Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Man Who Keeps His House in Hand"

This poem came out of discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "Reconciled Differences" square in my 2-1-19 Platonic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] fuzzyred and [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. This poem comes after the story "Entanglement" by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and my poem "This Knife's Sharp Constancy" and "Parts You Didn't Even Know You Had."

"The Man Who Keeps His House in Hand"

[Tuesday, October 13, 2015]

When Shiv and Boss Finn
got back to Blues Moon,
Door took one look at them
and said, "What's wrong?"

"Couple punks disrespected
Boss Finn," said Shiv. "She
handled it, but now we need
to talk with Boss White."

Door gave a solemn nod.
"I'll tell him what's up, and he
can send for you when he's ready."

Boss Finn didn't pace while they waited,
but Shiv could see that it was an effort.

"It'll be fine, really," Shiv assured her.
"Ain't us he's gonna be pissed with."

Bring Boss Finn downstairs.
The silent voice was warm and
familiar, despite the peppery anger.

Shiv beckoned, leading her down
the stairs to Boss White's office.

Dymin opened the door for them.
"Please come in, Boss Finn."

Two steps in, Boss Finn froze.
"Help me out, Shiv. I have
no idea what I'm doing here,"
she said in a tense whisper.

Shiv, stay and show Boss Finn
how it's done,
Boss White said.

Me? Shiv squawked silently.
I don't know how to do boss talk!

You know the basic etiquette,
and that's most of what we need,

Boss White said. We're not in
disagreement here, we just have
to work out a few tangles

That put Shiv on familiar ground.
He tucked himself behind her elbow,
so he could guide Boss Finn without
seeming to get in front of her, and
she went along with his nudge.

"Boss Finn to see you sir,"
Shiv said crisply. "There's
been an incident outside."

"Welcome to Blues Moon,
Boss Finn," said Boss White.
"I do apologize for the ruckus.
Please, take your seats."

Two chairs stood in front
of Boss White's black desk,
one the fancy 'visiting boss' chair
and the other a regular guest chair.

Shiv took the smaller of the two,
and Boss Finn took the larger.

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience,"
said Boss Finn. "I hope you'll forgive
any mistakes in manners -- I really
don't know what's expected of me."

"Don't worry, we'll sort it out,"
Boss White said. "Shiv here
can serve as your native guide."
He look at Shiv. "Report."

"Boss Finn wanted to go
shopping," Shiv said. "We were
discussing where, when two punks --
I don't know 'em -- stepped out and
demanded our wallets. I warned 'em off,
but they wouldn't leave us alone."

"I'm afraid that's where I stepped in,"
Boss Finn said. "I told Shiv to let me
handle it, and I tried to shoo them away,
but they wouldn't listen to me either.
I had to demonstrate why bothering
us was a bad decision on their part."

"Any injuries? Other cleanup needed?"
Boss White said, leaning forward.

"Naw," Shiv said. "Boss Finn
showed 'em the sharp edge
of her temper, and they split."

"Not entirely stupid, then,"
Boss White said, eyes twinkling.
"Anything else important?"

"See for yourself," Boss Finn said
as she held out a hand to him.

Boss White blinked. "You sure
you want to offer that?" he said.

"It's a huge show of trust,"
Shiv murmured. "Something
only close allies would do."

"Then I'm sure," she said.

Boss White shook her hand,
then huffed. "Well, those idiots
got what they had coming!"

"They're not good at what
they do," Shiv said critically.
"I wouldn't want 'em in my gang."

"Neither do I," Boss White said.
"All right, first things first. Boss Finn,
I apologize for Omaha's poor hospitality.
What will it take to make this right?"

"Apology accepted," she said easily.

Shiv clicked his tongue. "You're
supposed to ask for something,"
he whispered. "If you're not mad
at Boss White, it's something easy."

"I don't know what to ask for,"
Boss Finn protested. "I feel
like I'm the one who stepped on
his toes by making trouble here."

"You didn't make the trouble,
you put a lid on it," Boss White said.
"I feel like I let you down by failing
to hold the city in good order. It
doesn't look good when one boss
gets hassled in another's territory."

"Well, I can see how that would
bother you, but you didn't try
to rob me," Boss Finn said.

"Show me the man who keeps
his house in hand," said Boss White.
"He's fit for public authority."

"Ah," said Boss Finn.
"I concede the point."

They could keep dancing
around each other like this
for hours, Shiv realized,
if someone didn't step in
and do something about it.

Then a solution struck him,
startling because he still didn't
know much about apologies.

He'd seen Dr. G do it with Drew
and Aida in a squabble, though.

"If you both feel like you messed up,
then why don't you just swap apologies?"
Shiv said. "Each of you do something
for the other, then you'll be square."

"Thank you, Shiv, that's a brilliant idea,"
said Boss Finn. "Usually when my kids
make a mistake, education is part of
the restitution, so that it doesn't happen
again. If I keep coming here, I should
know what I'm doing. Perhaps a lesson
in etiquette, like you'd give a new boss?"

"Works for me," Boss White said.
"Lieutenant Brown can catch you up.
On my side ... how about I pick up the tab
for the shopping trip that got interrupted?"

