“Mister Ballard?” I asked the man sitting at a booth by himself in the back of the diner. It was lunch time, the place was bustling, which was probably what he wanted.
The man looked up from his paper and beamed a smile at me. “Excellent. Glad you came. Didn’t know if you would.”
He motioned for me to sit, and I slid in across from him.
“About your deal, sir,” I whispered, awkwardly. “I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re asking.”
“Simple proposition, easiest kind. Don’t do your job. Interfere with mine. Generally speaking, be a thick headed ass. City awards me the electrical contract because your boss’s company was too much trouble.“
I was about to give him a stern reprimand for speaking to me in such a way when a waiter dropped off several plates of food for Ballard.
“Don’t act indignant.” He said before I could respond. “Met your mayor. Know enough about this town. Morality here is as murky as the water in your river.”
He snapped his napkin out and stuffed a corner of it down his collar like a bib.
“Besides, how else could you make a few year’s salary doing nothing?”
F.W. Ballard was a electrical engineer and business man the city of Memphis hired to assess a private electrical utility for purchase in the early part of the 20th century. At that point, utilities operated by getting contracts from the city, and most of those contracts gave the city the option to purchase the utility if the city deemed it in its best interest. In Ballard’s case, the company he was brought in to assess refused to cooperate, resulting in Ballard recommending the city build its own electrical grid. Which of course his company would be happy to help the city with.