It began back when I was in high school. I got a summer job at Mannlich & Whitney as a 16 year old intern-trainee, a fancy name for a “go-fer” whose job was to fetch and carry for the technicians and engineers who built and maintained the computer-assisted mechanical equipment that took raw materials and transformed them into components for other things. M&W boasted that they could build a piece of equipment that could make anything some engineer dreamed up. They weren’t far wrong, at least from my wide-eyed teenage point of view.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I caught a truly lucky break by having Mark Bradley, a mechanical engineer about four years out of college, take an interest in me. I guess he saw something in me, for he asked to have me assigned as his exclusive assistant. I continued to fetch what was needed for whatever Mark worked on, but he began to teach me, sort of like a medieval master with an apprentice. My work must have impressed him, for when Labor Day and junior year rolled around, Mark’s boss called us in and asked him what sort of a worker I was.

“He’ll do,” was all Mark said. It wasn’t until later that I learned Mark had talked to Mr. Atkinson a couple of times, urging that I be hired part time during the school year.

“Mr. Bradley thinks you have the makings of an engineer, Max,” Atkinson said. “He doesn’t say that about many. I’ve watched you too, and I agree. I’d like you to work for us part time during the school year, and full time over the summer. What do you say?”

What could I say? “When do I start?” I asked. The two men grinned, slapped me on the back, and told me to report after school the next Tuesday.

I continued to work part time at M&W for the next six years, through high school and summers while I was in college, rising from go-fer to engineering technician. Mark continued to keep an eye on me. After I got into Georgia Tech, he started bringing me with him to assist with installation and repair work all over the country. I proved to have an aptitude for troubleshooting malfunctions, a fact of which both Mark and Tom Atkinson, now a senior vice president, took note. When I graduated with honors, they brought me on as an installation and maintenance engineer.

That set the stage for my next 33 years with the company. As Mannlich & Whitney evolved, our Maintenance Division began taking on the challenge of keeping not just our own machines and those we made running, but those of other companies as well. I turned down attempts to bring me into management, much preferring to do what I did best: fixing machines that had stopped working, all over the world. Mark, now the Chief Engineering Officer for M&W, saw to it that I got the more interesting assignments as we grew. My gift for languages helped with that. It’s a lot easier for a troubleshooter to get the job done if he doesn’t have to work through a translator.

It was on a job to get a fabricator in Bremen back up and running that I met Heidi. She was a tall North German blonde who worked in the front office. She had the hourglass figure of a St. Pauli Girl, and was just a couple of inches shorter than my six foot one. We had the same butter-yellow hair, and eyes of the same bright blue. Barely four months in age separated us. Neither of us had ever had a serious relationship. The customer’s consultant liaison that introduced us had no idea he was acting as Cupid’s surrogate.

We looked into each other’s eyes and as far as I was concerned, that was it. I realized I had found my mate. Heidi felt the same way. We went to dinner and then to bed, and found we shared appetites for food, beer, and sex. We each took vacation time, visited each other’s homes, and found we were extremely compatible. At age 35, we married.

Children were not an issue. Heidi could not have them because when she was 24, she had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. In World War II Bremen had been a frequent target for Allied bombers because of its heavy industry. Not all of the bombs had gone off on impact. Decades after the end of the war, they still turned up in unexpected places, and sometimes they announced their presence by exploding. One such had gone off while Heidi was half a block away. A sliver of steel had sliced through her lower abdomen, forcing the trauma surgeons to perform an emergency hysterectomy to save her life. Although she never said so, I believed the fact she was barren had had more than a little to do with her unmarried state when we met.

She was wild when it came to sex. She was the only woman I’d ever met who could reach orgasm from my playing with her big D-cup boobs. She loved giving and getting oral sex, too, either as a prelude to fucking or as its own pleasurable goal. Many was the time I came up behind her, pulled her to me by the tits and got her hot by bobbling them, and after frenching and fondling her to climax, carrying her into the bedroom where I’d bring her off with cunnilingus, powerful orgasms that left her limp and satiated, pleased that she had a man who knew how to take care of her. Our fucking it was full of passion, utterly uninhibited, and incredibly satisfying. We never tired of lovemaking.

