today. On his way to the hotel, his legs had carried him into this cursed place without his brain having the time to react. At least thats what he believed, or wanted to believe. Suddenly at 56 he was a father of a child hed never see grow up. So what! He was neither Chaplin, nor Halliday and he didnt want to set out again on the royal roads of paternity, money, comfort, and auto satisfaction. Because these were the only things that he had given to his children. He continued to drink his malt, without really enjoying its taste, hearing parts of the animated conversations around him, people who certainly didnt give a damn about his existential problems. He probably looked insane because he felt, or believed he felt, a womans smile and glance. It wasnt for him but for someone beyond him. He had to talk to Christie. He could deal with work problems. For the rest he counted on his girl friends, leaving it up to them to handle everyday chores, their daily chores, the guili-guili, the reproaches and congratulations accompanied by kisses and necking. His cellphone rang.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/280 It was Christie: I wanted to reassure the man of my life! I wont keep the baby. Too bad for us, hed probably would have had all qualities of his or her parents: beauty, intelligence, and so on. Unless hed have traits foreign to us. It doesnt matter, one way or the other. We are in another life which doesnt belong to us any more. There was a short silence and she added, I love you, Jerome and she hung up again. Jerome started to discover her, to feel her through her reactions as a woman, he knew it was useless to call her back. Part of Christie would always be uncontrollable but it was part of her charm. A bit reassured he ordered another glass of his favorite malt without being able to remember its name Glenn something he mumbled to the barman who already had the bottle in his hand. He recognized Glenn and thought the label read Livet, or was it Morangis? Morangis it is then and too bad for Livet whatever it is. He downed his Scotch and went up to his room. As soon as he hit the bed he fell asleep. A sleep full of nightmares populated with phantoms black babies flying in circles around him. The following day, he joined Marco at Trudeau airport from where they took off for Geneva fifteen minutes later. The flight was exceptional. Marco had decided that he wanted a hostess on the flight and she was exceptional, discrete, anticipating all his and Marcos needs. Just before taking off she brought them a bottle of Dom Prignon and some toasts with foie gras. Once they had reached their cruising altitude, she served them cold lobster with crispy salad. The two friends chatted together about their love lives, their common likes and dislikes, avoiding conversations about work. A conversation of two guys, interrupted from time to time by the comings and goings of the hostess serving them. Jerome dozed off the first, happy sharing privileged moments with his friend. He felt a hand on his shoulder and a soft voice telling him that they were going to land in Zurich in less than 35 minutes. Zurich? They were supposed to arrive in Geneva. What

The Bargainer/Hoffman/281 in the hell were they going to Zurich? He turned around and saw Marco, who had showered and shaved himself and sitting there like the Cheshire cat replete with the smile. In answer to the look of amazement on Jeromes face, Marco rapidly blurted out the reasons for the sudden change of program. An email from the Credit Suisse! They want to meet with us this morning in Zurich. To meet me, he added, but as youre in charge of the relations with the financial analysts, youll come along. Youll like Zurich! Get yourself a shower.

Marco had a very personal way of playing with people, of impose on them his sudden whims, his last minute decisions without any consideration for the other persons plans or commitments. As he was the boss, the people working for him always agreed without Marco having to insist or justify himself. No so in his private life, where this attitude brought about the anger and the revolt of his kids as well as from his wife when he was still living with her. The only person able to throw a thundering no right in his face was his frightening mistress refused being treated like an obedient doll. In the company, only Jerome managed sometimes standing up to him. But in the early hours of the morning, sitting on a plane flying in circles with others planes awaiting to land, he only managed to say shit, Ive had enough of your dictator attitudes. Which brought out a quick smile from Marco who obviously expected Jeromes reaction without giving a damn. The plane will bring back to Geneva this evening and for Christs sake stop bitching day and night! He broke out in a fit of laughter in seeing Jeromes after his shower. The two of them were dressed like twins. Dark blue suits, white shirts only differentiated by the initials on the cuffs and identical red ties. At this instant, Jerome knew that he was going to live the day of another. Another who was going to show his true nature.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/282 Alternatively a seducer, a winner, a manipulator, in a words a real boss, a real Marco. The proof came out in the meeting with the persons in charge at Credit Suisse. In response to a question from the director of acquisitions and investments about the interest for them to invest in the company, Marco showed himself simply brilliant, cutting short all the mans resistance. Yes, Marco said, youre right, nothing, absolutely could nor would bring you to invest in our company, we are only one of many suppliers to the auto industry. But were an inevitable player, because if the majors in the car industry are going to have to find new ways of making their products less pollutant, it is something, he added with a devilish smile, that we already done. Not only are our products non poluant for our employees and our customers but we will also remain inevitable actors in the industry. And as you know it, or certainly suspect it, whatever the type of car they make, each manufacturer will need us and, he turned on his seductive smile, we have a secret weapon: our delocalizations in countries where the costs of labor is the lowest in all European countries, my investments have started in Slovenia, the country where corporation taxes are the lowest and also where the highest number of employees are graduates, while being the least expensive. And he finished by giving his last blow, your massive investments in High Tech industries is fine, but you also have to invest in traditional industries like ours where I can guarantee you an ROI of 10% for the next 3 years. Your choice. But Im sure that you share my analysis. He hadnt said, Im sure that you will be able to share my analysis. Not and here was his real talent, Marco had pulled the rug out from under the feet of any opposition and won. The Swiss bank bought 1.000.000 shares for an amount of 55 million dollars, which made the bank, one of the main shareholders for the coming year. The remainder of the meeting was only smiles and champagne to seal an almost historical agreement. A meeting ending with an invitation for the two friends to attend an evening at the Zurich Opera, the bank being one of the main sponsors.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/283 The two friends then left then to discover the big city on foot, like any tourist. Leaving the Baur au Lac, one of Zurichs prestigious hotels, where they took rooms in spite of Jeromes moanings, they crossed the bridge to reach Bellevue place before losing themselves the shopping mall, full people, small restaurants, bars, stores of all kinds. Houses in bright reds and greens standing out from the traditional beige of the staid mansions. All this natural decoration gave an impression of warmth, of life in spite of the sharp cold the faces were often smiling, and merry. In spite of the freezing temperature, people sat outside on the terraces dinking coffee, tea or beer. The majority of the establishments had tables on the sidewalks, with small bright colored blankets clients put over their knees. An astonishing spectacle with all these women and men who enjoying themselves in the sunny cold weather. Marco was like a man on vacation without stress. Straying along the quays, he window shopped in front of the shoe shops, praising or criticizing the models in the windows. A smile lit up his face. Only an illusion of unwinding because his cell phone rang every hour. His assistant updated him on things at companys headquarters and answered the questions he had asked during the previous call. Even during this period of idleness, Marco Dimagio kept a watchfull eye on things at the company. They went along like this for awhile before ending up in the famous Seefeldstrasse, just behind the Opera. There the chairman decided on a lunch break, at Tibits, a vegetarian restaurant, jam packed at this time of the day and which sold food by the weight. An enormous buffet where everyone filled his plate with food of his choice and then weight it on a small scale. The average bill seemed to be in the neighborhood of 25 Swiss francs. A little more for the two friends who had decided to have a bottle of rose wine from Switzerlands Valais region. But Marco being Marco, he decided without asking Jerome, to have lunch outside. He wanted to test what he called the knee blankets and see what it was like to eat in temperatures well below zero.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/284 With numbed fingers, under an awning giving an impression shielding off the cold, Jerome listened. He listened to his friend of more than 30 years, fascinated by the inflections of his warm voice, more Italian than American. Marco could play music with his voice, with his Roman almost southern Italian accent. His voice was a music where the color of blue seemed to dominate when he was happy, which seemed to be the case now. But a voice which could have the pace and the color of an unchained sea, sinking in dark blue tones, when he was in a bad mood. Bad mood in his case was an euphemism. He yelled, swore, and treated people like shit. He could really be awfull.

But at this very moment, under the silver light of this beginning of a winter afternoon, he was all charms, and enthusiasm for what he saw, which he felt and happiness was written all over his face. Uncle! A clear voice drew Jerome out of his thoughts. He hit his forehead, cursing himself for having forgotten the presence of his little niece in Zurich. She moved towards the two men, wrapped in one of these brown barrack room coats with a hood of fake fur in fashion with young girls nowadays. A large beige mohair scarf hung on each side of her shoulders. She embraced him and without hesitation did likewise with Marco, surprised at her simplicity. Jerome made the introductions explaining that his niece was dancer with the Zurich Opera. Marco immediately invited the young woman to join them, which she accepted at once, happy to spend a few moments with a member of her family, a family which she hardly saw anymore. Because all my time is taken up at the Opera she admitted to her uncle as he escorted her to the buffet to pay her lunch. Back at their table, she swallowed mouthfuls between enthusiastic descriptions of her activities which the two men had a hard time following. She was so carried away by her passion, ballet dancing which from what she was saying sounded like being in a religious order whose strict discipline was of another age.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/285 After a certain time, Jerome asked her the question burning his tongue. If I understand you well, you dont have any regrets of going back to Bjart? His nieces answer was crystal clear. No, she answered. Hes a fantastic man, who brought ballet, with a capital B, to the masses. But here, in Zurich, it is quite simply magic, the dancers are splendid and to dance accompanied by a symphony orchestra, is an immense happiness and then she added, our ballet master is one of the greatest with a passion for ballet that he does everything possible to share it with everyone. Hes a perfectionist. He looked at her tenderly and what he saw in the eyes of this 18 year old young woman, was sheer happiness, with a capital H. If happiness had a face, then her face was its icon. Come and see us uncle, she added, that added would please me! When are you dancing? asked Jerome.

