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Augustus studied Cladius' knowing smile. Cladius, known for being aloof, was intelligent when he set his mind to something. It was the best course of action, and the one Augustus had to take and Cladius knew it. "We will talk to the owner of The Broken Stone first before I make my decision."

Cladius put his hand straight up into the air and began snapping his fingers together, drawing the attention of a member of the staff. "If the owner is here, will you please tell him we eagerly await him joining us?" Cladius said.

"As you wish," the server said with a bow. "I'll be right back."

He walked briskly toward the back of the establishment, then appeared again quickly. This time accompanied by a well-dressed man.

"Cladius! It's great to see you again."

"Augustus, I'd like to introduce the owner of The Broken Stone. This is – Where are my manners? I should let the server here introduce his employer. Truly, I apologize."

The server stepped forward to speak. "Allow me to introduce Faustius DeGrevelle." The small, slender, and young man, gave way to the old and fat man Faustius dressed in a bright yellow.

Despite his age, he had thick hair, stained unnaturally dark black. "Thank you for that introduction," Faustius said, with his arms out. "You need no introduction. How could I own such a place as this, without recognizing the third son Giovanni DeCastellian? I welcome you to my eatery, and aside from the dealings your brother has told me about, I also welcome your potential patronage."

Cladius' guard stood to allow Faustius to squeeze into his seat next to Cladius.

"I'm sure it's a prosperous day now that we've met," said Augustus. "My warmest greetings."

"I've already broached the deal we discussed before," said Cladius. "Augustus wasn't too sure the deal was worth his coin. Perhaps you could help me convince him."

"Yes. I'm sure you have a lucrative spice here but only if it becomes popular. This would make certain that it became trendy."

"How likely is it to become trendy? I don't want to spend money if the chance is low. Obviously, you will say the chance is high, so convince me to believe you when you say it."

"It's pretty much guaranteed. I've tasted it myself, and although I didn't find the taste particularly pleasant, it is unique. It is unlike any other spice we use and that alone is enough."

"A few people have told me it's not particularly pleasant. It makes me think this will just end with a loss." Augustus hung his head in thought, moving his cheek around with his fingers. He knew, however, that those on the island had become accustomed to it after enough exposure to it, developing a taste for it the same way he had with the salty taste of anchovies.

"That's irrelevant. Think of Burnberry wine. It's so expensive because the berries will only grow at the tops of tall mountains and they only fruit every fifth year. Have you ever tasted it? It tastes like vomit. But, since it's priced so high, it’s become a status symbol. There is nothing the people of this city want more than to feel as if they are above others. When they pay that high price, they aren't paying for delicious wine, they're paying for the feeling of being superior.”

"But, Cladius just suggested a scheme where we offer it for free to certain important people." Augustus looked over to his brother's confused face. Faustius seemed surprised and looked to Cladius with a furrowed brow.

"No. Discounts, and especially giving it out free, should be out of the question. The most valuable thing you have with this product is its exclusivity. In fact, the contract that you arrange with the eateries, the contracts for them to push the dishes should have an article to put a floor on the price of it.”

For a moment Augustus caught sight of the frown that flashes across Cladius’ face, forcing him to suppress his own chuckle. Clearly, they had some loose arrangement for how this conversation would go and now Cladius must feel as if Faustius was deviating from that script.

Augustus could imagine Cladius’ plan. He must have gone from eatery to eatery promising a deal where they would be paid to promote the spice, in exchange for a cut of the price he would have to pay, as a finder’s fee, of course. Thereby collecting a toll on both sides, as to be expected from a leech like him. Faustius would’ve agreed to the terms on the spot, as anyone would have, it was the equivalent of agreeing to free coin. But why would Faustius now break from the script? Augustus pondered that for a moment, before speaking. The rest was easy enough to deduce, but the motives of Faustius didn’t make sense. He was potentially forsaking both coin and Cladius’ favour.

“Faustius, tell me honestly, what do you think of the deal? Is it a fair one?” Augustus asked Faustius directly, ignoring the glare on Cladius’s face.