She was fond of jewelry, especially sterling silver. Given her pale skin and blonde hair. I’d have expected her to go for gold and the darker gemstones; but no, for her it was sterling. From family stories Heidi told and others I heard from her grandmother on visits to Germany, after the war Grossmutter und Urgrossmutter had survived by trading sterling jewelry, flatware, serving pieces, and lumps of silver salvaged from bombed-out buildings for food. Apparently this had inculcated in the women of Heidi’s family an almost totemic respect for silver. Wherever I went, if it was in a region that made silver jewelry I would bring back as much as I could afford. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, arm cuffs, headbands, combs; mirror-polished, engraved, checkered, carved, cast; as long as it was silver and it suited her, she never laid the “Honey, you shouldn’t have” line on me. Heidi understood I was expressing my love for her with these gifts, and accepted them in the spirit intended.

For ten years, our life was blissful, more than most couples ever experience. I had never expected to have children, so the fact we couldn’t did not bother me in the slightest. I had a secure job I enjoyed and was good at; I even owned a chunk of stock in the company. Heidi likewise was settled in her career. We owned our own home and talked about getting a small country place to use as a getaway, perhaps a retirement property. We had a circle of friends to socialize with, and generally enjoyed life.

Then Heidi was diagnosed with a particularly virulent and aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Stage Four, terminal. I got back from a trip to India and she gave me the news. Nothing could be done. Two weeks later she was dead, and my life turned to ashes.

I went through the motions of living, throwing myself into my work. Mark, intuitively understanding my need to get away from an empty house full of memories, reserved as many of the overseas figure-out-the-malfunction-and-fix-it trips for me as he could. Out of habit, for I have no other explanation, I continued to buy silver jewelry on my trips, bringing it home and depositing it in the appropriate drawers and boxes of Heidi’s jewelry cabinets within her walk-in closet. Given how much traveling I did and the bonuses I got for quick completion of the work, the collection grew, grew some more, and grew again to the point it became a magpie’s horde. I added a third jewelry bureau and then a fourth to organize things better, but somehow the logical solution – just stop buying jewelry – simply did not occur to me. My personal tastes in food, drink, and clothing were simple, my house and car long paid for. Money meant little to me. It just went into various accounts and accumulated; I didn’t spend much on myself.

This mental stasis life ended after six years when I was called into Mark’s office after returning from a trip to Vietnam. I had just spent two weeks repairing a piece of equipment that would have been just fine if the morons who’d installed it had bothered to read the manual and not attempted to power a machine designed to run on 220 volts off a 440 volt line. Every circuit in the machine had gone up in flames. I’d had to rebuild the whole control system.

It had been a trying experience. I can get along in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Hindi, and I have a smattering of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. However, my knowledge of Vietnamese is at the hello-goodbye-and-where-is-the-toilet stage. The work had taken longer than necessary just because of the language difficulties. Mark motioned me into a chair and closed the door.

“Max, how long have you been with M&W?” he asked as he sat down next to me.

“Thirty-four years,” I replied, “forty, if you count my part time work.” Suddenly, I didn’t like this conversation, particularly as a personnel folder labeled Bergstrom, Maximilian rested on his desk. “Long enough to have vested in the company pension plan, if that’s the way this is heading. Why?”

“Because as Chief Engineering Officer I hear things you probably don’t, even though you own 3.7% of the stock in the company. The owners are in the final stages of negotiation to sell Mannlich & Whitney to ThyssenKrupp. The deal hasn’t been signed yet, but it will be soon.

“You’re in the same position I am. When a soulless omnicorp buys out a small company like ours, after a short grace period the first thing they do is let go all the older workers and most of the senior managers. Both of us are prime nominees for pink slips. But I have an idea.

