A Creative Conflict of Interest

Look Clean, Stay Clean...


The sound of the plane landing on the runaway startled her awake just as it seemed the combination of a long flight and free cocktails put her to sleep in the first place. It only took a few moments to get her bearings but it was more challenging that she imagined, as her senses were hypersensitive as a result of being rousted and jousted from her nap. She collected her personal articles and stowed them in her backpack along with her ticket stub and accumulated receipts. She didn’t want to leave any sort of a paper trail so the extra time to tidy up was essential to assure her anonymity. Her job was based on the need to remain low profile and the longer she could stay under the radar, the better.

As she quietly sat in her seat awaiting the lumbering plane's arrival at the gate, she didn’t look around, fire up her cell phone or attempt to engage in any conversation: she didn’t want to be memorable to any potential witness or apparently casual observer. The plane landed and she quietly waited her turn to exit; it took longer than expected thanks to several passengers sitting ahead of her; impressively violating size limits on carry-on luggage. Three individuals, all sitting together, delayed the last third of the plan for more than five minutes as a result of over-packing and the resulting careless stuffing of random overhead compartments with significantly more luggage and packages than were allowed or even imagined by folks with general common sense. She has seen this before so she sat quietly in her seat so when the opportunity finally was presented, she could quickly scoot out of the plane with no issue or event.

The surrounding folks were grumbling about this group and as time went on, it became evident that these three idiots were traveling together due to the similar lack of compliance and common courtesy. Lily wanted to say something about their stupidity or lack of understanding of spatial relations but any comment (no matter how insightful) would cause attention to be paid to her and today was not a day to become a celebrity. She had places to go and things to do; she had been on the road for two weeks and she just wanted to go home. Finally, the sea of humanity began to move up the aisle and she quietly but happily followed the train out the plane door. She had one efficient bag including her sample case/purse, no bulky carry-on or luggage for her as most of her belongings were in her second apartment in New York, where she had cleared customs so as the crowd parted, she picked up the pace and within
a few moments, she had waved over a cab and was heading home.

Once she got home, her bag were tossed unceremoniously in the laundry room and her sample case and research notes were placed in her safe. The safe, which was expertly and quietly installed several years ago, was more safe than secure. The safe was officially state of the art and considered top-quality but Lily knew that professional thieves were always beating safes so she spent a majority of her security effort in placing the safe in a secret and ingenious location. If a crook could find it, there was a very good chance it would be cracked. So she decided to make the act of finding it needed to be the challenge versus its defensive scheme. As a result, she usually kept it unlocked as a point of pride. She had learned very early in her life to know her strengths and then pick her fights and this knowledge helped her mitigate the worry of her treasures being taken. If they could find them, they deserved them but they would never, ever find anything. This location was both innovative and brilliant.

Once her treasures were secure, she looked at the rest of the day with a smile on her face. It was early in the day and for the most part, her agenda was wide open. In the evening, she had actually a real live, grown up date. She was still goofy from jet lag, as Amsterdam was seven hours ahead of her hometown, she had plenty of time to get organized and enjoy the evening. Because of these findings, Lily decided to lie down and take a pre-emptive nap to balance out her frantic but internal scheduling engine. She had at least eight open hours before her date; plenty of time to get some rest and prepare for a pleasant evening. She took a hot shower to wash away the glamorous smells of international travel and washed and dried her hair. Content with her progress, she lay down on her bed to rest her eyes; no need to put on the alarm, as she had nothing but time.

She stirred and sleepily leaned over and stared at the clock. Even without her glasses, she squinted at the illuminated clock face stared intently. No matter how hard she stared, she couldn’t believe the time on the clock. Lily was so surprised at the time that she did a trademark double take and on the third pass, she stared at the clock's digital output to confirm that she her initial time line was in the crapper. Her date was going to be there in about fifteen minutes and other being clean, she wasn't ready for anything.

