The room resembled a cellar - low-cielinged and somewhat dank. It sat atop the roof of a skyscraper. Within were four men in red leather chairs at a wide table.
"What jackass designed this place anyway?" asked Doyle. "I feel like I'm in a urethra!"
"Braggart Senior went a bit eccentric in his later years," conceded Tim Braggart. "I've been trying to have this place renovated - or just walled off - but Daffy really does have equal say in every single company decision. And she seems to like it."
"No offense Tim," Doyle said, "but that sister of yours is a goddamn liability in every sense."
"I do take take offense," Time replied stiffly. "Daffy and I may not get along some times - or most times - but she's still blood. Never forget that."
Also at the table were Saul Snarkin and Mister Not Appearing In This Parody. "Well, she is why we're all here," said Snarkin. "Okay, so now I have a place in the narrative?"
Yes you do. And please stop breaking the fourth wall.
"Right, the metals situation," Tim said. "I don't mind telling you all, I'm very uncomfortable with Daffy's insistence on shifting all of Braggart Big Damn Rail's rails over to this untested alloy, this - What's it called again?"
"'Spankmeum,'" Snarkin said with visible discomfort. "And please, Tim - please! - don't make me explain that word..."
"Is it at least safe?" Tim asked. "That's what I'd like to know. My trains will be running on it and all, I think I have a right to know some technical details."
"Spank still won't release it for third-party testing," Saul explained. "He says other people 'wouldn't understand.'"
"What is he, a fucking twelve-year-old!?" demanded Doyle. "Tim, I'm sorry for overstepping before but I have to say again - and I say this as your friend - you're sister's inviting disaster!"
"And it won't be the first time," Tim explained evenly. "She put the company through much worse and we're still standing."
"Luck don't always last..." Doyle muttered to himself.
"Saul, is there anything you can do?" Tim asked, pointedly ignoring Doyle. "Any way your friends in Washington can... I hate to say this..."
"They can't put the brakes on this," Snarkin explained glumly. "Rearend's not taking his ore from the government surplus anymore. At least not for this."
"Then how the hell is he making it?" Doyle asked. "Iron veins don't just grow back overnight - and everything not already owned by the Feds or, er..."
"Or you?" prompted Tim Braggart, just a little judgementally.
"Or me, right," conceded Doyle. "Everything else was sold off to the Saudi's during that Shrub guy's term. Little pssiant traitor, auctioning off the US of A while no one was lookin' -"
"Herman," said Tim, using Doyle's first name for the first time in the narrative, "as much as I enjoy your rants, it doesn't really resolve this situation."
Rearend building a "wonder metal" that prompted one to wonder if it even worked... Daffy tying Braggart Big Damn Rail to this "Spankmeum" in flagrant disregard of the board and her own brother... And all in a dicey economic environment. They'd all just survived the last Great Recession and now these people were coming in and risking everything over what struck Tim and the author as some overblown ego trip.
"At least you still have your interest in the Sanspantalons mine," Snarkin offered.
"That doesn't really cheer me up, " said Tim. "The numbers coming out of there... I don't know. It's just fishy that this place that's been occupied for over half a century could still have so much copper. The Mexican government never bothers to investigate this sort of thing, they're all too busy fighting the Zetas."
"Hey, that reminds me!" broke in Doyle. "I was down on your Sanspantolons line recently and it was the weirdest damn thing but the train was near silent."
Tim brightened for the first time that evening, "Oh, that's our new electric model! No oil, no emissions, and about thirty-three percent faster."
"That's some hot shit!" declared Doyle.
"Thanks... I think," replied Tim. "It's not in full production yet but I've been putting together a five-year plan with the board to go all electric with our trains. It'll bring down our maintenance and fuel coasts exponentially." Then, losing a little of this good mood, "If Daffy doesn't run us into the ground first."
The other men nodded in solidarity. A waiter - because this was apparently a restaurant - brought them drinks.
"Well, here's to family," offered Doyle, raising his highball. "Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em."
Snarking and Braggart raised their drinks as well - a mojito and club soda respectively.
"I gotta say, Tim," Doyle said after sipping his drink, "I can't believe you never hit the sauce, dealing with that sister of yours."
"Our father was a pretty serious alcoholic," explained Tim. "I don't ever want to go down that road - especially since that's probably why he left half the company to Daffy."
The men had a good laugh at that. A small one but in difficult times one takes what one can get.
As they left the building - whether a restaurant or bar or whatever - Braggart stiffly buttoned his coat and said. "I should really go back to the office. Maybe talk some sense into Daffy."
"Best of luck," said Snarkin.
"You'll fuckin' need it," added Doyle.