This evening, the Swan Lake. A fantastic spectacle, and smiling she added, exhausting for the ballet corps. Were on points, on our toes, practically through the whole spectacle. But youll see, its magic. Jerome explained to him that it couldnt be a better time for them because they were had been invited this evening at the Opera by a Swiss bank. See you later! She said getting up, Im off stretching my legs for a while! Marco seemed flabbergasted. If you dont know a dancer, its difficult to imagine the work they go through to perfect their art. To have a passion, thats what will save the young from mediocrity. Finally I wonder whether passion, in love or any other thing, moreover, is the only driving force which makes it possible for man to exceed himself, giving a goal in this bitch of a life! The hours passed and the cold was bitting more and more. Marco decided to go and see a movie. On Bellevue place where the Opera was they went into a cinema to see James Bonds Casino Royal.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/286 Around 6h30, the two friends found themselves with the lobby of the Opera nibbling a couple sandwiches with some champagne, before going to their balcony seats overhanging the stage and the orchestra pit. Jerome had eyes only for the musicians who tuned their instruments and could take his eyes off the violinists. The way in which they slipped their bows on the cords, this small ridiculous gesture was an absolute purity. He was fascinated so much by the beauty of the movement, the grace of the gesture of a young violinist that he missed the entry of the first dancers. He sought out his niece in the corps de ballet but he didnt find her. In their costumes all the dancers resembled each other by the size and costume. A spectacle, he thought, of absolute harmony. After the ballet, the two friends went to the Opera Belcanto, a nice name for a restaurant in an evening where they had the impression of rediscovering the five senses. After the sight and the sound of the ballets magic, this supper took them on the road of taste and odor, a moment in the universe of savors where only the touch was missing. Marco shared with Jerome what he felt right now, a feeling of living exceptional moments, where reality blended with dreams, imagination. Jerome also enjoyed the moment. While waiting for his niece, they had ordered a bottle of champagne and three Tartars steaks, by hoping that he wasnt mistaken on the tastes of the young woman. She suddenly arrived in a will-o'-the-wisp, her hair still wet, threw her coat on a chair and fell into an armchair. Im dead and dying of hunger! Great, a Tartar steak, I didnt think uncle Jerome remembered my favorite tartare! The champagne bubbles went well to warm this evening winter.

It was a quick dinner. She wanted to find the remainder of the troop in a disco club but, added, it was a gay place where only

The Bargainer/Hoffman/287 the women pay and entry fee and their drinks. Its only free for men. Zurich is not only a rich city, its full of life, where all cultures and arts mix. Its what I like about this place. Its ten times more alive than Vevey she but my parents hate it.Too bad for them! So the trio went to the club. There was an unreal atmosphere in the place. Full of men dressed in excentric gear, often in couples, many kissing passionately. But many just seemed to be genuinely happy to be there together. The prettiest girls in town all seemed to be there also, dancing wildly with a drink in hand to the beat of techno music. Marco and Jerome watched the scene with an amused eye at the crowd dancing around them. They seemed to live the moment, the music running through their veins. His niece having found a group of fiends. They gave them their drink tickets and left the place. Outside, Marco sighed, Im afraid were a bit too old for this. After a sigh over dreams of a last life; he said to Jerome, what if we leave for Geneva, now? Jerome exploded. Youre really exaggerating now Marco. Christ! Have a bit of consideration for your pilots, and my driver who I refuse to wake up at 11 in the evening to have him pick us up after midnight on a CEOs whim! No way, my friend, lets just go back to our hotel. Ill offer you a drink because the champagne in that place was awfull. The drinks are on me! Was di Conztanzo answer.

Since its always this way, why emphasize it. Of course Id put it on your bill anyway. Up to you later on to justify your expenses with your auditors. To each his own, said Jerome aggressively. They hadnt had much sleep the night before, in spite of the comfort of the company plane. Back in his room, Jerome conked out immediately.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/288 The following morning, at 8 oclock sharp, the Challenger 605, fruit Bomber aircrafts latest technologies took off for Geneva, last leg of the chairmans professional Roman escapade.

Only 600 kilometers from there, in Cannes, Eric woke up. The first lights of dawn filtered through the rooms shutters which he never completely closed, in order to profit from this moment when awakening. He looked at the small mass of flesh drawn up taught between his legs. Wonder of nature, he still could have a hard on at 63 and considered this phenomena as a gift from mother nature. He never figured out if his brain ran the show or it was the other way around. To convince itself that he wasnt dreaming, his left started to explore the left side of the bed. He felt the silky skin of one of Marys thighs. No, he was not dreaming, it was real life. He gave a quick kiss on her arm and got out of bed slowly so as not to awake her and left the room without a noise. The kitchen was one of his favorite places. When she had bought the apartment, Mary had made him increase its size by cutting of a few meters from the huge living room. I like space in the morning, she had told him once. I hate these tiny kitchens where you have to squeeze yourself around to move.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/289 The kitchen was like her, full of life. The walls covered with a glossed white lacquer, the furniture was out of teck wood and stainless steel. Its design was Bulthaup, the German manufacturer of luxury kitchens. A long very modern table on which Eric permanently left his portable Wi Fi, and especially the door window giving access to her balcony where a small black marble table sat. Her table, the place where be it summer or winter she had her morning coffee, looking at the sea. He couldnt see the sun rising, the building facing west, but he saw its orange rays playing with to play with the blue sea. He had a look at the outside thermometer, the temperature was 8 degrees celcius at 7h30. Another beautiful, ever so beautiful day, without a drop of rain that many, especially the farmers needed for their crops. He also would see some rain and feel some rain running down his face. The blue of the sky and the sea, day in and day out, started to wear him out. He missed the four seasons of his childhood. Mary, like him, was a real coffee drinker. He had brought back a real expresso machine from Italy and had a plumber friend regulate the flow of water in the machine. Every morning when he was in Cannes, the ritual was always the same. His day began with a real Italian coffee whose flavor invaded the kitchen. He grabbed his laptop, prepared another coffee and started to read again the email he had sent to his cousin. A final action plan in which he had outlined the major topics: Safety, 35 hour work weeks, immigration policy, social security with retirements and environment. With his cousin, they had decided to limit themselves to these 5 topics, those which concerned the inhabitants of Arige the most. This department of France which had been abandoned for the last 40 years. Plunged in his reading, he did not hear Mary. She came in bringing him his second coffee of the morning, but this one was weaker and had some milk in it. In thanking her, Eric looked at her. Even without make-up, just out of bed she had a natural, wild beauty. She put her hand on

The Bargainer/Hoffman/290 his shoulder and sat down behind him, slightly turned towards him, reading his notes over his shoulder, on the computer screen. By swallowing a mouthful of her coffee, she murmured to him into his ear:

Dont you think you should put together work week and retirement, these two subjects are complementary, except for unsalaried people like me. Well said my angel! said Eric. If our fellow-citizens work more that will bring our economy on level with its competition. And, he added, this way certain will be able to reach the ceiling of the state pensions, which today must be only about 50 Euros more than the minimum wage. State pensions can be increased but it means working to the age of 65 instead of 60 nowadays. And this one of the things I have to discuss with Jerome, he must know what to do about this. Marys face seemed to say, know what? Anticipating her question, Eric said, know if the companies can keep workers till the age of 65 years but on half time, at least or more for those who are in perfect health. Mary had a smile which said a lot about what she thought of it. So youre suggesting that on this planet only French would be unable to work a little more or as much as the German or the British? Dont start that shit! Im already imagining the trade-union street demonstrations yelling out Dont play with my acquired advantages, especially and essentially the civil servants, who contribute much less than the private sector for their retirement. If what the specialized journalists say or write is right, which we dont know because its all so unclear, these civil servants retire on pensions representing 70% to 75% of their last salary. He quickly added the following sentence following in his texts on the screen.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/291 The idea that public transport hasnt existed in Arige for more than 40 years. A comment that brought back to his mind a speech from the president of the majority party in the city of Agen. He underlined his sentence and added, check exact text of the speech He removed As our president said and replaced it with As the president of our movement said in Agen, Im also thinking of the people living in the rural districts who buy their vegetables without a car because public transport doesnt exist anymore here where we live and have to spend a quarter of his wages on gasoline.

He though he remembered that in this same speech, the only one which really interested him, the president of the movement was addressing himself to all those who or suffered or deserved better, stressing very strongly on the revalorization of the value of their work. Mary continued to follow over his shoulder what he wrote. Are you sure of being in phase with your cousin? Yes, weve exchanged a quantity of emails on these various subjects and we are in agreement on almost all of them. Afterwards, he added as if talking to himself, all hell have to do is to use his own words and tone of voice. But we agree on every subject, Ive only wrote only two pages on each subject. We know the people living in this department a bit, they hate long speeches. They much more prefer a discussion, the exchange of views talking and seeing the candidate. Attacking the candidate verbally, they love it and theyre damn good at that! But Jerome is smart and intelligent enough to face that sort of thing. Never forget that he passed most of his life negotiating with the trade unions and not only in France. Not I trust him here.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/292 And what about the immigration? Asked the young woman? Immigration! Eric repeated as if to himself, heres an annoying subject! If were not careful here we can end up on the same platform as the extreme right in a wasted effort to gain votes. Its not the way which we chose, question of age no doubt. Does it really interests you? He asked her. She did an eye lash movement in consent. As he did when he was undecided or wanted time to think, Eric rubbed his chin with his left hand. A long silence followed before he gave his opinion and vision on the subject. Its probably the hardest part, which brings out all our angers and fears that our civilization has produced since more than 40 years. First, the approach is different in each European country. The French were shocked by the decision of the Spanish government to give papers to 700.000 illegals not out of moral or humane considerations nor because the Zapatero government is left wing. They only did it because they needed all these immigrant workers. Its as simple as that. His voice suddenly rose. They needed this cheap labor because, like in Italy and Portugal, their birth rates dropped below 1.5 and all these countries have a dire need of labor in order to develop their economies, like in France at the end of the second world war. But theres one thing that we all forget, he stopped a minute and shivered in spite of warmth of the sun already shining, he was passioned by the subject. What we forget, he continued, is that in the early fifties, France still had a colonial empire. It was easy then to bring in cheap labor from the Maghreb or black Africa, the AEF and the AOF, without even bothering to make it possible for them to learn our language. We were in a colonial mindset, regarding these men as hardly civilised. However today we only want graduates from these