She had met her date, Nick, about six months ago and she was growing more comfortable everyday that he was the one. Although this was official date number ten and still in the early stages of the relationship, all indications were aligning nicely and she always prided herself on her analytical ability to determine conclusions before most people. They met at a party of mutual friends and they both unknowingly shared a similar reluctance in attending the event. Lily was tired of being hustled by pinheads who were attracted to her jet-setting job and Nick was just tired with the useless noise which accompanies the moving parts of an emerging social relationship. As an engineer, he would become engaged so deeply on a challenge or an issue he would become oblivious to socially acceptable definitions of time that relationships would fail under the sheer stress of his job and his always-on, never-off, problem-solving mind. What got her attention was his complete lack of pomposity and his dry but wicked sense of humor. After some good conversation, he simply asked her out of a date. He provided a specific time and event with no ambiguity but in a heartfelt and sincere manner. She accepted immediately and she knew he had a refreshing and direct way to his manner and it was about time something like this had happened to her.

Luckily, she was clean enough but that was the extent of her status and the momentary recollection was already cutting into her decision-making time. She had no idea what she was going to wear, had on no makeup and was stuck in that awkward stage of movement in which no direction was yet set but she could not stop pacing. The date was with the first man she thought she could officially love and therefore, was going to be an important date in this relationship. But as the clock continued to tick down, now at thirteen minutes, she had to get going and get dressed. The restaurant choice was very nice so the spectrum of apparel choices was somewhat honed down but once she started to factor in the unknowns of what he was wearing and where the night was going, she just paced faster and faster.

The clock now showed nine minutes before he would arrive and he had always been punctual. She decided she had to at least had to start somewhere, so she quickly put on her nicest undergarments, for no good reason, and stood there looking in her closet for inspiration. Usually, she had plenty of time to ponder choices and preparing to go out on the town was one of her favorite pastimes but today’s time crunch combined with a majority of her good cloths being balled up in her suitcase made this a maddening exercise in both logic and futility. She hated poor planning and she was living it at that moment. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. As she took another deep breath, the doorbell rang out loudly: he was early by seven minutes. She put on a robe, ran downstairs, through the kitchen with a passing pause at the refrigerator and then into the hall to open the door. When he saw her in her robe and obviously in the early stages of preparation, he immediately determined that punctuality was not the attribute he once considered it and began to blush.

“Sorry, I am early. I can come back.”

“No, it is kind of my fault. My time management skills fell apart this afternoon.”

She reached in her robe pocket and handed him a cold beer. She didn’t know if he wanted a beer or whether or not he would have preferred a glass; but she didn’t care but she knew the effort would be appreciated and valuable time was returned to her with her ingenuity. He smiled, twisted off the cap, and took a long pull. "Take your time, beautiful. I got nothing but time."

Lily smiled and took a good look at her date, which reduced some of the ambiguity; he was dressed in a nice, dark suit. That fact helped further narrow down her apparel choices and as she ran upstairs, she said, “Here you go, have a beer and watch some television. I will be down in a few minutes.” She ran upstairs and threw on the closest outfit and quickly returned to her date. Lily looked like a beautiful unmade bed: a bit flustered but still striking.

“I have returned,” said Lily. “I think I need a drink as well.”

“You look great,” said her date. “How are you?”

“Other than sleeping for the last eight hours, I am fine.”

Lily walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator, twisted off the cap and took a long pull herself. The domestic beer was a welcome change from all the heavy and sweet Dutch beers that she had to put up with recently and she decided to grab two more as she returned to the living room and her date. At date ten, she felt she was way past pretense and this was as good a time as any to show her natural tendencies.

“So, how was Amsterdam?”

“It was fine and next to Toronto, it is the drinkingest place in the world. I find the people and the business fascinating but believe when I say this, ‘We live in the greatest country in the world.’”

“No argument from me: I don’t travel in your circles so I have to qualify my comments but I don’t know how you deal with that group of characters.”

“Well, if it wasn’t diamonds, it would be something else of non-intrinsic value. It could be collectibles ranging from comic books to ceramic cats. As an appraiser, I have to respect but not care much for what I am appraising.”

They went out for the evening and she knew she was in for a wonderful time. He was a normal guy with blissfully normal guy tendencies. He worked as an engineer and was a nice mix of linear thinking and resolvable variables: a perfect companion. He was always interested in her work but was never impressed of the diamonds. Too many people would respond to her occupation with small town wonderment when the phrase “diamond appraiser” hit their ears but Nick was a logical sort with no ulterior motive about her work or the circles she ran in. He was curious in a polite way and asked insightful questions with logical reasoning and wisdom. He understood industrial diamonds and their general purpose but she could have sold air filters and he would have been just the same; she was convinced of that fact.

