As the three of them walked into the exhibit hall, Tanatta confessed, “I feel a little nervous. I don’t see the first mixed blood in here – not even as a door guard.”
“Hmm… That’s probably true,” Bushor agreed as he clipped his conference ID onto this chef’s outfit. “It’s always been a very pureblood event … come to think of it. However, I had an idea about that.”
“What are you thinking, love?” Lyssia asked, curious.
“Well, Tanatta’s the head negotiator for the Allegiance, right? However, I’m sure that there are still plenty of Thurians who don’t know who she is. Now, you have to understand exactly what type of event this is. Everyone in this exhibit hall is selling, and they would dearly love to be able to put Rangelands on their list of customers. Since I have a good background in all of the areas of being a chef, Bateast sends me to these things to look for what might interest us. I’ve been here season after season, and many of the sales staff know me. What they don’t know is that this season, I’ve asked a dear friend of mine to be my buyer.”
“Who’s that?” Tanatta asked, curious, but then his smiling nod in her direction made her step back. “What?! Me?!”
“Yes, you. See, I would like for you to visit the booths just ahead of Lyssia and me. If the sales representatives in the booth will talk to you, then I’ll talk to them. If not, well, then they can always wait until next time.”
“You wouldn’t!” Lyssia whispered harshly. “That’s … that’s amazing, Bushor! Do you think Bateast will let you get away with it?”
“Actually, we get so many catalogs and other things that tweaking the soft parts of a sales rep doesn’t actually cause him much grief. There are vendors here we have dumped because of quality or contract issues, and others who we wouldn’t touch no matter what. However, Tanatta, you’ll bring a … fresh perspective to my visit here, if you’re willing?” he asked, carefully.
“You … you … you’re actually going to let me do this? This is like going to the Pinnacle Center or the Hospital or the Hallows! This … this is like something I could report back to my cadres! This – Bushor if we had other purebloods do this for us, this could break things open for us in a big way!”
At her almost manic excitement, his eyes went wide, and he said, “Oh! Right! Well, then, I suppose we had best get started!”
“Anywhere I should go first?” Tanatta asked, eagerly.
“I always work the room methodically, starting at the far row and going up and down and up and down until I reach the end. It takes time, but just go booth by booth. Greet them and ask them what they do, and if they want to know your credentials, just tell them you’re a buyer for a few little places that are looking to expand their horizons. Perhaps, you could use a restaurant that’s mixed-blood owned, as your reference.”
Tanatta’s smile grew predatory. “I know just the ones.”
“Then, off with you!” he ordered, smiling at her.
As she walked away, Lyssia whispered, “She’s really starting to like you, and I could tell this impressed her. What made you think of it?”
“Well, we do care about her, and that means that I feel we should also help champion her causes, too. Help her, at the very least.”
“I love you, Bushor, and I think she’s starting to feel like our family, as well.”
“I could never hope to be more blessed,” he replied softly.
As Tanatta walked up to a small group of Thurians surrounding a display booth, a few of them stared at her, curious. She gathered alongside a group that was watching a countdown clock reaching zero in a booth that seemed to be dedicated to mixing machines and blenders. When the count reached zero, a genial and somewhat burly Nephti walked up and greeted them. “Good morning to you, everyone! I would like to welcome you to the Star Swirl Company demonstration. I’m Loparth de Dothnar, and I am, on behalf of our parent pack – Star Enterprises – very pleased to meet you. Please, let me give you my business cards, and then we’ll get started.”
“This will be where he intentionally skips over me,” she thought as she watched him working his way along the line of individuals.
“As I come down, if you would please tell me your name and what line of business you’re representing, that would be helpful,” he added.
When he reached her, he actually gave her a card, and he asked, “So, what brings you here this sol?”
“I’m representing Fallout, Hope’s Kitchen, and a few other small venues.”
“Oh, very nice! And your name?”
“Tanatta … Bollestro,” she said. The “Fireclaw” name seemed less and less appropriate, and after her revelations to Bushor last night, the name was now something she was ashamed of.
“Well, very nice to meet you. We’ll start in just a moment.”
As she watched him move down the line, she was surprised. “He’s treating everyone the same. A few in the line seem a little put off by it, but really – that was pretty nice of him.”
When the greetings were done, the Nephti began explaining the various mixers and blenders his company made, and he made eye contact with Tanatta several times as he spoke, no more or less than he did with anyone else, but he wasn’t slighting her in the least, and for the first time, Tanatta started to taste what a future of equality might be like.