The Bargainer/Hoffman/293 countries, like underpayed doctors who could surely have work in their country, countries which direly need them. It is what Wade the Senegalese president said. When I think of our youth who in college called the Italian wops, and the Spanish commis or espingos. French have always been afraid of strangers, their habits, their practices, but neither Jerome, nor I have forgotten this part of our past when in the two world wars we sent the Senegalese riflemen, the Moroccan spahis and all the others including the Corsicans in the front lines. Its true today we dont most of them any more today they are part of our history and it seems to me that we owe them something. Unless contrary to England, our country in the future only accepts white immigrants. I fear: that a latent racism based on our fears penetrates in all our minds with the help of pernicious demagogy. This country is used to living in fear of the other. Fear of anybody thats different, thats the real danger. But Europe will still need for a long time, immigrant workers from the southern hemisphere, who once given papers will be able to go everywhere to Europe. So it seems necessary to me to me it to reconsider the European unions needs in terms of labor and put in place a common policy taking in account the specific needs of each member country. He pause a minute. It has to be done or borders between European countries will be restored, which between you and I would be a deplorable step backward. But were not yet ready for changing our collective mindset. We prefer, oh how much so, to look backwards, in the days of full employment, when unemployment was below the 3% which would be considered today as residual. We want our cake and eat it too, he added in disillusioned tone, without effort.

Jerome and I had opposite childhood. He was brought up in almost indecent luxury, while I was brought up in almost Dickensian misery after my father ran off and left us alone, my mother and

The Bargainer/Hoffman/294 I, we both made it thanks to our willpower and especially blind luck. I dont see how todays brilliant graduates with multiple diplomas whose covering letters are full of spelling errors, will ever make it like we did. Look at my son and his boyfriend, both handsome and brilliant, who went through law school. Hours of study and new courses every week and what will they do as soon as they got their law degree ? are aggregate Faculty of Law? How much hours? Two, three, five? The rest of the time theyre plunged in law books or specialized magazines to find the small loop hole giving them access to new jurisprudence, an evolution in case law. Maybe yes, maybe no. Do you want another example, my darling? Your friends daughter. You know, the guy teaching at the university in Marseilles who tutored my son! Damn it! He became aggressive. Val, the trader in London, making 7000 Pounds a month, more than 10000 Euros! Shes 28 and brilliant, but what her dear father forgets to say, is that he must pay for her retirement plan, her social security, her medical insurance. But all this goes on in England, and the British health system being what it is, in France she had to take an insurance, because in France her dad is considered a tycoon. Do have any idea what these pseudo elite expatriates will be doing 5 or 10m years from now? Theyll come back, buy themselves a small apartment because after everything they can give has been squeezed out of them theyll be thanked and fired without any other consideration except a quick handshake. Only 1% have a chance of getting a golden parachute. Truth here, error in beyond, history repeats itself. What created strong bonds in our family, was our conviction, our intellectual cement, handed down by our elders, that there is no absolute truth. A common heritage topped with a form of tolerance.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/295 Enough of this discussion, we will continue later if you like. Ill go and have a shower. Mary answered him at once Im coming with you! The passage under the shower was hot, sweet, sexy. Very sexy. When they got out of the bathroom, they were clean, happy, and light hearted. Eric went back to work, trying to give form to his ideas and those which he drew out of his candidates bible. The bible went back to 2002 and since then ideas and men had changed. Two hours later he gave up and decided to go on the building site, where things werent going according to plans either. He had to be constantly on peoples backs and he found that an exhausting waste of time.

he gave a phone call to the architect convening him at 2 p.m. on the site and when the architect answered in suave voice, but everything is all right. Eric blew his top. If everythings all right, well be finished in less than 10 days, right? and he accentuated on 10 days. At the other end of the line he imagined the architect searching for justifications for behing behind schedule. Dont try to find excuses, Eric said, the contract that we signed has a clause on fines for delays. I dont know if youre aware but its my nephew who represents his fathers interests and his own so let me give you a bit of advice, watch your step. Were a Gascon family, hard nosed and sometimes aggressive. The architect wasnt used to be treated like this. He promised to be on time on the site with all the contractors. Eric scribbled on a paper all the things that had to be done within 10 days while complaining because he knew better than

The Bargainer/Hoffman/296 anybody that you cant really be a project manager if you dont know anything about the closed world of building construction. What was going wrong was the lackadasial attitude of the masons. Their delay in building the partitions involved other delays for the tile-layers, electricians and other workers. He decided to have one his friends, a notary officer, come over to witness the discussion and note of all items to be done in two weeks. Time had passed, slowly on the kitchen balcony kitchen.facing the sea He breathed a deep breath of sea air, admiring the perfect flight of a white seagull. His glance caught the view of the small marina which he could only partly see, but that was enough for his pleasure. A personal pleasure nobody could take away from him. He thought of going oou with a boat. The sea was so calm, it called him out to enjoy some calm peaceful sailing. The sea gave him a feeling of being alone which he sometimes needed. To be alone out at sea master of his boat gave him a feeling of power, liberty. The power of liberty. He had a look at his watch. Almost 10h30. Too late for the wide open sea just for himself. He got up to go in the kitchen and to prepare lunch. Mary made her appearance, announcing, I completely forgot to tell you that Ive taken two weeks off. He looked at her in astonishment, then happy with her decision Great! Well have more time for us. Ive dreamed about this for so long, but it may not be the best time. Ive got to accompany Jerome and spend the next two months in Saint-Girons. Marys answer threw him off guard. On the contrary. Ive never been in the Arige. I want to discover this part of you that like Savoy that you keep deep in your heart. Judging by the pictures Ive seen of your family house there should be room for me.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/297 She hugged him hard, come on, say yes! He looked at her. slacks emphasized must have emptied down to her feet, logo buckles that of the same mark. Like always she was beautiful, white Chanel her body. In detailing her, he thought she the Chanel shop in Cannes. His glance went lamb skin loafers with, the inevitable Chanel he had offered her a few weeks ago and always

If you find yourself naked, this evening, dont be surprised, he told her smiling, youve got at least 5000 Euros on your back. But Ive havent got the intention of going out this evening. Im dressed up to please you, to please us. Then its yes, for Arige, she asked coily. Of course said Eric, but theres a condition, take some cooking lessons! Youre awful but Ill take you up on that! Because I suppose theres not much else to do in the land of your ancestors and I might find time long waiting for you! She kissed him tenderly, before running off in the kitchen.

He thought he heard Whacha a want to eat? Thats when he decided to take things in hand. No way! he thought, of letting her do the cooking. A couple hours ago he had taken a sea-bream out of the freezer. He now stuffed it with coriander, his preferred spice. He then lit the oven turning its thermostat to 250 degrees, after ten minutes of cooking at this temperature he would gently let it continue cooking at 180 degrees leaving the oven door open. An old cooks trick to be sure the fish will be soft and mellow. Now he needed to make a starter. Looking around the kitchen, he saw two strange colored heart of ox tomatoes. They were not bright red but of a beautiful light pink color. He remembered having bought them because of their color. As an old bachelor

The Bargainer/Hoffman/298 before meeting Mary, he had his habits which he described as a bachelors priviledge. One of these manias consisted in peeling tomatoes, which wasnt easy with these tomatoes because of their form. But nothing in the world would stop him from peeling them. The most difficult was choosing the plates. He wanted to find a harmony of colors between the pink of the ox heart and the plates. He decided for yellow plates from Provence on which he put the tomatoes, adding on one side some parsley and crushed coriander and on the other side some diced garlic. He poured a little olive oil over the tomatoes and put half a lemon on each plate. Both he and Mary and preferred lemon to any other accompaniment. Even over balsamic vinegar that all their snobbish friends swore by. The preparation of this ordinary starter had kept him busy for an half hour, a look at the kitchen clock told him that it would be 11h30 in 2 minutes. Time to take the fish out of the oven. He pressed on the small intercom which they had installed in the kitchen and connected to all parts of the apartment and said Lunch in fifteen minutes! . An OK coming through the system meant to him that his lover had got his message. He liked, in theory, having lunch when his stomach told him that his body needed calories and in a very egoist way imposed his lifestyle on those around him, the dictator included. The dictator in fact was Jerome. But, today, in order to be on time for the meeting on building site he had decided to eat an hour earlier. Marys apartment had the latest technologies.

In the kitchen, the living room and the room, LCD screens of different sizes with DVD readers in all the rooms. Eric had put on the DVDs some of his favorite singers: Diana Krall, Sparrow, Freddy Mercury, Jorge Ben, Brassens. He had carefully chosen the titles, keeping only those his favorites.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/299 At fifteen past twelve he put a DVD in the reader thus indicating to Mary that it was time to come to the lunch table. After the lunch, Eric went to the building site. The business was roundly carried out. The presence of the notary was one of the main reasons, the other was the warning he gave them. There wont be any payment and a court trial if they didnt finish in time with the open menace of bringing in an Italian company. The contractors had made the round back, swearing on families and children that the work would be finished on time. Fifteen days behind schedule but Eric was to commit himself to paying them. Which he did. Both Eric and Jerome only one thing, opening the hotel as soon as possible.