Many times she had to go to clients, whether it be insurance companies, wealthy celebrities or diamond retailers and appraise astronomically expensive items. Her appraisals were legendary for completeness and fairness so her skills were constantly sought out in a wide range of circumstances ranging from local estate disputes to murky international intrigue. Usually referred by a knowing word of mouth, she traveled very unassuming and although she was known within the tightly held confines of the industry, her name (and picture) were not easily available to the outside world and she was intent on keeping it that way. Developing a formal dossier was never a good idea when your entire competitive advantage was tucked inside her head. She was always busy and notoriety outside of the diamond circle was not welcome or needed.

“So, what is new with you,” asked Lily with legitimate sincerity.

She enjoyed Nick’s stories about engineering applications because his communication style was engaging as he was comfortable in taking mundane situations and applying them to real-life situations. Too often, people would fall into a false sense of perception that the world did actually revolve around them, their career, their product or service. Nick’s stories always were good levelers to the world she knew and the stories were consistently fascinating.

“My day job is fine. I have been working with some Moser folks on some new drainage designs for river cities and my new hobby is fine as well: I have decided to re-engineer soap,” said Nick.

“Well, one doesn’t hear that sentence too often. How do you mean? Soap has been around for a few years so why are you ‘re-engineering’ something like that?”

“Well, maybe I misspoke a bit. I am re-engineering how soap is being manufactured.”

“Okay, tell me more.”

Nick smiled and pushed his dishes to the side. He always liked using pictures to explain concepts. Lily enjoyed watching him work as both his handwriting and drawing abilities demonstrated a cool, architectural panache; pictures were accurate with only a few lines and his handwriting was a unique and elegant combination of both print and cursive which was pleasing to the eye. He had immediately demonstrated kindness and patience on their first date when she had asked a valid question about one of his projects. Instead of ignoring her question or becoming pompous, he quietly took his napkin and created several drawings which simply and appropriately captured her questions and his answers. Because of his kind behavior, she began a practice of taking each note or drawing from him and quietly placing them into her purse. She had kept every note or sketch he had done because they were beautiful, he was beautiful and each one caused her to start feeling better about herself. This night was no different as Nick began to draw several three-dimensional objects to represent a variety of bar soaps and turned them around to show Lily. There was no dispute on the accuracy of the drawings; they represented all the general soap silhouettes and were done with a firm, confident hand and even to the uninitiated, there was no doubt or question in what the drawings represented.

“Would you agree these represent the general sizes and shapes of bars of soap?”

“Yes,” smiled Lily. She loved his earnest approach to helping her understand concepts.

“What do they have in common?”

“They can be held in one hand, they all likely have some cleansing effectiveness and they all will smell pleasant.”

“I agree with the first two but there are many people that would take offense to the third property. Many people are fragrance adverse so I will have to toss out the third trait. Also, the concept of fragrance falls into a qualitative, not quantitative category and it will be tossed for that reason as well,” said Nick with a smile.

“Fair enough. I will replace that one with ‘they all will eventually dissolve through use and exposure to water.’”

“Excellent!”

Lily actually blushed. She was proud of his reaction and began to think about her last couple days. It was just twenty-four hours ago that she was wearing an eye loop, hunkered down in a foreign country with a three hundred carat diamond, and surrounded by a large group of suited men all smelling of room service coffee, general trepidation and day-long meetings. They hung on her every word as she measured a wide variety of attributes of this big hunk of carbon but the reaction from her dinner date regarding soap was a hundred times more exciting. One minute she was talking about refractive indexes and now she was trying to figure out which bar of soap she had in her shower.

“Thank you, I don’t know what to say. Now, get back to the new soap story.”

Nick said, “It isn’t a new soap but a new way to manufacturing soap.”

“Please explain and if you can,” said Lily, “draw a few more pictures.” She took the original drawing from him and quietly folded it into her purse. She knew she would have a pile of napkins by the end of the evening, literally suitable for framing.

Nick smiled and asked, “What do all soaps have in common?”