“Oh, you,” he said, pointing to her – startling her a bit because she was lost in her own thoughts. “Since you’re smiling so big, would you like to help me demonstrate this? That is, if you’re up for a little mayhem and danger?” he asked, provocatively.
“Well, alright,” she answered, embarrassed, and stepped forward, feeling pretty self conscious.
“Now, creele? That’s easy. Swimmer fish fillets and sea claws, I could almost stir those with a stick, but what about … a broom handle?” To the astonishment of everyone in the group, including Tanatta, Loparth produced a thick, wooden broom handle and held it up for all of them to see. “Now, the rest of you step back, and Tanatta, wasn’t it?”
“He actually remembered my name!” she thought as she nodded.
“Well, here are some paw-gloves, and I want you to wear this eye protection. The rest of you might want to take a step or two back. We’re dealing with a very powerful machine here! Now, I’m going to hold the base of this blender with one paw and the lid with the other. I’m going to turn the Star Swirl to 200, and then, brave Tanatta, I’m going to ask you to take hold of that broom handle very tight, and then feed that into the top, right here.”
“I … I won’t break your blender?” she asked.
“Let’s just see about that! Ready?”
“Ready,” she answered, bemused, taking up the thick wooden rod. He pressed a control and the blender sprung to life. Carefully, she lowered the rod into the carafe with a tight, two fisted hold. In moments, every one of them was startled as the loud whirring of the blender was replaced by the even louder sound of wood being violently shredded. The rod bucked and vibrated in her paws, but she held on tightly, working the length further and further in. Finally, when there was almost nothing left, he gently guided her paw as the last little bit of the handle slipped into the device, whipping into the sides of the carafe loudly as it was quickly disintegrated by the vicious blades underneath. He replaced the cap on the lid, and as she stepped back and watched, the fragments of wood were turned into a fine powder.
He switched off the device, opened the lid, and the smell of singed wood and sawdust immediately touched Tanatta’s nose, and glancing at the others around her who were as startled as she, she could tell they were surprised by the smell, as well. He dumped the contents quickly onto the table and removed the carafe, making a neat little pile. Turning towards Tanatta, he said, “Well, it seems like you and I made quite the mess. Wonder what we’ll use to sweep it up with?”
“I would say a broom, but … well, there it is!” Tanatta exclaimed, pointing, and everyone around her laughed. “I mean, seriously, do you go to the wood workers’ convention, too? Look at it!” she gasped as she took an expressed claw-tip and sifted through the pile. “There’s … not even a chunk of it left, not even a splinter!”
“Hey, now! You trying to get my job?!” he asked, in mock anger, but he was as thoroughly amused by her surprise as everyone else in the group. She shook her head and put up her paws. “See folks, that’s what we’re talking about. Now, I’ve put all kinds of things through this, washed it out, and it just keeps on going. For those of you who remember last season, I want you to look at the bottom of this unit. Look at the season the model was produced. Yep, friends, three seasons ago – the season this model was introduced, and I’ve taken it to trade show after trade show, and it’s blended brooms, cans, glass, plastiform, and all other manner of materials! This motor just keeps … on … going.”
Enthusiastically, Tanatta shook her head in amazement and clapped, and the others joined her.
“Well, thank you very much, and thank you so much, too for helping me,” the Nephti offered genially. “Remember, please feel free to look around the booth and don’t hesitate to ask any questions. Thank you very much!”
As several in the group approached him, Tanatta took off the safety glasses and then started looking around the booth. While the prices were steep, she started to think that she would want one of the blenders, as well.
“And so, do you think you might be interested in a Star Swirl blender for your establishments?” the Nephti asked kindly as he stepped over.
“I don’t know, let me check.” Tanatta looked over and saw where Lyssia and Bushor had been watching her from a distance. “Bushor? Lyssia? Could you come over?”
“Is that … Bushor de Oterbythe?” Loparth asked. “He’s like one of the executive chefs at Rangelands!”
“That he is,” Tanatta replied. “Would you like to meet him?”
“I’d give up a lung!” he answered softly.
“I don’t think you’ll have to do that,” she replied, laughing.
“Hi there! Chef Bushor de Oterbythe from Rangelands, and this is my mate, Lyssia.”
“Loparth de Dothnar, and it’s an honor to meet you!”
“Loparth has been very kind to me; he even allowed me to test his blender,” Tanatta offered. “It did an amazing job! Look at this pile, Bushor! That lump of sawdust used to be a broom handle!”
Bushor went over and carefully sifted the fragments with his claw-tip. “This is the first show I remember you being here, Loparth. Where have you guys been hiding out?”
“We were always aced out of this show by – well, they’re not able to do that anymore. We’ve been trying for seasons, and we’ve been in shows across the world, but never this one.”