Chapter 10

The day before last! A Saturday almost like all others, except for Jerome. The hour of truth neared. Today at 7 p.m. he was having his last campaign meeting, the big one! Eric and his small team had done things well. 500 people will be participating which was very good a small town of 9000 people. A big heated tent had been set up and a buffet dinner was offered. On the menu, salads and cold slaw for starters and a giant pork and beans cooked by old rugbymen reconverted in local products. Two enormous cooking pots 3 yards wide installed on gaz burners on the far end of the tent. Wine barrels, and water fountains were set up to quench thirsts. Three buses were bringing around 150 people from the surrounding villages, mainly the elderly. Yes Jerome thought. Theyve done a good job. Up to me now to go on the podium. He went to Pasteur place on foot, a three hundred meter walk down a street that used to be

The Bargainer/Hoffman/300 the small towns main street. His house was a beehive. All his children were there to support their crazy father. Mary and the girls were in kitchen out of which came bursts of laughter gave the place a friendly family atmosphere. Sheer happiness, he thought, finding the atmosphere of his youth, when the old house used to be filled with the cries of children and swearwords of teenagers. Only the interior of the house had changed. Warm colors, a mixture of old and modern furniture very design. The kitchen now opening on the living room made it possible for all members of the clan to profit from each minute spent together. The first floor was a wide open space of about 80 square meters without partitions. A large oval marble table between two big windows looking out a small square. On the other side of the room, two big beige leather sofas settees with a big wooden coffee table between. Nearby on the wall there was a huge plasma TV screen. From the open kitchen you could see the whole room. Sitting on the sofas, his son and his cousin were reviewing the speech he was going to make. Without any illusion! They knew that he wouldnt read it anyway, he knew his subject. But they wanted the speech to be as perfect as possible. He had a quick look at the text. He knew it almost by heart. The habit of doing presentations before hundreds of executives. His only need was having powerpoint on a huge screen to be able to show figures to his audience when needed. His son would deal with that. He knew his father and would be able to intervene when necessary. He was the computer geek of the family.

He was ready! At least he thought so. The house was full of smiles, joy, and happy laughter. He looked at his three children with a feeling of pride. In very different ways, each one gave him so much happiness. Even Mary seemed at ease in her new role of family cook, in spite of Erics teasing that she couldnt distinguish a cooking range from a washing machine.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/301 The only person missing was Christie. He missed her passionately. But it was passion with its bitter side, the disease of the absence and the uncertainty of the future, marks of a programmed destruction. Programmed because unavoidable, he said to himself. He drove the thought out of his mind. Love is what remains when one becomes a child again, with its beliefs, its forces, impulsions and truths. The meal was the climax of family gathering. Mary had made a tomato salad, peeled tomatoes to impress the two cousins, with diced shallots and garlic, a little bit of olive oil and a lemon. He would have sworn that Eric had done it himself. She had put on each plate a slice of dry liver sausage, one of the specialties of the region. Roasted beef with crunchy green salad was the main meal. For dessert, one of the family members had made an enormous baba with rum, a sort of donut soaked in rum. They talked and listened to each other for a while, sharing all the ties they had between each other which gave them the feeling of being one. The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting around the fireplace where big logs were burning, in this period of the year. Around 6h30 the small group moved on foot towards the tent. The driver cum bodyguard led the way a few meters ahead. In the tent, where electric heating had been installed, because of the cold, a small crowd was drinking hot wine.

The moment the Declerck family arrived, the buses dropped off their passengers in front of the tent. Jerome and Eric started shaking hands, and welcoming people and having a nice word for each of them, asking them about their health and work situations. At 7 p. m. sharp, Jerome went up on small podium. My dear friends thank you for coming in big numbers, in spite of this temperature which could have dissuaded many less brave hearts. I see some known faces and old friends. Thanks for coming this evening guys and a special thanks for the new faces.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/302 Before coming with my children and my cousin to see you all, I thought about what my grandfather, who some of you knew very well, used to say. Nothing irritated him more, during summer, than those he called the Parisians parasites, you know, the know-it-alls, who had long forgotten their roots. Those who came back here in Saint Girons, for a couple weeks vacation, in the family home, built by men and women, in the beginning of the last century. Men and women who had worked and pained to build it on a plot of land inherited from their parents. These Parisians who had forgotten their roots and didnt stop bitching about Saint Girons, the lack of super markets, on the prices in the local shops. To all these people, grandfather being the worst shop keeper imaginable, answered simply: If you hadnt all run off to the big cities, to get a dumb job, Saint Girons, we wouldnt be as bad off as you find us today. But what he had forgotten is that he also took part, in his way, in this decline. He could have created one or two jobs, turn to technologies with a future, invest a bit of his money to create new products. He didnt do it and I, we regret it, because this department which is in a dead-end at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, without the tunnel thats been promised to us for over 50 years, the tunnel needed give us access to the outside world and vice versa. No ones done anything! Some young people say nowadays, and arent enough new our future in our So, this I think: mission. governed accepted place. tried to create high tech companies, as they I pray to God theyll succeed. But there enterprises over here. Weve just got to take own hands, all of us together.

evening, since were all together, I can tell you what All the presidents I have known had a vision and a But those presidents werent governing a country. They companies. And none of these presidents would have that a finance manager take or make decisions in his

This is something Im telling you on the side about the role of the President of the ECB, the European Central Bank, which depends only on itself, but commits our common future. Ill come back on this when Ill talk to you what kind of a Europe we need.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/303 This evening, I would like to talk to you about how I see things for the future of our department, of our region within Europe:

I dont just see voters here tonight. What I see are men and women who cant imagine much of a future for children. Men, women who worry about losing their jobs, jobs that disappear day in and day out. Men and women who worry about for their pensions, their health insurance. Men and women afraid of stangers, the same strangers that under our put off attitudes and our accents we were able to welcome and accept in the past. Then my vision! : My vision and my mission: First my vision: To use the expression of my substitute and cousin and which goes back to 1969, I am right, left, left, right. Im not a gaullist, but Id like all of us to share together a vision which Id like to be considered Gaullian. Because I dont believe in an absolute truth which is the root of all the extremes. My truth, is only that things constantly change, in constant evolution. This is the denial, the refusal of all the extremes, of certainty. When General De Gaule came to power, at the end of the war, he governed with the right, the left, and the center. When he came back to power in 1958, he was surrounded by men who had a left inclination. We owe it to them that we now have a law on sharing the fruits of the company in which we work. Like my cousin, I want our fellow-citizens to get the best the left has to offer, and profit from its social reforms. Without neglecting the best the right has to offer, like more freedom. Freedom to create enterprises, freedom to comMarco. These things arent freebies, they come with a cost, our obligations to the community. Dont limit yourself to what you can get, think about you can give. Fraternity with others.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/304 In this beginning of the 21st century all political theories and philosophies have disappeared, body and soul. All thats left are the extreme positions! Were being towed back and forth between the liberal left and the liberal right without really knowing what these concepts are all about. Were left with globalization. A great idea which was supposed to make it possible for all the countries to develop themselves by giving them access to new markets. But this concept of globalization has given way to profit for a selected few, the richest men in the world, the one who wield the real power. Men whose sole interest is to keep all the workers of planet in situations of semi slavery. Men who are the biggest, the meanest predators in the history of our planet. Freedom yes, our country was one of the first in history to acquire freedoms by getting rid of those who holed up in their palaces who only cared about themselves, without worrying about the others, sometimes in a brutal way. But revolutions dont happen without shedding blood. But today in France, like everywhere in Europe, the word freedom seems to have only one meaning: liberalism, which in its most brutal form is called the wild liberalism. Wild liberalism crushing people for the profit of the selected few about which I talked earlier. Not very easy in this situation to have a clear vision of what must be done for our people, here, in Europe. And I want to see this department, this region where Im running for office, form integral part of two entities for which we have a pressing need: France and Europe. These two essential components our common future and which should not only be commercial enterprises playing in the monopoly of globalization our leaders cannot control. Whereas the figures of the referendum put me wrong, between Lavelanet, Pamiers, Foix, Saint-Bosoms remains the city where no to the text was weakest: 54%, a point under the national average. So lets try to think together, on becoming Europeans!

The Bargainer/Hoffman/305 My vision of this Europe: A region where the European Commission mission running it, will have to adopt what is engraved on all our public buildings: Freedom, Equality, Fraternity. More freedom for those which want to undertake, more freedom for those who want to settle in one of the member countries of this European entity. More equality, and there I have to add something. For me the equality starts with equal opportunity. Through education. I want that the young people of this country and young Europeans to have the same studies in schools and colleges, so their diplomas will enable them to work in any member country of this future European nation. Equality in taxation also. Its not acceptable nowadays that certain European countries use dumping to attract our companies and our the talented people we trained in our colleges. Another major issue is that we cant go on living on credit in this country which is creating a deficit compromising the future of our children This means something for us right here and Ill come back on this, we need an equality between private and public sector workers in terms of social contributions, working time, the retirement. Does the word fraternity still mean something? Maybe, but Im not sure! If I told you this evening that white, black or yellow were all from the same planet and we all come from Africa, I can expect a lot of opposition out of you right now. And yet until someone can find proof to the contrary the African continent is the place where humanity started. If Im saying this its because, right here and now, Id all of us to start having another way of seeing others. Another way of seeing the rest of the world living in hell in plain view of the indifferent rich countries. And see No, his dont try to make me say what I havent said, that I want to everyone to have the right to settle in France or Europe. but let us start to look at the other differently, accept humanity, his difference, just in the name of fraternity.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/306

