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Business deals have always been fairly casual in the little Argentinian town of Bariloche, a popular mountain resort in the foothills of the Andes. Since Juan started his construction business 15 years ago he has won a lot of contracts from the municipal authority: redecoration of the town hall, a new kindergarten, even a nice chunk of the new circular road around town—all of which have kept his 20 employees busy and helped Juan and his family to enjoy a decent lifestyle. Sitting on the patio of his eighteenth-century farmhouse and watching the fumes of his Cohiba cigar slowly vanishing into the sunset, he feels quite at ease—if only there had not been this meeting with Santiago this afternoon. Santiago is an old friend from Juan’s childhood days. But when Juan started working at 15 years old, building houses with his father, Santiago had become a teacher. However, Santiago had soon got bored and before long he went into politics. For ten years now Santiago has been the mayor of Bariloche—but despite his lofty position, the two friends have continued to get on very well. They normally meet once a month in the back room of a local café, share a glass of Malbec and exchange gossip. Of course, they also talk about business, and knowing what is coming up in the mayoral office has always helped Juan to tailor his bids to the municipal authority’s priorities. Not that Santiago has directly pushed things for him—but among friends, they talked about projects and Juan was clever enough to integrate this information into his bids. Of course, he has known how to show his old friend some gratitude: whenever Santiago needed something fixed at his house it was never more than half an hour before one of Juan’s employees turned up and sorted it out. And when Santiago gave a party for his fiftieth birthday last year, Juan took over the entire catering for 200 people, including drinks—but this was just a ‘birthday present’ for his friend. However, today things seemed a little different. Santiago knew that Juan urgently needed new contracts to keep his company running, and so he mentioned the new municipal swimming pool that was about to be built. Santiago also mentioned that the project manager from another construction company, whom he had met last Sunday after church, had offered to build Santiago a swimming pool at his house if his company won the contract. Now Juan knows all too well that this has been Santiago’s dream for years. Not that Santiago had asked for anything, but there was a funny tone to the conversation when he was telling Juan about his chat with the other contractor and about the pool. Juan could easily fiddle the bills for labour and materials in such a way that a small swimming pool in a private house could be ‘hidden’ in the accounting of a project of the magnitude of the municipal pool project. But was that taking things a little bit too far? On the one hand, there were his employees and their families: without much other work in the pipeline, they needed Juan to find new work to keep them employed. Besides, doing a favour for an old friend here and there was hardly a crime, Juan reasoned. On the other hand, renewing Santiago’s roof after last year’s storms had already been a bit of a stretch for Juan. But building a swimming pool was clearly a bigger investment than any of the favours he had provided before. What would his employees say? And if they did not say anything, what would they think? And what about the rest of the people of Bariloche, what would they think? The more he thought about it, the more angry Juan started to get—at his competitor for offering his friend the swimming pool; at Santiago for being so cheeky; and at himself for having been gradually dragged into this somewhat puzzling relationship. He decided to discuss the matter with his lovely wife Valentina when she returned from her shopping trip to Buenos Aires later that night. Maybe she would have some good ideas about how to sort out the dilemma.


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