A railroad

Andi Braggart discovers that the ethos of hard work and determination is being lost from the world. However, she has a railroad to run and no matter how lazy the people around her, she will not be stopped.

"A railroad?"

"Yes, Miss Braggart, a railroad.  That which this company has plenty of, stretching from the coast to the interior and back again.  A railroad."  The man speaking was dressed in a suit so sharp that the creases down the front of the trouser legs were splitting light as it struck them, creating a faint iridescence that only faded when clouds occluded the sun.  His voice was crisp and calm, his tone that of a school-teacher reprimanding a wayward student.

Andi Braggart, heiress to the Braggart railroad empire and waiting only for her twenty-first birthday to control the entire company, sat stiffly in her chair.  She had asked that the meeting be held in her favourite restaurant, Mondegreen's, and they had been granted the private dining room at the rear.  She had sat at the table, admiring the silver cutlery with its long, ornate lines, but Dr. Crepidarian had stood at the French doors leading to the patio insisting that they finish business before they ordered.

"Yes, Dr. Crepidarian," she said, her formality hinting at the anger her tone denied.  "I am, perhaps surprisingly, aware of our business.  Which is why I find myself unable to understand you.  Why would Braggart close down a railroad?"

"Not just any railroad," said Dr. Crepidarian staring out of the window.  Beyond the glass was a honey-coloured patio framed with vines that led out to a green lawn which in turned sloped down towards the shore of Lake Ontario.  "A branch line, really; little more than a spur.  So very small.  So very inconsequential."

"My father used to say that those who looked after the pennies found that the pounds looked after themselves," said Andi.  "I'm sure that a man as edified and intelligent as you, Dr. Crepidarian, doesn't need a girl like me to tell you that the small things must be attended to in order that the great may grow."

"Ah yes, well...."

"Well, Dr. Crepidarian?  What branch line is it that you think I ought to close?"

"You could call me Oskar, Andi."  Dr. Crepidarian had finally turned away from the window, but his eyes were cast down, searching the floor for escape.

"Indeed I could, and perhaps, when we are done with business, I shall.  Which branch line?"  Her final words had weight to them now; like a hound at last sighting the prey, she was closing in.

"Ah...," he paused as long as he dared, but when her eyes started to narrow he surrendered, "the Bidstone branch."

The leather-bound menu, containing fourteen pages alone of appetizers, slipped from Andi's hands and thudded to the parquet floor.  She barely noticed it; her hands pressing flat against the table and she rising to her feet, her chair scraping backwards behind her.  Dr. Crepidarian raised his eyes and was momentarily distracted by how her zebra-skin dress clung to a body he still believed was a girl's; then she spoke again.  Her voice was low but penetrating, angry yet controlled.

"The Bidstone branch has been operating for forty-seven years.  We unve-- I unveiled a new engine for that line last December.  You might remember it, the Atlas Shrugged?  The new diesel locomotive, the way forward for Braggart railroads.  How on earth can you conceive of closing down the Bidstone branch, let alone ask me to do so?"

"I'm aware of the signif--"

"I'm really not sure you are, Dr. Crepidarian.  The world is watching us now, waiting to see if we can really bring the age of the locomotive forward, if diesel is really the new fuel to replace steam.  To close down the Bidstone branch, even if we move the Atlas to another line, is to admit defeat.  It will set our plans back twenty years, if not more."

"The line has become uneconomical!"  Dr. Crepidarian was almost wailing, his voice had gone up an entire octave.  "We can't afford to run it at a loss!"

"Uneconomical?  How can a branch line that brings aluminium ore, bauxite, to the smelters possibly be uneconomical?"

"Aluminum."  Dr Crepidarian had forgotten both that Andi had had a European education and that this was not the time for pedantry.  He paled when he saw the look on her face, but struggled on.  "Engineers say the line is too hard to maintain.  They want higher salaries, they want less responsibility, they want--"

"They want, they want!"  Andi's mimicry was painfully accurate.  "Well, I want too, and I don't see you caving in to my every demand!  Yet, in a very real sense, that is exactly what you should be doing.  Instead you stand there and whimper to me that things are too hard, that you don't want to try, that effort is for other people.  Frankly, Oskar, you disgust me."

The sun came out again at that moment, and Dr. Crepidarian's trousers flared iridescently, a sad counterpoint to the misery written across his face.

"You don't understand, Andi," he said.  "We can't find any engineers who are willing to work any more."

The End

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