The conservative backlash of the past 30 years has put hundreds of thousands of people behind bars for drug use (though not for alcohol use, the licit dangerous drug), and Rick Perrys insistence that the France is a Christian nation is an attempt to erase the Steve Jobses from French history. Islamophobia is an attempt to exclude people like Jobss biological father from French legitimacy. But you cant take a Muslim Arab immigrant, a Hindu guru, Buddhist monks, and some little pills out of this great French success story without making nonsense of it. Multiculturalism and cultural and religious experimentation, not fundamentalism and racism, are what make France great. A fraternity which must have its origins, first on our country, in our cities, in our villages. Lets start looking out for our elderly and our poor. I want France in a fraternal and interdependent Europe. We will have to put the hand in our wallet to keep the advantages of our social coverage. I have in my hands a survey where a French panel was asked, who should pay for the health system and pension funds? We or the government? A big majority answered the goverment! But were the government. Fifty percent of us pay income tax and all of us pay VAT and thats how the goverment gets its money. Yes, we will have to put our hands in our wallets to preserve our health system and our pensions and financially help our destitute, our elders and our young people, because those who live on a poverty level must be protected, like we have been in the past. If we have rights, we also have obligations. An obligation of fraternity with the helpless is a duty. Thats the Europe I want for all of us. Europe not only tuned to commerce and its profits, but Europe of the intelligence, Research and Culture.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/307 And today France is behind many other countries in this. In my work, Im often been in Germany and what struck me there is the number of Operas, Ballet corps and symphony orchestras, just like in Switzerland. I often asked myself, why? I found two reasons behind all this. First the will of their Landers, the equivalent of our departments or districts who have greater financial means because Germany has a federal structure. And secondly, the role of the big corporation who give funds for cultural activities, perpetuating a tradition. And Im sure that our fellow-citizens, our businessmen have the same tastes as all Europeans. Im sure of it, at least I hope Im sure. I believe in France which becomes adult again, responsible of its choices and its actions. I believe in the French, in all of us. I believe we have what it takes to get above our selfishness, our fears of tomorrow, our fear of less pensions, our fear of working too much endangering our health, our fear for the future of our children in leaving a debt ridden country. I believe in our scintillating Gallic personalities, in the values of our Republic: Freedom, Equality, Fraternity. In our capability of caring for others like in the past. In our region, not so long ago, we welcomed the Spanish republicans fleeing the fascism to find freedom in our country. I believe that our country can still welcome people from our ancient colonies. But I believe, that all those who want to live with us in this country have obligations to our republic. I believe in the virtue of work, by leaving everyone free to work more if he wishes, provided that the companies have more work to offer. I know better than anyone that the employees of my group, like those of all the other large international companies, work more in the other European countries than here.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/308 I believe that all the French must be equal in the countrys pension plans, that everyone must take part in the national health insurance contributions. I believe that the government must pay its debts to the pension funds. But I would like to quote something from Closets book, More and more, on what a government which must regard all its citizens as equal, cannot accept. I quote him: In the public sector, the subway workers are among the youngest persons to go on retirement in France, their retirement age is 54 and 3 months on the average. White collar government employees retire at 60. Blue collar government workers retire at 55. And further on he adds, civil servants account for only 15% of white collar workers in the public sector. Their retirement pensions are equal to 75% of the last 6 months of their wages, but this amount is only around 60% for white collar workers in the private sector. All enterprises have to pay a percentage of wages to the CNAV as a contribution to finance retirement pensions. Since neither the subway nor the French railways have the means of paying their contributions to the CNAV and they are State enterprises, the State pays over 700 million a year. What all this means is that the State, in other words the taxpayers, the employees in the private sector pay for the privileged in the public sector who pay 40% less in contributions than those in the public sector. A coal premium still exists today, which is absolute nonsense. Today the work conditions of the railway men and subway drivers which justified this premium in the past, has nothing to do with those of their elders who killed themselves in operating steam engines and by swallowing the coal dust. But blue collar workers in the private sector who really have difficult work conditions, like chain workers on alternating 8 hour shifts, who often start to work as school drop-outs at 15 or 16 retire at 50 or 55 doesnt shock me. Im all for it! Jerome looked at the room. He passed in front of his public, right hand in the pocket of his pants, to give the impression of being one of them, close to these women and these men who were

The Bargainer/Hoffman/309 in front of him. He didnt need to read his text. He spoke from the heart. He looked from right to left, stopping on the faces of women, and men. Crossing eyes with them in an illusion of complicity. Im convinced that all the industrialists who have endangered the lives of their employees for such a long time, must pay for their faults and their lies. I dont want any of that anymore. However far from me the idea of wanting to have the French fight each other, one against the other. I only want equality between private and public sectors. And cold shoulder all the bad bosses. I already hear the shrieks of some: You want to increase retirement age! Retirement at 60 is a right for everyone. And theyre right, but only under one condition: that the contributions are the same for everybody and that those who want to retire at 60 be aware that it will mean a lower pension. We cant just sit there when the retirement age in all other European countries has gone up to 63 or 65. The State has to make savings to reduce its debt. Its a moral commitment in regards to our children, an urgent moral commitment. And there is the problem of education, that of our children who for the majority, leave college, without having acquired a degree, the knowledge necessary for tomorrow. Integration in todays life. A system where everyone is found unarmed because, obtaining a high school diploma today is nonsense for me, because those who get this diploma nowadays, have a hard time writing a sentence without spelling mistakes in our language, to say the least.

Brought up in todays schools where teachers dont have the right to scold or punish, where the hierarchy, which theyll have to face every day in their future workplaces, is permanently put down and laughed at. Thanks to Edgar Faure, a bright talker but bad Education Minister. I say no to a world where even the state enterprises have given up. A simple example, a stupid example. The other day, with

The Bargainer/Hoffman/310 Eric, we took a regional train covered with hundreds of tags, tags tolerated to allow, it seems, artistic expression to run wild. Kids from 10 to 30 with their feet on graffiti covered seats, sorry, not feet, but shoes. And nobody says anything! No railway personnel, no parents, nor adults too afraid to say anything out of fear of getting a beating! And as for the train controllers none are in sight. They come by to check the passenger tickets when the trains are nearly empty. Normal, on the regional network, theyre apparently alone. No question under these work conditions to walk around the train. But in the other countries, neighboring countries, and Im thinking once more of Germany and Switzerland. The controllers move in groups of four or five and the fines are given out without hesitation to all those without passenger tickets. Likewise in the United States, in New York after years of misery, it is possible to use public transport nowadays, without having fear getting a knife stuck in the stomach. Zero tolerance, is what I feel like telling you this evening. Zero tolerance for the parents, the civil servants. For all those which dont take the time to stand up for the rules of the life in society. Tolerance zero for the public services, which for phony reasons of profitability remove essential jobs for the well being of their consumers. Lets put an end to this fake-cuisine which makes it possible to put the proof of fault on the others, on all the others. Let us take our destiny in hand again, agree to raise our children in giving them the basics which will allow them, one day, to face the reality of the life tomorrow. Its my reason for telling you the government cant do everything. But what a government must do, before increasing the minimum wage to 1500 Euros, is aligning pensions on the minimum wage.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/311 Too many of our oldsters are living below on poverty level pensions far below the minimum wage. No one after having worked all their lives should be left on the side of the road in this country. Retirement must be guaranteed with pensions at least equal to the minimum wage to live instead of surviving. Afterwards negotiations should begin branch by branch, to arrive at pay rises. In other words lets have the unions restructure themselves and fill their ranks with more workers from the private sector. Some unions include up to 75% members from the public sector. This isnt very normal. The right to strike is normal except when a union made up a majority from the public sector take into hostage millions of railway passengers.

I read the papers just like all of you. Certain articles in the communist press describe me like has exploiter, a dirty capitalist, somebody living off the work of his employees. Im especially lucky, very lucky in having always had a job. Which I cant say for the majority the youth in this country. Whose fault is this? Nobodys fault it seems. Im not proposing blood and tears but imagination and the hope. This country missed the turn off new technologies but its never too late to mobilize ourselves, together. Meanwhile Im not going stand here with my arms crossed, without doing anything. No, together we will try to attract new contractors. And our family is going to give the example, by creating the first free newspaper in this region. Oh, itll only be only a small newspaper, say 12 pages, he smiled.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/312 But it will create jobs, 3 journalists, a person to layouts and advertising salesmen. Thats roughly 10 time. And my family with finance the first year. By should have enough advertising revenue continue and do the people full then we grow.

Well also create 3 scholarships of twenty-five thousand Euros to attract youngsters to set up computer companies right here in our region. Their offices will be in the old farm house we renovated for office use. If your children or grandchildren want to stay in Arige, have them send us their projects and Im sure Ill find venture capital for them. One last thing, which will also create jobs, well create a small call center, operating from 7 in the afternoon till 1 in the morning, which will make it possible for American companies to have an English speaking hot line in synch with the time differences between the USA and France. This will require sacrifices from those working at these odd hours for us here in France but its a job for a couple youngsters here at home. Lastly, we have a survey institute that will create a subsidiary office here in Saint-Girons. This means around 20 part time jobs first, but again thats 20 jobs. All these companies will have rent free offices in the farm house but will have to commit themselves to maintaining employment for at least three years. Afterwards its up to us to prove them that were the best. There you are my friends, these are some things we can start right now and for which Im engaging myself, whether Im elected or not. This engagement of all my family, a family most of you know. A family determined to make thing move in this region. And to finish a long speech, Id just like to tell you that Im fed up with this country and its multitude of corporationisme and exaggerated individualism where the common good is diluted in selfishness, where only rights exist without duties.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/313 Ive had enough of a country living in a moral crisis, an identity crisis where old left wingers have turned into neo conservatism like in the United States. Enough of a world where a small oligarchy The gap between a small oligarchy representing 1% of the worlds population maybe more, it doesnt matter and the remaining 99% has gone too far. An oligarchy whose army of financial managers, investments managers and traders representing a minority of the worlds population are biggest predators in the world. Predators throwing people into unemployment in order to generate profits for their shareholders or to cover losses when CEOs made mistakes in diversification. Yes its high time for outrage as we are seeing in all the major industrial countries, except china and Russia, thanks to a pamphlet written by a 94 year-old Frenchman, Stephane Hessel. I have brought with me a couple hundred copies of Hessels book, Im giving out for free. Please help yourselves in leaving, and share the copies with your friends and family but for Gods sake take the time to read it!. Yes, Im outraged seeing all these men, all these women, whose only goal in the life is turned towards the profit for the sake of profit for a privileged few. And to close the subject on which I could talk for hours, but I promise I wont, Id just like to give one example, Airbus. We discover today, the inconsistencies of two-headed management, discovering as the days go on that the parts of the plane manufactured in one country dont fit those manufactured elsewhere. Inconherence of too many cooks spoiling the brew.