Tim nodded and began the long walk back to Braggart Big Damn Rail's offices. He liked walking - it felt honest - and it gave him time to think. Tim couldn't help but wonder about his sister Daffy - if she would have devolved into such a brutish, narcissistic freak if only Father had been more affectionate. He'd doted on her, but only in the most disconnected and material sense. Or maybe not even any parent's love could've saved Daffy from what she became. A psychological mystery that ached Tim to his core.
And now for a different scene!
Even as little girl, Daffy Braggart knew - just knew! - that one day she would own a railroad herself. Her father's to be exact. She'd read his will. "Someday, this shall all be mine!" she'd declare, standing on the tracks and shaking her little fist. Then one of her many high-priced caretakers would have to snatch her out of the way of an oncoming train because she also believed at the time she could stop them with her mind. She'd mostly given up on that part.
She had always liked the railroad and not just because she could order everyone around, being the boss's daughter and all. No, she'd liked it for the much higher and sublime aspect of how everyone had to do what she said. As she grew, she drew closer to the mighty trains thundering through tunnels, going chugg-chugga-chugga and every blast of the whistle an ejaculation of joy! Of, uh, man's progress and stuff. That sorta high-minded philosophizing. The fact that Daffy became fond of having her own private car in her pubescent years is entirely coincidental...
Though not all happy memories. Others, not recognizing how special she was, had said at times "You're a self-absorbed little brat, you know that?" And worst of all, Daddy couldn't always fire people who said such things! No, Daffy had to endure the slings and arrows against her perfect character from these much more limited "teachers" and "professors" and "truant officers" who so clearly just envied her will to claim the spoils promised in Daddy's will.
And claim it she did. The last words her father spoke to her were, "Where the fuck's my vico -" and then there'd been some coughing and wheezing and he'd slumped over. Daffy spent fifteen minutes looking for whatever that "vico" was before calling in a servant to find it for her. Said servant then broke the news to her of Daddy's death.
She was heart-broken, sure, but now the railroad was hers!
...And Tim's. She'd never understood that. Tim had no will and he was always fussing with boring stuff like "finances" and "administration." She suspected he didn't even properly love trains!
Such heresies might be exceptable though - if Tim and the board hadn't tried to block her every endever! She knewknew what was right for it. If given a free hand, she would build rails all the way to the stars. Literally - that was one of her proposals but it was shot down over such fussy, cowardly excuses as "impossibly expensive" and "physics doesn't even work that way."
So she'd been relegated to the background for so very long, ver voice ignored and her great ideas dismissed by clearly weaker intellects. How she had seethed and cursed them until the fateful day she encountered another so like herself in inherent greatness - Francisco Domingo Carlo Banana Fana bo Binko d'Ano The Third! Franky for short.
Daffy first met him when Braggart Big Damn Rail acquired the Sanspantolons line. It ran through the territory owned by the d'Ano family, right by their old copper mine and Tim had suggested someone go down there for a meet and greet. Daffy naturally leapt at the chance and was halfway to the d'Ano estate before anyone could tell her about the unanimous board decision she be kept home so as "not to fuck anything up this time" as it said under the company letterhead.
The d'Ano estate rested on a hill not too far from the mine and high above the fecund slums of its workers. Daffy had fretted when she saw such squaler but brightened up when brought into the shiny expanse of Franky's home. He'd greeted her in a gold trimmed suit because gold is important. They'd runk themselves silly that night, bonding over their shared rightness in all things - such as the necessity of Great Individuals with Great Ideas and the inherent Greatness of shiny things.
So the Sanspantolons deal had gone swimmingly and now Braggart Big Damn Rail owned substantial stock in the d'Ano mine - though Tim continually expressed reservations. He'd met Franky of course, he should've been more confident! All the reports showed considerable stores of copper were being extracted from the mine, even if it did seem to go missing quite often in transit. "That's just Mexico, " Franky had reassured them.
And then Tim had to go and run his ridiculous science experiment along the Sanspantolons line! His precious electric train with it's "low carbon footrpint" and "low maintenance costs" and "unrivaled dependability." And it just hummed along like a giant roomba! How could it even be considered a proper train without a steam whistle?
Well, she'd show Tim. And the board too! She'd reasoned out a fantastic rebirth of the Rio Norte line, all thanks to Spank Rearend's new alloy. Now there was a Great Idea Man. He'd understood Daffy's own Greatness and promised her the first batch of Spankmeum for her rail. She was lost in thought of how Great all this combined Greatness would be when her brother came into her office.
"Daffy," he said carefully. "I'd like to talk to you some more about this deal with Rearend."
She didn't look at him. She was too busy admiring the huge train time-table that dominated the wall of her office.
"I'm still not comfortable with this. The board's not comfortable. And I'm not sure who leaked this to our engineers but they sure as hell aren't comfortable."
"I am not concerned with the comfort of others," Daffy declared.
"But you are concerned with the company, aren't you?" pressed Tim. "Our company?"