“Well, you’re here now.” Turning towards Tanatta he asked, “So what do you think, buy or no?”
“I think you should definitely try this out. I would get a couple and see how they do, on a trial basis,” she offered. “Then, if you’re pleased, you could perhaps seek a longer term arrangement.”
“Bateast has several establishments, and a couple of them are blender heavy. We could be talking upwards of forty of the high end units,” Bushor explained.
“Well now! I’ll tell you what,” Loparth offered, “I’ll give you one to try, if you like.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t take that kind of a gift,” Bushor deferred. “However, since Tanatta is acting as my impartial advisor, she could certainly take one without causing a conflict of interest.”
“Well then, come down here, please.” Tanatta followed Loparth to the far end of the booth, and he said, “We were going to raffle this off as a promotion, but … well, if we get a chance to sell to Rangelands, then I’m the one whose won. This is one of our top commercial blenders, and it’s yours.”
“I … I … this is like five hundred right? Oh, I don’t know.”
“Don’t be intimidated by it,” the Nephti consoled her, “it’s very easy to use.”
“I think I will take it, but, with your permission, I have another idea for its use.”
“Lumber mill?” the Nephti joked, and Tanatta laughed, but then grew a little more serious.
“Well, no, but … there’s an orphanage, you see. They … need things like this, badly.”
“You don’t say?” the sales rep remarked. “We’re … we’re about to turn over our model lines from last season, and there are a few paid for orders that … well, the de Caterra made that are just sitting around. If … I sent them to you, could you find good homes for them?”
“Use de Caterra’s money in mixed blood orphanages?! You bet!” she nearly cheered and reached around the Nephti, giving him a quick embrace.
“Loparth, I think you’ve got a sale here,” Bushor noted. “I think Bateast will be very impressed, and I believe most of our old equipment is in need of repair or replacement. I think we can work a deal.”
“I would be most honored, Chef. Thank you.”
“No. Thank you,” Lyssia added from his side. “When you send Chef Bushor the business inquiry at Rangelands, we’ll provide you with the address to send the blenders. If you wish, we’ll take pictures of them in their new homes. I … I think you’d find it heartwarming.”
The sales rep was nearly in tears. “I bet I would at that. Thank you! I just need to get some information, please.”
“Loparth, thank you. The business world needs more Thurians like you,” Tanatta offered and bowed to him. Gracefully, he bowed back and smiled. “Chef Bushor, I’ll wander ahead and see what else I can find for you.”
“Certainly. We’re looking for new serving pieces, if you happen to see any.”
Tanatta nodded and headed up the row past another series of booths. As several catered to food varieties and products Rangelands probably wouldn’t be all that interested in – prepackaged quick meals and military survival rations, she walked through those with only a glance. At a large, grand looking booth, she saw Rangelands prominently listed on a roster of existing customers. “Serving ware, that makes sense,” she said to herself, stepping into the booth.
Instantly, a Faelnar came up to her and asked, “May I help you?” Tanatta instantly knew that this greeting didn’t offer true help; it was the same greeting she got when she truly wasn’t wanted in a store or in a private park or any other pureblood place where she would be seen as a walking stain.
“Yes, actually,” she replied, trying to cover the implicit insult with as much grace as she could. “I’m representing a few small establishments, such as Fall-out and Hope’s Kitchen, along with a few others. Do you think you could tell me about your product?”
“Well, actually,” the Faelnar almost purred, “our products are for the high-end market, and … well, your ‘establishments’ probably would find affording our products difficult. Besides, they’re somewhat difficult to maintain in … certain situations. You’d probably want to go with something … simpler.”
“I see,” Tanatta replied, glancing over her shoulder and seeing Lyssia elbow Bushor. “So, you wouldn’t be willing to take a few ticks and just show me?”
The sales rep seemed suddenly very anxious about her presence. “I’m sorry. We’re only showing in this booth by appointment. I’m sorry. I need you to go … look somewhere else!” he said very firmly.
“Alright, alright,” she replied, smoothly, and walked down one position to a fairly humble looking pottery company booth run by a Pantera.
Bushor and Lyssia walked up, arm and arm, to the serving ware booth where they were warmly greeted by the Faelnar sales rep. “Oh, Chef Bushor de Oterbythe! It is such an honor to see you again! We have several new products in our line-up, very reasonably priced, and we think you’ll find them very interesting!” he effused.
“Oh, uh, Yaltar, is it? Hmm… I’m sure you do, but, just one tick.” Bushor craned his neck out into the walkway and called, “Tanatta? Can you join us please?”