“I don’t know,” said Lily. “They all seem to be pretty much the same but I can’t think of anything that is actually the same.”

“I will give you a hint. Don't think of the front end, think more end of the line.”

“Go ahead.”

Nick then drew several ellipses and marked them ‘top view’ with his spectacular handwriting. Lily attempted taking the drawing but Nick was too fast for her. He then drew three more ellipses, far more narrow and pointed that the first three and marked that group ‘side view.’ Lily had to stare at the drawing because Nick was holding it slightly outside her reach each time she reached for it. He knew she grabbed every drawing but while he was flattered, she needed to be more concerned about the note's content than the note's harvest for her collection.

“These are your hints.”

“What are they representing?”

“You can have the drawing, to study, and I will order dessert.”

Nick called over the waiter and ordered a dessert to share and two coffees while Lily studied the drawing. There was no doubt that the drawing was destined for her collection but she continued to study it for clues. Her training of an appraiser was attempting to help analysis; she saw the smooth external face of the ellipse and was thinking about diamond structures. Lily knew that the quality of diamonds lie in their carbon atom arrangement as a solid body formed from the bonding of atomic elements in a repeating arrangement but when it came to soap, she was stumped. The pictures further reminded her of precious gemstones as each individual crystal structure possessed smooth external faces, again, just like soap. No matter what the clues showed, she had moved the drawing closer to her reach and the moment she had an opportunity, this one was going to be scooped up as soon as she could and enter it into her collection.

She was stumped but happy to see dessert arrive.

“Give me some more hints and make sure you know the differences between ellipses and ellipsis.”

Nick smiled and took a sip of his coffee. “I will be happy to give you some hints and I will use my rudimentary diamond knowledge to attempt to give insights. And I assure you…I know the difference.”

“That’s not fair, I am trying to block out what I know about diamonds. But we are not talking about diamonds, we are talking about soap.”

“Well, I am trying to tell you that our previous conversations about diamonds helped me greatly with this initiative. Especially your stories about macle gems.”

“How do the repeating structural units of diamonds re-engineer soap?”

“Here comes the dessert!”

”Don’t change the subject but I appreciate it.”

“Okay, let me ask you some questions.”

Lily smiled, “Fire away. I know my rocks.”

“If you know rocks, you know soap.”

Nick said, “Are diamonds smooth?”

“Yes and no. Diamonds are smooth enough for people to rub their finger on a gem’s surface but they are not officially smooth thanks to our little friends, the trigons.”

“Exactly. Your little trigon pals got me thinking about soap. And when you told me the story about washing diamonds out of the dirt with waxy, greasy water, I came up with my idea.”

“Which is?”

“The only thing all bars of soap have in common is their size when you are tired of using them.”

Lily looked at the second set of drawings and they all did look like little worn-down soap bars. She was familiar, as all hygienic persons are, that soap wears out and eventually, all that remains in a little oval of soap which is usually (and eventually) discarded because of its lack of heft.

“And what do you do with these little soap ovals?”

“I use them until they are too small or too annoying. Then I flush them down the toilet or toss them into the trash.”

“Is there any value in keeping them?”

“I suppose there are household hints that expound dozens of uses for the spent ovals but nothing that I would feel compelled to use.”

“Unless it was sensible and easy?”

Lily smiled again, “Yes, if it was sensible and easy, I would salvage the little guys but if I have to pick up the slippery fellow off the shower floor more than one time per shower, you will not win me over.”

Nick started sketching another picture and when presented, it was the original three-dimension sizes he drew earlier but all with an oval but scored depression placed in the middle of the new bar.

"All sizes of soap eventually gets to the same uniform size and all we need to do is make a little home for it on the new bar. The user just places the oval into the depression and within a hour, it is bonded to the new bar.”

“That is a good idea, what type of savings are you talking?”

“At least one hundred million bars a year.”

"That is a lot of soap.”

”I agree. If we assume 144 per cubic foot, that is equivalent to, a large fifty story building.”

“Impressive.”

“Well, it is in theory. The first bar soap company will want to have the technology because it would allow them to stem the tide from the liquid soap competitors as well as taking market share away from their bar soap competitors.”

“I have two questions: How would it increase market share?”