"I was holiday shopping," Boss Finn warned.

"And I'm a cityboss," Boss White said.
"I'm not offering more than I can afford."

"All right, then, I accept," said Boss Finn.
"I was looking forward to the Old Market
in particular. Shiv speaks highly of it."

"You'll need someone to carry your bags,
of course," said Boss White. "Boy's yours
for the day, just have him back by dark."

Boss Finn by damn pulled out her phone,
looked up the sunset time, and set an alarm.
"We'll make it back before then," she promised.

Shiv was just happy to have the whole day
assigned to something other than paperwork.

"Much appreciated," said Boss White.
"You also mentioned telling Shiv to let
you handle the mess. He's muscle --
I know, he don't look it, but he's good
in a fight -- which makes it his job
to deal with that sort of hassle so
a boss don't have to. Understand?"

"I stepped on his toes as well as
yours," Boss Finn said glumly.

"Maybe so, maybe no,"
Boss White said, waffling
a hand. "Shiv, did you mind
Boss Finn taking over?"

"No," Shiv said. "I knew
she could handle it, and ...
I kinda look up to her."

"Then it's just a matter of
straightening out the chain
of command," said Boss White.
"This is why it's complicated
to loan people between gangs."

"That makes sense," said Boss Finn.
"People need to know which rules to follow."

"Exactly," said Boss White. "Standing orders
and house rules hold. If there's a conflict
between those, it's for the bosses to work out.
Other than that, whoever's in charge at the time
makes the decision, and people go along."

"That's basically what we've been doing
all along," Boss Finn said. "I've told my kids
to respect the local customs here, and if
something makes them uncomfortable,
to talk about it with me or their father."

"With you," Shiv said suddenly.
"We like Dr. G, but he doesn't ...
think the same way you do.
That's why you're Boss Finn."

"Different backgrounds,"
she said with a faint smile.
"Graham didn't grow up in
a rough neighborhood. Okay,
I'll update that family rule.
Thanks for telling me."

Shiv dipped his head in
acknowledgement. "Glad
I could help. I don't mind being
loaned, and I want it to go smooth."

"Good," said Boss White, then
turned to Shiv. "Pass the word,
I want those brats brought in so I
can have a little chat with them.
They can't keep screwing around like
that if they want to stay in this town."

"Yes, boss," said Shiv. There were rules
about who and where you could rob, or not,
and you followed Boss White's rules or else.

Shiv maybe smirked at bit at the idea
of those guys mopping the johns.

"All right, that's enough for now,"
Boss White said as he held out
a hand to Boss Finn. "We smooth?"

"We're smooth," she said as she
shook his hand. "Thank you
for taking care of the matter."

Boss White walked them to
the door. "Have fun shopping."
He passed Boss Finn a card with
the familiar Greenbucks logo.

"We will," she said, tucking
the card into her purse.

Shiv led the way upstairs.
"You know what Boss White
said goes for you too, yeah?
You keep your house in hand."

"I try to," Boss Finn said. "I
suppose we all have things
get out of hand occasionally."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "You wanna
catch a bus to the Old Market?"

"That's probably a good idea,"
Boss Finn agreed. "Let's not
tempt fate again in this area."

"Hey, you did good," Shiv said.
"Not just on the street, but here too.
Boss White knows you're new at this,
but you held it together and you didn't
pick a fight over the incident neither."

"I don't like fighting," she said.

"You don't say," Shiv drawled.
"Coulda fooled me earlier!"

"I said that I didn't like it,"
Boss Finn replied primly. "I
never said that I wasn't good at it."

Shiv still laughing when the bus pulled up.

* * *


"Show me the man who keeps his house in hand, He's fit for public authority."
-- Sophocles
Sophocles (2013). “Sophocles: The Theban Plays”, p.252, Routledge

Organized crime relies heavily on hierarchy, reputation and street cred to maintain what passes for order within the group and throughout its territory. Gang members are greatly concerned with matters of dominance and submission, often framed as respect and disrespect. This distinguishes them from freelance criminals. However, the quality of organization varies greatly, from genteel criminals like Boss White to powerful thugs like Boss Batir.

As Boss White gives Shiv more responsibility, Shiv often feels in over his head. Imposter syndrome is a common problem among abuse survivors. Know how to handle feeling in over your head.

A meaningful apology consists of several parts. Understand how to apologize. Teaching kids to apologize is a part of parenting, but not everyone learns it. Here, Boss White offers a concrete apology because he feels that the affront exceeds what could be covered by a verbal apology -- even though Boss Finn immediately accepted the verbal one and didn't ask for anything more. Shiv cleverly suggests a mutual apology, in which each person offers some reparation to the other. Apology is all about repairing a relationship, so it's crucial for both people to feel that the matter is settled.

Etiquette is meant to make everyone's life smoother. To the extend that it does this, it is desirable; when it interferes, it is undesirable. Some etiquette is designed to make some people more comfortable at the expense of others, which is not really a good thing. This is complicated by the fact that cultures and subcultures can have very different values, and thus different etiquette shaped by those values. Gang culture is quite distinct from hospital culture, for example. Browse some etiquette guidelines for different countries to get a glimpse of the wild diversity out there.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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