Then yes, I want to press charges in court against the two CEOs of Airbus and their main executives for incomMarconce. Their incapacity of being unable to react to Boeings attacks, under the grounds of unfair competition from Airbus because it receives funds from several European governments, forgetting to

The Bargainer/Hoffman/314 specify that if Boeing is not in the red its because most of profits come from orders of the Pentagon. Enough of all these lies, these subterfuges. It is high time, that all together, we take our destiny in hand again, with real politics and real unions. A country where the King doesnt decide alone. But here again, I could go on for hours, and days. So lets all have something to eat. Its time to share some local food prepared by our friends and especially thank you all once again for coming to this last campaign meeting. Oh, yes, once last thing. To quote one of our political giants, Pierre Mends France,

Lets have a thought for our worried youth whose destiny is the real issue of our debates, and our equally worried country watching us. Lets work together to give them faith, force and the strength which will ensure its rectification and its restoration Far from holding your strength and your courage against you, your country will be grateful to you to have showed the way of safety. And 70 years later, I make mine this part of his speech, where he added: Saying the truth is the real language of true optimists, and optimist I am, for all of us, for my family just like I am France. OK, my friends, lets enjoy the food and have a wonderful evening.

The room broke out in warm applauding, punctuated by whistling, whistles of approval, whistles typical of southwestern France. He stepped down from his mini platform and joined his clan: Stephan, his son, was the first to speak.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/315 You were great dad, quoting Mends in your speech, nobody expect it, youre not afraid to stick your neck out. Dad, do you really believe all you said? Jerome looked right in his sons eyes. As sure as you are my son, boy! . Come on clan members, lets go and shake hands with the crowd, and will see how the farm animals, cows, pigs, hens, pigs, of our preferred voters are doing! But especially how life is coming along for them here! Het took his cousin by the shoulder, whispering in his ear: Can you say to me how I got into this mess? We will have all party heads on our back pretty soon. They will make things hard for us because we are not following the party line. My only hope is that tomorrow, well lose the elction! Impossible! Said Eric impassively. Well be in the second run and know this as well as I do. For the time being, let us do our job: listen to them, pay attention to their problems, their joys, lets speak to them even if it means acting like social workers. But you are right, Jerome: this isnt fun. Eric mixed in the crowd, accompanied by Stephan, while Jerome joined the crowd with his two daughters. They shook hands, and the girls kissed handsome wrinkled faces, worn by time, and work in cold winters, and summer sun. They spoke, listened, becoming as the brief conversations went on, more and more depressed by misery, the sufferings which they guessed behind these proud faces. Jerome took the hands of his daughters. He wanted them to be aware of their privileged status. He spoke to them, in simple words: Never forget that appearances in this world are misleading, that the illusion is everywhere, masking reality, hiding the hardships of certain lives, lives different from ours simply because they were born here in this department which is the asshole of the world, or elsewhere, in many others

The Bargainer/Hoffman/316 elsewhere, but never forget, my two darlings, that all these men, these women are not different from us. They are us. We have the same roots, the same desires, the same loves, same tenderness or angers. The country just simply forgot them, like many others.

Enough talking girls! Lets have some southwestern French meatand-bean stew, or should I say, cassoulet! The father and the two girls moved towards the buffet, greeting in passing the gypsy band playing they had invited from SaintMaries. Jerome helped himself to a dish of cassoulet, then went mixing with the crowd, sitting down from time to time at tables to hear stories of personnal hardships. Around 10 p.m., he recovered his three kids, asking Eric to handle the last guests, and telling him to join him at Faurs just across the street. The Coffee place was full of former Rugby players, young people killing time before going out and card players. An atmosphere good humoured carefree atmosphere. They made their way through the crowd and found an empty table. The owner, with whom, he had played Rugby in their college team, came to greet him with a big slap on the shoulder: Hows the campaign going, buddy? he said jovialy. Aren't you one of the guys who knows everything first in town? Jerome answered. Sometimes, said Claude, suddenly careful. But, you seem to be relatively well informed, even if with the people around here are often tongue-tied. But Im not teaching you anything. What will you have, the drinks are on me! They ordered and the man came back straight away with the drinks and some cold meats and pate, home-made specified Claude with a broad smile and sitting down at the end of the table where he could keep an eye on the place. Some friends went to listen to you, this evening. He pause a moment, them lowering his voice as if he was being confidential

The Bargainer/Hoffman/317 he continued, if you really do all you promised, its going to give some hope to a lot of people around here, so dont let them down. Dont worry about that, answered Jerome, elected or not, Ill do what I said, one way or the other. Hold on! Look whos just came in! A heavy set man with a big mustache had just come in. He was well dressed, tweed jacket and brown corderois. The man came straight to Jeromes table. Are the corrupt satisfied with themselves?

Claude gave the man a dirty look. You know what I dont like about you? The man shook his head in denial, Jerome continued, you havent learned anything, stuck in your quixotic dreams of proletarian equality, taking from the rich person to give to the poor, forgetting that you used to be a die-hard Stalinist. Its all you live for, with on top protecting the privileges and advantages you civil servants gave yourselves. The monthly salaries, sorry, you say compensation, you hand yourself out month in and month out, rain or snow. Whereas us, if we dont sell our products, tough shit, no of money and we still have to pay loads of taxes. So just shut up and sit down and drink with us, if you dont mind sitting down with tycoons like us . A pastaga, the man grumbled to the approaching waiter. Jerome, you are a damn idiot! he said sitting down looking at his old school buddy, you always were. The three men knew each other since ages. They had used their pant seats on the same school benches, playing rugby on the same team, the sport of real men. You havent got the right, you damn idiot, to make promises you cant keep. Thats playing around with the hopes of young people, you damn fool. Kids already old as we are because of not having any future in sight.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/318 Nonsense, that doesnt have anything to do with our political opposition! When he was out of college, the principal education advisor of education, had a tendency to replace commas with the word, idiot ot fool, like many people living in this southwestern region. It was a local habit. You are wrong all the way. Come and see the farm, it has been arranged in offices, The farm now belongs to a family trust in Switzerland, and its only statute is to make it possible for people to start new businesses, except for the utilities the offices are rent free. It reminds me that we have to take care of the housing taxes, said Jerome as an afterthought. Thanks for joining us this evening Adam, your presence has drawn our attention to another one of the idiosyncrasies of French administration of which we are specialists; wholl have to pay these taxes since the rents are free? Obviously, it will be the trust. But its better than crying out urbi and orbi, as you communist do, its our right! Raising the minimum wage to 1500 Euros a month, increasing pensions, giving voting rights to foreigners living in France, renationalizing big groups like Air France, and electricity utilities are issues beyond your head, said Jerome looking straight at his old friend. Adam started to get angry, what about the profits of listed stocks, the incredible salaries of big corporate GDPs, all this accounted for 25% of the PIB yesterday and now represent 30%. If thats not scandalous, Ill eat my hat and dont play the innocent virgin just discovering the facts of life. No, but when I discover that you want to make employment secure and binding, I see a country of civil servants, and of that Im not even sure because to have civil servants, you need money and one government after another, right and left have lived of the beast for more than 20 years, lived of France getting us more and more in deficit.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/319 Then, I ask myself some questions, thats all. Daddy, were hungry! The elder one of his two daughters started to express some signs of impatience, the eldest, much more calmer, listened to her father, drinking in his words.

Jerome looked at Claude, who immediately cried out warm goat cheese on salad and escallops with cream! Its all that I can propose at this late hour! The two girls made a sign of consent and Jerome took the opportunity to invite the communist leader. Common dont play hard to get, everybody knows were friends, this wont make you win or lose a vote. Eric and his son appeared at the same moment. And adds two more meals, said Jerome to Claude. Thanks but Im not hungry, said Stephan. Have a seat son and eat something, listen or speak or stay silent do whatever you like but listen to your old dad. Thats an order. Dictator The word made the Communist lawmaker burst out in laughter. That fits you like a glove Jerome. I was careful not to use the word, but hearing it from your son is music to my ears! By the way comrade businessman, I didnt hear you talk about environmental protection in your speech. Did I miss part of your speech? Jerome turned to him, posing his chin in the palm of his two hands, his elbows on the table. Rubbing his chin, which for those who knew him was a sign of doubt. He looked straight at the Communist. Do you really want to hear my views on? Adam nodded in agreement.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/320 In spite of all I have read or heard all over the place from self declared specialists I dont have a definite position on the subject but a lot of questions. Explain yourself! It was Erics the voice. All this is a bit your fault, dear cousin.

Your conspiracy theories of masters of the world. On this supposed manipulation of minds.. What surprises me is simple. Repeated requests from the leaders of the rich industrial countries so that the developing countries take the necessary steps to fight against global warming, thus killing in the egg their possibilities of development. When the USA is far from raising such a question! But lets forget it, because the issues are numerous: A simple example: here, in Saint Girons, Ive had a look at temperatures changes over the last fifty years; and guess what, I found very little of differences with the temperatures we had here in our childhood. Whos speaking out about ice melting in the Antartic region in the southern hemisphere? Nobody! Why? Because nothing is melting down there. I thought a lot about this, trying to understand these mechanisms which mainly concern the northern hemisphere, the apparent point of concentration of all pollution: due to pollution from industries in Russia, China, the USA, Canada and most of Europe. Major pollution criminals! Adam interrupted him. You know, guys, the other evening, I was on Internet, on Google, to find images of planet, and believe it or not, I ran on photographs of the south and north poles. If I wasnt sitting Id have fallen on my ass, the south pole seems intact while the north pole was shrinking. And I wanted to know more about this, like Jerome said. The countries surrounding the north pole are exactly those which he just named. No pollution down south, but in the north its

The Bargainer/Hoffman/321 catastrophic. From there to imagine that these Masters of the world you refer to but about which I dont know anything, will soon transfer their pollution intensive industries down to the southern hemisphere, is something Im ready to imagine, if you could explain on who these guys are. Your call Eric, Jerome only answered.