She glowered at him. He'd struck a nerve and he knew it. Tim undertsood his sister felt resentful at sharing the family business. Why he didn't know but it had certainly caused conflict in the past.
"I let you play with that electric train in Mexico," she said in a huff. "So I'd say it's my turn to make a decision."
"Play with? Daffy, that prototype could revolutinize our whole industry!"
"It's dumb," Daffy flatly declared.
"And you thought Brave New World was dumb because you couldn't finish it," Tim replied, more sharply than he'd intended. He knew better than anyone how insecure Daffy was of her own intellectual capabilities and he wanted to kick himself for stooping so low.
She didn't rise to it though. Instead, she absently mused, "I suppose we could use it to run some of the d'Ano copper."
"If it ever gets delivered..."
Tim, ever the patient brother, tried to explain, "That's another thing. I know you're fond of Mister d'Ano -"
"Franky and I haven't spoken in years!"
"...Right. But I'm really starting to wonder about his business. It's doing well on paper but half of that is insurance for 'stolen' shipments."
"Well, Mexicans don't want to work," Daffy said.
"Stealing a couple tons of copper sounds like plenty of work," Tim replied. "But that's just it - I have my doubts that copper was even there to steal in the first place."
Daffy shot him a glance, "What do you mean!?"
"I think, and this is just a theory," Tim said slowly, "but Mister d'Ano might be 'cooking the books' as they say."
Daffy stared at him blankly.
Still not getting it.
"...Daffy, he's lying. He's not producing any copper."
Now she was scandalized! "That can't be true! Franky wouldn't do such a thing!"
"Honestly, I always had my suspicions of his operation," Tim explained, settling into a chair opposite Daffy's desk. "And that's all it is now but I've been looking into hiring a PI firm to take a closer look."
Shocked, saddned - and angered - Daffy moved to dismiss Tim's allegations. "Hmph, If he's not reporting everything clearly it must be to throw the looters off when they nationalize his mine!"
Tim couldn't help breaking out in laughter at that. "He owns half of Mexico City, Daf'. I think he's safe."
He had more to say but Daffy couldn't hear him. How could he doubt Franky's clear Greatness? Why, the same way he doubted Daffy's own Greatness at every turn. Not being Great himself, her brother clearly envied the Greatness of others and obsessed over how to bring them down. She was just about to tell him so when she noticed he'd left fifteen minutes ago and she was staring off into space again.
After puttering at her desk - looking busy but mostly rolling over how she totally would've told off Tim earlier - Daffy left the offices of Braggart Big Damn Rail, pausing by the office of Edguy Dithers just long enough to get him flashing her that dopey grin.
She liked Edguy. He knew his place.
Outside, she passed the huge bronze statue of the company founder - Big Bob Braggart. She'd never met him of course, he'd been long dead by the time she was born into the Braggart family, but she couldn't help feeling they were kindred spirits. That Big Bob had been the sort of Great Man who builds railroads with underpaid immigrants. That he put his Great Ideas into practice without any stupid brothers getting in the way of his Greatness. That he - ooh, a penny!
Daffy also stopped in her favorite convenience store for a pack of smokes. She liked the feel of slumming and paying less. She also really liked smoking because it made her look cool. Sure, all those government scientists said it was bad for you but what did scientists know anyway?
"Ring this up, peon," she said to the clerk.
"Yesss, Misss Daffy..." the clerk, the same stooped and oily man who alwasy worked this store replied. "Ohh, such a good choiccce... I jussst love cccigarattesss... 'Cause of the fire!"
"Yes, it's a perfect symbol of Man's mastery over the elements," Daffy said, oblivious to this guy's creepiness. "And it looks really cool."
Elsewhere - because transitions are hard so fuck 'em - Edguy Dithers ate his dinner in the office break room. He'd stayed late for... Well, to get a look at Dafy of course. Sweet, sweet Daffy...
He sat across from one of the many mechanics who also stayed late, working on the Braggart engines. Dithers had questioned Tim's insistence on such generous over time pay but had to reluctantly admit it paid off. Not all of these workers stayed late but the ones who did put in one hell of an effort.
"Are you as excited about the Rio Norte as I am?" Dithers asked the worker.
The worker scowled. "You mean the one they're laying with that whackadoo metal? I thank Christ I won't be on it!"
Edguy was surprised at this. Did this worker not know it was Daffy's plan? "Well, I'm sure Da - uh, Miss Braggart wouldn't have bought the Spankmeum without good reason."
The worker just scoffed.
"She's really very smart," Edguy protested. "All she thinks about is the railroad. When she's not here she's just at home, listening to records." His eyes glazed over, "A highball in one languid hand, a perfect cigarette in the other, knee cocked just so over the sofa..."
"No offense pal but you're fucking creepy."