1636 The Viennese Waltz – Snippet 41
Chapter 14: Barbies’ Vienna Branch
January and early February, 1635
Sanderlin House, Race Track City
“Frau Sanderlin, may I give credit to Ursula Kline?” Magdalena Hough asked timidly. “She is a good woman and if she can get some of the bottles for her herbs, she will be better able to sell them.”
Gayleen Sanderlin was at a loss. “Well, I guess so. I mean, it’s your shop. What do the other ladies who work there say?”
Magdalena hesitated. “Well, some agree. Others think we don’t have the money to give credit.”
Fortney House, Race Track City
“Frau Fortney, may I give credit to Renate Treffen?” asked Peter Zingler. The bootmaker was literally hat in hand, and Dana Fortney didn’t have a clue what to say. She knew who would, but her daughter was in the shop working with Sonny on the boiler for the steam car they were trying to build. And Brandon, who might know what to do, was out at his experimental farm, mulching God-knew-what with chicken poop to make compost.
“Let me think about it, Herr Zingler. Do you have to have an answer right now?”
240Z Shop, Race Track City
“Herr Sanderlin, can you get me credit at the Up-time Diner? Things have been tight and . . .”
Ron Sanderlin looked over at Pete Greisser. He was a good guy, if not the brightest Ron had ever met. Hard worker and willing, but not great with money.
“Just till next payday. Maria, my sister, is in from the country and, well, money is tight and . . .”
Again Pete trailed off and this time Ron had to fight back a curse. The pay was late again. He knew that the empire was having financial troubles but, damn it, when you hire people you’re supposed to pay them.
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Pete that of course he could have credit at the Up-time Diner, but then he remembered he didn’t own the diner. “I’ll see what I can do, Pete.”
Dana’s Office, Fortney House, Race Track City
“We’re getting a lot of people asking for credit,” Dana Fortney told Gayleen Sanderlin. The office now had its own set of filing cabinets. Dana had gone to the cabinet-maker Moses Abrabanel recommended. She also had a nice roll-top desk she had had made right here in Vienna. It had cost a fortune, but was worth it.
“I know, but what are we going to do? Most of those people have jobs. A lot of them have jobs with the government. They aren’t getting paid. And even the bribes are barely enough to keep body and soul together. If they aren’t government employees, they aren’t even quartered.”
“Sure. But that doesn’t pay for the raw materials we need.”
“Talk to Hayley,” Gayleen said. Then she shook her head. “It’s really weird asking a fourteen-year-old for financial advice.”
“Fifteen now,” Dana said automatically. Then, “And how do you think I feel? She’s my daughter. She’s supposed to be coming to me for a raise in her allowance while I tell her to be more frugal. Not the other way around.”
“Oh, stop bragging.” Gayleen laughed.
“This isn’t working,” Hayley said. “And I don’t know why.”
It was pretty clear that the sudden increase in the credit requests was because the emperor was late again with the wages, and not just for the race track workers but for everyone in Vienna. And a lot of those people were owed a lot more than a couple of weeks’ wages.
“Well, it’s not their fault that the pay is late,” Gayleen Sanderlin insisted. “What the heck is wrong with Ferdinand III?”
That was true, Hayley knew, but that wasn’t what she was thinking about. “He’s probably broke too. Meanwhile, we have to figure something out.” Damn it, this should be working better. They were selling good products, really good products, at bargain prices. Stuff people needed, stuff that would make their lives better. They ought to be selling more. Hayley wished Susan Logsden was here, but she didn’t know what Susan could do that she wasn’t. Then she realized that who she really wished was here was Sarah Wendell. “It’s an economic problem,” she blurted out.
“Okay?” Gayleen said doubtfully. “It’s an economic problem. What is the problem? And more importantly, what’s the solution?”
“I have no idea!” Which was true in general, but in this particular situation, the answer was that they would have to give credit.
Hayley consulted with Jack Pfeifer, their lawyer. “The problem is that we want Sanderlin-Fortney Investment Company to give credit, but discourage using it.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re actually in a pretty good situation here, right on the Danube with a couple of north/south trade routes so there are plenty of raw materials available and not all that expensive. But that doesn’t mean they are free. When we sell something on credit, a pair of pants, a box of aspirin, or whatever, we have to pay cash for the materials to replace it.”
Jack was nodding.
“Right. Cash would be better. But if we don’t give credit, we run out of customers, or close to it. If we make it too easy to get credit, then people who should be paying cash will be buying stuff on credit.”
“Sure. But most of our sales are small. Keeping track of who owes how much interest would be a nightmare. For us and them. And some of our sales, well, they aren’t quite charity, but close to it. We really don’t want to send a bunch of people to debtor’s prison.”
“You can always forgive a debt,” Jack said. “And you can do it selectively. You can forgive or not, as you see fit. You can forgive some, but not all. You can forgive the interest. You can decide not to call it in this month and maintain your right to call it in next month. Once you own the debt, it’s pretty much up to you what to do with it.”
“What we need is a form that we can have printed up that makes it clear, so that we have a legal record. They fill in the amount and sign it. Then it goes in the money box. And we keep a ledger of who owes what. We’ll leave it up to the shopkeepers who to offer credit to, but everyone who gets credit signs one every time they use it.”
“That should work and is not that different from what merchants are already doing. How much interest and how do you want to work that part?”
“Let’s set it up so that each year after harvest, we apply five percent to the total owed.”
“That’s not very much. And if they manage to pay off their debt or even pay it down just before harvest, they will pay even less interest.”
“I know, but I don’t want to drown people in debt. I just want to make them think about paying cash.”
“I’m not at all sure this will make them think hard enough about paying cash.”