“Here’s my thinking. ThyssenKrupp is after our manufacturing division, not the maintenance division. We each keep our M&W stock, which will be converted to ThyssenKrupp stock after the merger. That will pay us dividends. We put in for retirement and pension. After we are officially retired we take our gold watches, our files, and our lists of contacts, and we set up as consulting engineers specializing in installation, maintenance, and repairs. When the Germans take the axe to M&W as I know they will, we hire the good engineers they lay off. We keep them on retainer and send them out as work comes in, paying them by the job. My daughter works for a PR firm up in New York City. She knows how to get the word out about our services to companies who will need them. We’ll start out slowly, but once it dawns on M&W’s customers that ThyssenKrupp has no intention of providing the aftermarket service we’ve done all these years, they’ll come to Bradley & Bergstrom Engineering Services and beg us to help them. Interested?”

I sat back in the chair, my brain having done a 180-degree turn from thinking I was about to be fired to becoming a partner in a brand new engineering firm. “Equal partners?”

“Yes. I’ll run the office and deal with the money men and the scheduling. You’ll go on as you are, out in the field doing what you love, making broken things work again and training the up-and-comers. Deal?”

I took his proffered hand. “Deal, Mark.”


So the two of us put in for our pensions and gave our notices. Two weeks later, we said goodbye to the folks we’d worked with, some of them for many years, and set about building a new company dedicated to servicing and maintaining industrial equipment. Both Mark and I had quietly built up libraries of manuals on the equipment M&W manufactured, and like the lovers of fine equipment all engineers are when you get down to it, we’d acquired books on every factory machine we could find that we’d ever serviced. Once B&B was up and running, we subscribed to a number of sites that had technical information needed to diagnose and repair everything from printing presses to chip fabricators.

Just as Mark had predicted, after the buyout ThyssenKrupp reorganized Mannlich & Whitney, bringing in their own management team and scaling back the maintenance division to deal only with initial installation and warranty work. We approached some of the redundant engineers, all of whom I’d trained, and brought them on board. Things were a little slow at first, but as the word got out that B&B stood ready to take up the slack in equipment repair, jobs came our way. By the time we’d been in business a year, we had all the work we could handle and our workload just kept growing.

Partner though I was, I continued as I had with the old outfit, keeping an office in the suite we leased mainly so I had somewhere to store my manuals, just like the other field men. It didn’t see much of me. Only two of us were really fluent in anything but English or Spanish. Even though Mark and I paid for computerized language courses for our employees, there were a couple of stretches where I didn’t get back to the States for two or three months at a time. Got to be a mite tiresome for a couple of reasons, but the biggest was a lack of female companionship.

I’d been a widower long enough to accept that Heidi was gone and wouldn’t ever be coming back. Like any virile man, I had needs. Thing was, from the time my ancestors had come to America from Sweden we’d only married mates around our own heights, usually fellow Scandinavians, and mostly blondes at that. I was conditioned to see tall, buxom women as sexual partners. The service calls B&B took that I was sent out on came mostly from places in southern India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Places where the average woman’s height is around five foot two, which to me felt like I was looking at little girls. I wasn’t attracted to them at all.

After the fourth extended trip in seven months, I finally got home. The flight from New Delhi had involved plane changes at Athens, London, and New York, plus a hired van from the airport nearest home to carry my tools, books, and the second suitcase that held additional clothes I had bought along the way. It also held jewelry I had bought in Bangkok, Saigon, and Djakarta. The pieces I had picked up in Kolkata and New Delhi had wound up in the bottom of my toolkit. I was beat, but not so tired that I failed to take the booty from the bazaars and put it carefully into the fourth jewelry bureau I’d made for Heidi.