“Certainly,” Tanatta replied smoothly, re-entering the serving ware booth with a catalog and a business card from the Pantera next door.
“What did you think of the products here?”
“I don’t know, Chef Bushor. I wasn’t allowed to see any,” she replied, innocently. “Oh, did I forget to mention that one of the other establishments I’m representing this sol is … Rangelands?”
“You … are representing … Rangelands?” the sales rep asked, looking to Bushor for confirmation and his expression turning bleak.
“She is,” Bushor added quietly. “Yaltar, I think you’re going to need to think up a really good reason as to why you just lost the Rangelands account. Your sales director will probably want to know that. Now, if he would like to come and talk to me about how he could win the account back, he can do that … oh, sometime next moon. In the meantime, I’m going to ask that you cover up the Rangelands logo on your customer roster. I’m revoking your permission to use it.”
“I’m sorry, is there a problem here?” an older Perratti stepped up behind the faltering Faelnar.
Bushor looked at Tanatta who then stated, “Nothing more than I was far more welcome at the pottery booth next door than I was here. Here, I wasn’t even allowed to look at the products you have on offer. Here, it was presumed – for some reason – that I didn’t have influence or money. The Pantera next door gave me a full color catalog and a business card. Here, I was just told to leave,” she said flatly.
“Well, no … slight was intended. I’m sure you’re just misinterpreting the situation—”
Bushor raised his paw. “No, a slight was very much intended, and my mate saw and heard all of it. You both should know that Bateast credits a mixed blood with saving his close relative and the freeing of several of his Vulpi employees. I spoke with him before we came to the conference, and he gave me the unquestioned authority to test our vendors’ acceptance and treatment of mixed bloods. Now, we just had a delightful experience with a blender manufacturer down the way. When Tanatta came here, however, well, like I said – Rangelands requests that you remove our logo from your booth. We’re no longer your customer.”
Turning and walking away, Bushor took Lyssia and led her to the Pantera’s booth while Tanatta just stared at the two sales reps looking at him leave. When he was gone, they turned and looked at her. “You should know that I have contacts with a few of the other large names on your board. I’ll be talking to them, too. I’ll see you next season, and be sure you remove the logo within the next interval.” Turning around, her tail swishing in front of them, she left the booth, as well.
A few intervals later, the three of them were talking as Bushor drove them home. “Bushor, I can’t thank you enough! You’re … you’re my hero! I actually think I’m going to mention this to the cadres! This … this was as good as a negotiation!”
“It was amazing to me how fast the word spread!” Lyssia replied, shaking her head. “Once Claw Ware started removing their Rangelands label, you didn’t get treated like that again! Not even once!”
“No, everyone became perfectly polite, and the sad thing is,” Bushor noted, “I could just tell that if Tanatta had visited them first, they would have done exactly what Claw Ware did.”
“But that’s the point of this kind of an exercise, Bushor,” Tanatta replied, putting her paw on his shoulder. “By taking that one stand for our kind, you’ve made all of them take notice! I … I can’t thank you enough. Look what happened! I have vouchers for food and dinner and equipment! This … this is a windfall for the orphanages and the shelters! Oh, I wish we could do even more!”
“You know,” Bushor mused, “I have a few other friends in places owned by Bateast, chefs and the like, and they’ll be attending the conference tomorrow. If you could have a few of your cadre meet up with them, I’m betting I can get Bateast to go along with repeating what we just did. Maybe three or four, perhaps?”
Tanatta squeezed his shoulder and said, “You … you are amazing! Lyssia, you, too! I … I know exactly who I can call. They dress up nice, so they’ll fit in. Hmm… I wonder if Aelcor would do it? I bet he would!”
“Aelcor?” Lyssia asked.
“Mixed blood, leader of a cadre like me. Very polite and very plain spoken when he has to be.”
“Just put together the list, and we’ll send out the requests on TransNet when we get home.”
An interval after returning home, Bushor sent out the last of the messages on TransNet and had all of the answers agreeing to let the mixed blood cadre leaders do exactly what Tanatta had done for them. In his study, Bushor read the last response as Tanatta sat just behind him, looking on eagerly as Lyssia was getting them a snack. “So that’s it then! All set up!”
“Bushor, you’re just amazing, you know that? No, wait, don’t answer that!” Tanatta teased before he could jump in with his typical prideful statement. “You are a hero. You’re … my hero.” She reached forward and rubbed his shoulders and back gently.
“It’s my pleasure, kit. You should be treated with respect. That’s all there is to it.”
“No, Bushor, there’s so much more. To Lyssia and … to you. My family.”