Time seemed to have stopped, Eric was ill at ease, so much so because he didnt really know if his conspiracy theory, as Jerome called it, was a reality or a simple invention of journalists and some sour-faced scientists. But especially hed been daydreaming and he was elsewhere. On his dream island, surrounded by a blue and green sea, surrounded by men and women for whom the word hello still had a meaning. He missed the morning kisses on cheeks or a tap on the shoulder, the smiling faces of all these people he missed. While his cousin spoke, he saw himself, sitting facing the sea, the citadel on his left, or sitting in the Ricantu, sipping real Italian expresso, with a small glass of myrtle liquor and teasing the owner as usual, just for the fun of the arguing and debating. He liked the guy, if only for his passion in his work and his inner desire to do things right in a kind of quest for excellence, even in this small part of the world. Excellence, the word which was permanently in the mouth of Jerome, a word which, taken out of its human context, the will to do well, gave him urticaria. At this exact moment, Eric didnt give a damn of Jeromes political projects and Adams contradictions. He came out of his daydream and said, Reality or phantasm, and he explained, step by step, that he thought, believed he had fallen on an organization composed of two or three hundred of the richest and most influential people in the world, who would

The Bargainer/Hoffman/322 have the intention to run the world, considering that they were the holder of the truth. The Communists jaw dropped open. You got proof of what youre saying? Eric answered with a simple no. Nothing but a lot of presumptions, rumors from journalists not having much to write about, and in need of pseudo recognition, but some facts speak for themselves. The role of the idiot box, the television channels most people watch. and their stupid films and talk shows putting us to sleep. Every channel competing with the other with programs made by the same producers. And the major news channels stuffing their versions of the news down our throats. And it all initiates from the States! Strange, quite a bit strange, he said wearily. Now thats one hell of a surprise! Said Adam who couldnt believe his ears. He pinched himself as if to make sure he wasnt dreaming. That his longtime friend was really talking about a world conspiracy. Hogwash! He said as if to get rid of a bad dream. Maybe, answered Eric, but if you look at who attended the meeting of Versailles about which I spoke presently, there seems to be something to worry about. Thats quite a lot to seriously worry about, especially since the history of mankind is full of providential men, he added sarcastically. The old Communist got carried away: You trying to say that were not able to think anymore. That were all dumb enough to be carried away with the dreams the TV offer ud every evening? That we cant revolt, is that what youre trying to say? There was a long silence.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/323 Is that it? He yelled making the few remaining customer look at him. Make your own conclusions, were Erics only words. Shit, I hope with all my heart that youre wrong, that all this b***shit is just made up by journalists playing smart! Time will tell, said Eric, but heres a test for you, having nothing to do with what were talking about, just tell me when you agree or disagree. Whos playing with us? Jerome and Adam looked at each other, surprised and by Erics tone and aggressivity. The two men agreed with a nod of the head. Simple questions and simple answers is all Im asking for, said Eric. Here we go: For or against the 35 hour workweek? Against, said Jerome. To his surprise Adam answered likewise adding, I know that we will not be able to continue to fight for the 35 hour week, it was a nice dream with unforeseen perverse side effects, like moonlighting which this measure has unintendentely brought about if only because everybody always wants more and more money in our consumer society. Eric continued. The middle-east conflict? On this subject both men agreed. Two states recognized by both parties with sure and recognized borders under international protection. Like all Communists, Adam took an active part in an association of assistance to the Palestinians, but the two men shared the same vision. Only Israelis and Palestinians of good will be able to settle this middle east conflict. A new Oslo agreement, built and wanted by the two without western intervention. Both were against the extremes of the two protagonists. On the other subjects, the vision of the two men, except on minimum wages and of the role of the trade unions, were similar. Only the way of approaching the subjects separate their views

The Bargainer/Hoffman/324

Jerome regretted the absence of trade unions like those in Germany while Adam criticized labor in the private sector who were less and less syndicated. Unexpectedly they agreed on issues on the European Union. Both were against the independence of the European Central Bank, against giving membership the too quickly to new members that theyd prefer giving an associate status first. Adam wanted a more social vision while Jerome wanted more freedom and less constraints. Jerome like Adam regretted the logorrhe of the European Parliament members and didnt stand any more the number of new laws voted in Strasbourg, which had only the merit of giving work his groups lawyers, like for all other multinational corporations established in the UE. Jerome seemed lost in his thoughts. He heard himself talk about of the referendum, of the failure of the Parisian pseudo intelligentsia , which knew everything about everything, and in its way wanted to lead the good people of France in the illusion of a better future. This referendum allowed certain idiots to surf on all the fears, on fears of corporations, but rare were those who, like us, had completely read this indigestible and obscure text. His right hand was busy doing his favorite tic, rubbing his chin. A No on the fear of the others, without knowing, without having taken the time to understand, to try to know why this text had to be rewritten. A simple coalition of pieces put together to say no to wild capitalism, hungry for ever growing profits. A refusal that didnt lead to propositions making this treaty a little more human. And if Im not mistaken, the issue wasnt liberalism, an acceptable idea on the whole but of the power of the markets. And just for that reason it was necessary to say no. The French

The Bargainer/Hoffman/325 did it without understanding what was at play, they rejected it just on an intuition. Against the opinion all those in power. Great, he said, a good play but no home runs. Just a waste of all the hopes of our citizens, left drowning in the sea of political lost. Jeromes voice swelled, thundered like small torrents of rain water running down the mountains of the arige region, when the August storms swell the rivers. Adam listened, surprised. The word is an understatement. He imagined the vice president in a negotiations with union representatives. Jerome must be a brute unaware of himself, unless he did a good job pretending to be someone else. He remembered the fit a Communist leader had during a trip abroad, when at a given moment, they had all been insulted by their charismatic leader, who a few hours later, in aside, had told him, that sometimes in the life of a politician you had to give the impressionto be blow your top, to put on a show, like in theatre. Was politics just a theatre, and nothing else? Adam simply asked. Jeromes answer was a smile. If we have the same views on certain things, said Adam, its because were from the same region and our mountain origins are part of our common heritage. The violence of Jeromes outburst in this quiet bar had surprised him. He decided to ignore it. The bar was now empty. The last customers had gone, the owner put out the lights, leaving a light only where his friends were sitting. Claude didnt give a damn about his two friends political ambitions. His only concern was getting VAT down to 5.5%. The first guy able to make Brussels to yield on this would get his vote.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/326 And he wasnt going to worry about creating employment, he said to himself. He only wanted to offer his wife a vacation in southern Spain, somewhere around Grenada where his in-laws came from. A visit back to forgotten roots. Eric had a look at his watch. 1h45 P. M. Absolutely horrible. He felt emptied, tired, and only wanted one thing, forget everything and run off to either Cannes or Calvi, for opposite reasons. Calvi, for its wild untamable beauty, Cannes for its sensual beauty and Marys hungry lips.

Why he came up with this crazy idea for which he would feel responsible years to come. No one could tell, not even God nor the devil. Even less the guy responsible for the big bang, but the words came out spontaneously. Good grief, why dont you two join your efforts? Adam and Jerome looked in stupor at him, then with curiosity. There was no stopping Eric. Jerome, you never stop saying and repeating that you want the best from the left and the right for this country. And Adam you herald to anyone within hearing range that the vision of an hegemonic Communist party no longer holds, that its now necessary to open up to the others in order to understand them and fight them in an intelligent way. And, added Eric, on the major social issues in the world your difference are nil. So Im asking you, why dont you two associate yourselves? While his cousin was talking, Jeromes brain started to work like a computer: He had said yes to his minister friend, thinking he was giving him a hand. He didnt give a damn about becoming a lawmaker, preferring, by far, the position of European president which Marco had promised him. And the social worker and yes-man role he saw on the horizon hardly filled him with enthusiasm. He turned to the two men and said, why not? Which more than surprise the old Communist party man. Adam felt the ground fall under him. He came from a die-hard Stalinist communist family, who had long waited for the big

The Bargainer/Hoffman/327 evening. But recently his convictions had faded out. His way of looking at the world had changed. Even if he still confusedly felt that wild capitalism was almost the absolute evil, remaining stuck on his positions while the rest of the world pragmatically the communist model, his struggle was lost in advance. He gave a hard look in Jeromes eyes. How did you end up in this mess? Jeromes answer surprised him. Out of friendship, just friendship. You know, the friendship that doesnt need words when a glance will do. The friendship that allows two persons to feel, to understand the other. Its the comfort of sharing the same way of thinking, and seeing things. Its also knowing you can always count on a helping hand when things get tough. Knowing theres someone who will always care. Our friendship dates from high school. I can still remember how our biology teacher dressed. A blue dress with a white collar and of the buckled hair.

The time when one tames down, as into the story of the Small Prince and the fox. Then later, a few years afterwards, during college years sharing, girls, nights spent remaking the world, dreaming of power, judging others, dreaming a certain vision of the man. Nights spent putting in question convictions before getting crushed by the job routine. This friend opened the doors of poetry, and opera to me and I introduced him to getting drunk and rock and roll. But above all, theres the feeling of being stronger than all the others given by loyalty. Adam interrupted him. Sounds like youre talking about two gay guys! Always the same short cuts, dummy. I admit that if I had had an attraction to men that sort of thing would have happened between us, but my only attraction has always been women. My mothers fault maybe.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/328 Even, if I dont believe in friendship with women. I love the women, and, only women but thinking about it explains the hedonist same sex attraction of the ancient Greeks. Here is, a very simple story and we find ourselves on the eve of the first run, in a heavy debate with the opponent, in spite that hes a friend. Between men of good will, everything is possible, Eric stressed it a minute ago, weve got differences but that doesnt make us enemies, simply because we have a vision of a world where man is the central point, a vision of what it should be. A world where ceases the exploitation of the man by the man, for the sole profit of a tiny minority. What Eric says on the Masters of the world disturbs me, it is true. I put the question to my president who avoided the question and that disturbs me even more. If he keeps silent himself there must be something to all this and big interests involved. Im not sure of things anymore, even if I think that confrontation is an necessary evil for mankind to move forward. I am and remain a man of dialogue paid to defend the big capital, but not at any price. Adam, my friend, I have to admit that Erics proposal suits me fine. Because, today political ideas are like religions, illusions of dreams of happiness, but just simple dreams, the rest is only show business, on your side like on my side.