The first company with this new process should see a big bump because everyone would want to do it. We all experience the little annoying soap ovals and we all want closure by laying the old one in the new one’s dimple.”

“The second question is who wouldn’t want this wonderful new idea?” said Lily.

“The soap companies are not happy about losing five to ten percent of their business due to improved usage of their little ovals. They are happy you throw the old soap away: more business for them. If you delay a soap purchase for a few days due to the saved amount, it will hit them in repeat sales. It won’t be much but when extrapolating numbers, nothing is too small.”

“They should be happy.”

“Well, let me ask you a question. Let’s say the diamond people found another ten percent more diamonds that thought ever existed. Would that make them happy?”

“Yes but only if they controlled it. Diamonds are so tightly controlled that reuse or discovery of new sources aren’t really considered an issue because they make their own supply and heavily influence the demand.”

Nick said, “Let me tell you another story.”

“Please do.”

“Let us assume that the next significant volcano erupts this evening in a remote location that does not threaten any life.”

“That’s good, no sense to endure a loss of life during a hypothetical situation.”

Nick continued, “These new diamonds efficiently bubble to the surface through the expended molten rock. This magma is the first piece of the volcanic pipe that also includes fragments of sub-strata, mantle and…”

“Diamonds.”

“Correct. Now, what are the rock names that contain diamonds? You told me before but I can’t remember their names.”

“That would be kimberlite and its ugly little cousin, lamproite.”

“Good. So these little elevators present the world with ten percent more diamonds than before. Does that make anyone’s life easier? Anyone other than the tightly controlled, greedy diamond industry?”

“No, a few folks interested in submarining the goods might be happy but the general public would not benefit from any of it.”

“Versus salvaging an additional one hundred million bars of soap.”

“Agreed. My business is to place a value on something which has no real value. The only true application for diamonds is to place imperfect chards onto cutting wheels but we alone, and in a quite arbitrary fashion, assign a monetary value to diamonds.”

“They are pretty, aren’t they?”

“They are stunning but so is a perfect piece of fruit but you don’t see a lot of Carmen Miranda trends coming back too soon so let's not line 'pretty' and 'value' just yet.”

“I find you gorgeous.”

Lily blushed a deep red blush. She did not see that coming and all the verbal sparring had exhausted her. Their relationship was becoming very strong and the conversation had confirmed that they could communicate at several levels at once. Whatever differences they had, they were minor and happily cloaked in common courtesy. Her whole career was very lonely and this guy had no interest in her limited celebrity; only an interest in her character and her opinions.

They drove back to her house and spent the night. She had to leave the next day for a day trip to New York; she was contracting with a large auction house to appraise and validate a large collection of rare cut stones. The vast majority of them were diamonds but she had the credibility to other stones on occasion.The next morning as they were having breakfast, she decided to broach a few subjects that were addressed vaguely the night before.

They were sitting across from each other in the dining room, drinking coffee and picking at pastries. There was several newspapers strewn on the table’s surface but the random order still had some balance to it.

She took a long sip of coffee and said, “So, you find me gorgeous?

“Absolutely.”

“Are you saying that because I am a famous expert with cut stones?”

“No. Although you are a recognized expert in your field, you must admit the field is a bit narrow to be considered a bona fide celebrity. It is like being the Prime Minister of Belgium. It has to be nice to be the main cat but it is an awfully small room.”

“I want you to know,” smiled Lily, “that I am sought out by many fascinating characters.”

“I realize that,” said Nick. “I find your celebrity somewhat appealing but you have to admit, more than fifty people have to know you to qualify as a celebrity.”

“True.”

“It is like being the Prime Minister of Nauru, a senator from Delaware or a former luge champion. You have done a wonderful thing but only a dozen people know it.”

“I again, understand the comparison so let's re-focus on me. Now, back to the question about me being gorgeous.”

“My pleasure.”

“Is that the only thing you are going to say?”

Nick came around the table and got down on one knee. He opened a small box and presented her with a 2.5-carat diamond. She was already estimating the refractive index, dispersion, transparency, density, Young’s modulus and Vickers hardness when she heard Nick’s voice wander into her sub-conscious.

“I certainly hope this beats the hell out of a bar of soap.”

“It doesn’t but you have absolutely nothing to be worried about.”

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