Faustius smiled. “It does you a disservice. But also a disservice to me. I think if you enforced a minimum price it would, in the end, result in more profit for me, as well. I would suggest a contract with a select few eateries. Eateries that you would guarantee a supply of the spice. Make it clear to each party you deal with that you will only make the same terms with everyone else.”

Augustus understood immediately. Faustius heard the terms that Cladius proposed and knew he could do better and now was attempting to usurp the commission Cladius sought from the eateries. A bold move for sure. If Augustus held some amount of brotherly loyalty to Cladius it would lose him the free coin and possibly their patronage in the future. “I think I understand. This deal you propose would increase the margins for the eateries significantly. Knowing the competition couldn’t charge less would allow them to charge a very profitable price without fear of losing customers. I would guarantee the supply but also have to guarantee that I would sell it to them at a certain discount to the minimum sales price, in the long run, it could be a tremendous profit for the eateries. Yes, I like this idea a lot. Do you think you would be willing to waive the fee to promote the spice with this setup?”

“For you, of course.”

Cladius had his arms folded, silently watching the exchange, until then. He wiped the disdain from his face, replacing it with a calm smile. “Excellent!” He said. “This sounds like a marvellous plan then. Although, I wish you would have told me about this earlier. I have already done a bit of walking, and greeting, and talking, laying the groundwork for this new plan. But, I guess I will just start anew today.”

“Cladius, do you have some parchment? I think I can write the terms here before we leave.”

“Yes, I brought some with me but it’s in the carriage.”

“Would you please go get it?”

“Certainly,” replied Cladius. The two men blocking him in got up. Faustius’ struggle from the chair was a humorous sight to Augustus.

Once Cladius left, and Faustius took his seat next to the wall, across from Augustus, did Augustus speak. “Let us talk for a moment about my father.”

The smile vanished from Faustius’ face. “Ah, yes. I figured this would come up when Cladius said you would be visiting. It was truly a tragedy.”

“Where did it happen?”

Faustius pointed across the room to an occupied booth. “There.”

“Do you or your workers remember anything odd about that day?”

“No. Do you suspect foul play?”

“I am just inquiring.”

There was a moment of silence as Faustius considered the conversation. His eyes moved about as his mind worked. “Poison wouldn’t have been possible.” He shook his head. “Someone who works here would have had to accept the bribe, and considering my clientele, I assure you I have vetted my staff thoroughly to make sure that would never be a possibility. Meals are made in batches and the same meal is served to the staff after dinner. No one else, customers of staff, even got sick that day.”

Augustus looked over his shoulder to see Cladius returning with a smile and all the instruments necessary to put the deal in writing. Augustus glared at Faustius intentionally and as expected Faustius kept his mouth shut as Cladius took back his seat.

They sat in silence waiting for the food, with Augustus diligently writing on the piece of parchment. He had worked out all the other details on his own, setting the price that any dish that used the spice would have to sell for, as well as putting in the contract that the prices would be set each week such that all the contracts agreed to similarly would have to adopt the same prices. He had to come up with some of the language on the spot, but after careful consideration, he managed to come up with wording that was as unambiguous as required.

They let the ink dry as they ate the meal of fish and vegetables, all with hints of the spice, just enough to give it that distinct flavour. Augustus found it much more palatable than anything his own cooks could muster. “This actually tastes good,” said Augustus.

“Yes, my cooks are quite skilled.”

“So, let’s sign this,” said Cladius. “And then with both of your permissions, I’ll show a copy to the other eateries I’ve spoken with to inform them of the new deal.”

Without hesitation they both signed, Faustius storing his copy in the back of the store, and Augustus’ copy being handed to Cladius.

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A note from TaxReligion

I apologize sincerely that this chapter took so long to be posted. Things have been quite busy for me. My only excuse is that I work in the ICU of a hospital and I'm also a union rep/steward, so I've been dealing with a lot of stuff lately. Plus Christmas itself has been a bit of work this year. I hope to find some more time to write in the next week, and again, I'm sorry if anyone was out there eagerly awaiting the chapter!


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TaxReligion

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