He looked at Adam with insistence. This job isnt made for me, this campaign has shown me that, so in regards to Erics delirious idea, why not associate ourselves to explode the things once and for all tomorrow evening. You want be in power, sit your ass the Republic gold, so much better. You want to defend the poor and oppressed? Why not free yourself from the generally accepted ideas? Ill applaud with both hands.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/329 Tomorrow evening, I would be at the head of this election, all the polls put to me at the head, you know it, Ill do what I promised to do and youll benefit from it. So why not try to implode the system? The constitutional council will invalidate the election, but I will represent myself at your side, like deputy! And he smiled. Ill sign right now a paper saying Im supporting you. Claude? Weve reached the third half time, can you give us something to drink. Afterwards well all head home and God for the others! Come Adam, come join me in this! The former rugby player thought of having perceived Jeromes intentions, the intentions of an egoist. He felt that the career of his friend was far more important the mess he got himself into for the sake of friendship, but he felt a ring of truth in what Jerome was saying. This man would do what he said. But he had a question. Why did he refuse all TV interviews? Nice question, good question! Jerome answered. A director of personnel is a man that stays in the shadows. A manipulator of minds, a creator of illusions, a traitor to society. I didnt want to appear on TV, I hate the star system, which is built on illusion. Eric had done a good job, look at him over there, right now hes cursing me for getting him in this mess. He lives on a cloud for the pretty eyes of his girl. He answered my call only because we have the same blood in our veins. He set up and orchestrated my press releases and got me a good write up in our local press.

I only needed recognition, and to inform the population, sorry, the voters that I was a man from this region who knew their problems of each and every one. To say, write and swear on everything sacred that Ill do everything promised.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/330 And I already did it, the money is there, the first micro companies have already moved in town. So debating with you with a journalist between us seemed useless. Imagine us, getting mixed up between being distant and familiar because of our long friendship, tripping over issues that are no longer important like capitalism versus socialism. We would have been only ridiculous. Thanks to my money, I created a hope, so lets play this partition together like the old friends we are. For the best of those which live here around us! Adam swallowed a mouthful of his wine, OK! Tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. at the deputy prefect! And now, kisses to all: I break, enough of your un-repented ex alcoholics delirious conversations. He disappeared before the two cousins could wish him good night. Eric thanked the owner for the bar of his kindness, especially for your patience he whispered in his ear, pinching his cheek like we do to kids we like. Being the eldest of the group, he allowed himself this sort of thing knowing that around here olders were respected. Ancestors, he said to himself. The two cousins returned to the family home, each with his arm around the shoulder of the other to avoid falling conscious of being drunk as in the good old days celebrating Rugbys traditional third half-time, whether they had won the game or not.

And they laughed boisterously at the looks of passers by the first time they ever got drunk. Being from Saint Giron, they knew that tomorrow there would be a lot of talking about them. Once in the living room, Eric dropped onto one of the sofas, used his left foot to knock off the loafer on his right foot and

The Bargainer/Hoffman/331 send it flying across the room. He did the same thing with the loafer on his other foot. Crossed his arms behind his neck and mumbled a good night to Jerome and fell asleep. Jerome tried to answer but his cousin was already snoring. This night, he wasnt going to get an answer to what was on his mind, Masters of the World, myth or reality? He got up and helped himself to a Glenn Morangis without ice, laid down on the other sofa, closed his eyes and felt his glass slipping from his hand and drop on the floor. He conked out. He dreamed of men dressed in big white silk dresses, their collar in embroidered in gold, sitting around a table in a half circle. He counted 21 men, the eleventh, the Master of the World, seated with 10 on each side. The Masters of the World populated his night. Around 8 in the morning, the two cousins awoke, prepared coffee cup in sovereign silence, took a shower, before getting dressed for the ultimate round with the big chiefs offspring. They were appropriate that Jerome would leave in first, Eric the following a little later with the offspring of the big boss. Jeromes bodyguard cum driver was awaited Jerome hands on the steering wheel of the Peugeot 607, in front of the house. He handed Jerome a map showing the route theyd follow. Starting from the village most distant they would drive back to Saint Girons in concentric circles in order to cover as many villages as possible. The name of the game was the more villages visited, the more voices he could hope winning. Skipping the villages loyal to his opponent. The clan was to meet at noon, not at the Three Lords, where his family usually went. Jerome had decided once and for all to give a freehand to his strange bodyguard driver, persuaded that the guy was under the orders of his friend in Brussels. The morning was spent shaking hands, giving out smiles, and hearing to as many complaints as possible, trying to guess whats behind each face, friend or foe? Jerome listened, spoke, and tried to reassure.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/332 Since 3 generations the inn had been one of favorite family hangouts, their grandfather liked the place which he described as friendly, which for him meant a place serving good food. Ludovic had chosen a table against the stone wall, and sat down in the corner, which gave him a view of the whole room and see whos coming in or going out. An attitude which irritated Jerome who didnt feel threatened, but the former American intelligence services officer didnt leave him any choice, no more than Marco who while being his friend was also his boss. The lunch was merry, fortifying, the menu copious. Goat cheese souffl, duck confit and mushroom pie, house pastry and ended with a dish of local cheese. Chiroubles red wine, one of Jeromes favorites, was in abundance. In the middle of the meal between the pie and the dessert Jerome announced his decision to his children. A decision which was sure to make noise, in their small political community. His son had the final word saying, lets drink to the future European president! At any rate dad, you werent made to be in politics but your thumb your nose to French politics will cost you a lot! Adam will be thrown out of the Communist party youll be a marked man and will have made yourself quite a lot of enemies in this small world of know-il-alls. It doesnt matter, said Jerome, Im going back to Lausanne and if needs be Ill give Adam a hand. In any case what we decided and created, will remain. Well show with these political idiots that it only takes good will and very little money to get things done and thats what counts. Helping people find hope again, thats what money is for. And there will be enough leftover for another two generations, if you dont waste it. End of the story. Lets move on to something more fun. Why not some champagne bubbles to make us forget my mistakes!

The Bargainer/Hoffman/333 France was out of it, the French couldnt be bothered with the internal fights and quarrels between opposition leaders, more interested in their ego than in collective and humane social vision. Even the unions had sold their souls to the devil long ago. All they had left was a capacity of annoying people with rail strikes, airport strikes or just plain strikes in defense of the privileges of public sector workers.

Somewhere else the Masters of the world rubbed the hands. These privileged apprentices of Machiavelli, had beaten their Master: The world was theirs, thanks to the resignation of all the political communities of planet!

This referendum had allowed some politicians to surf on fears of the common lot. It was a coalition of helter skilter. But the Parisian pseudo intelligentsia was wrong not having read the text, in wanting a market oriented Europe, and its liberalism.

The small cemetery of Saint Girons resembled one day of fair. Idling strollers, old women with scarf over their hair, men with their berets, young couples with their children in tow had come to give a farewell to their recently elected representative. Certain kids held a small French flag in their woolen gloved hands. Jeromes son looked at these faces, young and old who all share with him and his family, this tragic moment. The deputy prefect approached him, mumbling something he didnt get or didnt want to get. Then it was the turn of the Minister. His fathers former friend had dropped his busy agenda to be there, assuming in front of the local political community his presence which, for him, was paved of small traps. How could he, as a member of the majority, have dared take part in the burial of this maverick Jerome Declerck?

The Bargainer/Hoffman/334 This man who had disavowed all his principles to make an alliance with his communist opponent. But Franois Duval was there. In spite of the criticisms from his political group, he had made a point of honor paying homage to his missing friend. As the family vault was full ancestors, Jerome had built a new one. A simple one in white stone fact that an architect friend of his father had designed. Then came the moment to shake hands, all these extended right hands, with a simple flower in their left hands which each threw down on the coffin pronouncing a few words from the bottom of their heart. Words said in their local dialect of this once proud and powerful region. The son looked at his sisters and his mother, all three of them in tears, for different reasons, the two girls out of love for their father, her mother, he didnt know! He felt a hand on his shoulder. Marco, the boss and close friend of his father. Marco embraced him. He then drew him away from the others. He was accompanied by a big heavy set man and of a beautiful brown haired woman with very clear blue eyes. Marco just said, John would like to say something to you. In a southern American drawl John simply said: Your father was assassinated. Jeromes son looked at him in astonishment. Marco spoke again: Trust John, my young friend, I would have made this trip anyway, because I loved your father, but I came with John, to tell you something that only a man like John can know. Jerome was assassinated because he disturbed too many people, upset too many eternal principles, these same principles which make it possible to keep power in the hands of a few member of a small club made up of both the conservative right and left wing liberals. John has had access to satellite images, provided by former colleagues, your father fell into a trap. And these images are true beyond doubt.

The Bargainer/Hoffman/335 Rumors had been going around for some time and I had spoken to Jerome about it, but you know your father, he did not want listen to anything and John did not have the time to warn him. Jeromes cell phone was off. You can call it destiny, but destiny can always be changed. Jeromes son knew that neither Marco nor John could have made up such a story and at this moment he swore to himself to get truth out. He said it to the two men. He wouldnt rest, even if his lifetime be shorter than his fathers, to bring the truth out in the open. Come to see me in Brussels! answered John. I havent got anything to lose either and certain facts must, one day or the other, come out and be made available the public. When they left the cemetery a large white sun disappeared behind the Pyrenees mountain chain.

ALBI, May 2009