But as I put the last piece into a drawer, a necklace of solid silver beads from Bangkok 26 inches long, elaborately carved, with an annulus pendant the diameter of a cartwheel dollar made of quarter inch thick round stock sculpted into four naked temple dancers that weighted about a pound, an epiphany struck me like a lightning bolt:

What the hell are you doing, buying all this stuff for Heidi? She’s gone. She’ll never see it. You can’t bring back the dead. She wouldn’t be happy with the way you’ve been acting. You have to move on. Don’t forget her, but start living again!

I mechanically finished storing the new acquisitions, then went downstairs to the bar in the finished basement that hadn’t been used since Heidi’s death put an end to our party-throwing days. Taking a bottle of good single malt from under the bar, I dusted off a glass, poured two fingers into it, and sat down on the back porch to watch the sun set and do me some thinkin’ drinkin’.

Next day, I went into the office and turned in my reports, receipts, and assessment of the work I’d done at six different companies to Esther, our office manager. She would send them where they needed to go, and see my expenses were properly reimbursed. Then I sought out Mark.

“Max! When did you get back? How was your flight?”

“Long,” I said, taking a seat on the couch. “Cost be damned, the next time I have to make a flight that long you book me in first class, not business class, and preferably without so many plane changes. But that’s not what I want to talk about.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“I need a vacation, Mark. I’ve been on the go for the past seven months, and in that time I’ve been in the States for maybe five days. I’d like to take some time off and just relax. How about it?”

Mark frowned thoughtfully and motioned me over where I could see his monitor. He opened the Call Status program. The horizontal lines listed each engineer; the verticals broke things down into weekly blocks. Jobs in North America were shown in blue, Europe in red, Mexico and South America in orange, India in magenta, and the Far East in green. The next six weeks were mostly blue and red standard overhauls, but of course that could change in a minute if a frantic factory manager emailed us pleading for someone to come and save their bacon ASAP.

“I have had you jumping from call to call to call, though to be fair at least four of those were breakdowns and not scheduled maintenance and you were already nearby – ”

“You call two hours away by air ‘nearby?’ ” I snorted.

“Compared to coming from the States, yes. After you were done, the factory owners and managers emailed me singing your praises and signed maintenance contracts with us. You deserve time off for sure, partner. How about this? Take the next six weeks, but subject to recall if something comes up the other field engineers can’t handle. Okay?”

“It’ll do,” I said.


Now that I had a timeframe, I proceeded with the plan I had put together while communing with the stars the night before. A trip to an office supply store got me the necessary forms to establish a sole proprietorship. A trip to the County Clerk’s office to register Ag 925 as a business and another to the bank to open a business account and set up a link to it, and I was the owner of a new business.

The next stop was at a famous flea market called the Grand Bazaar about half an hour from the house. It offered a couple of different options for space rental. I opted for a monthly slot, explaining that my job might require my absence some weekends. The office manager assured me this would not be a problem. Any time I had to miss a show, as long as I let the Bazaar know before show day I would forfeit only 50% of the fee. They would be free to put someone else into my slot. I found the terms acceptable.

A session on my laptop bought me a 10 x 20 pop-up fly, tables, glass and steel display cases, a cashbox, and a pair of comfortable chairs. After they arrived at the house, I spent a day loading the displays with a variety of sterling silver jewelry. Not the pieces I’d given Heidi when she was alive; the stuff I had bought since. I worked out a pricing formula and tagged the stock for sale. By Friday that week, using a rental van to move my circus, I was ready to start selling on Saturday.

Setting up in the dark wasn’t as hard as I’d feared because the Grand Bazaar had stadium lighting that turned night to day. The fly gave me a little trouble, mostly because I wasn’t familiar with it, but by the time the gates opened Ag 925 was ready for business.

Inexperienced as I was, I could tell my location on the Spice Road at the corner of Kadijah Way was prime flea market real estate. I made a note to myself that I needed to find an advertising printer that made cloth banners and have some with the business name emblazoned on them to pin onto the edges of the fly. Oh well, at least I’d been smart enough to have business cards printed up. There’s something about business cards that tells customers you are legitimate; it’s a psychological thing.