Melvos Hammerstars, Part Five
A Flourishing Career
By Ed Greenwood
The Silent Landlord
With some of the terms and daily environment surrounding Melvos Hammerstars covered, we can begin to examine just a few of his thousands of business ventures. It should be remembered that nearly every Sembian possessing wits and physical fitness enough to be in business for themselves has a similar array of such interests.
As mentioned earlier, Hammerstars openly engages in the following Saerloonian business interests: wine-blending, running a crew that fixes tile roofs, what we would call a "silent partner" investment in a cobbler's shop, and through the Sundul Full Palm coinring, part ownership of two tallhouses on Pranthar's Street that return rental income. These "public" (that is, revealed to government agents, not to anyone asking him questions in a tavern or on the street) activities bring in only a sixth of his income.
Hammerstars earns the majority of his coins by many means. One such is being a landlord.
In the name of a deceased former business partner, Darmeer Horath, Hammerstars collects the rents on three Saerloonian tallhouses. One is a very seedy "by-the-room" building near the docks, and (using names not his own) Hammerstars rents three rooms in it as various unseen boots (absent) tenants, and subleases each of these rooms to up to six lodgers. These coins cover his daily living costs (mainly food). Long ago, Horath made an arrangement with Tarmrose & Sons, a certain Westgate-based importing firm (actually engaged in smuggling drugs and spirits), that this decaying tallhouse would be their official city offices, so they could pretend to be a Sembian firm and avoid heavy import duties on their "cover" cargoes. Tarmrose pays the annual ownership head taxes for the building through a traveling factor (third-party trade agent from Westgate), and in return Hammerstars gives him the entirely anonymous use of a suite in one of the other two tallhouses as a hidey-hole when he has need of it. So Tarmrose need never come within half the city of his offices -- if the authorities ever become suspicious of his cargoes.
Horath died "on caravan" outside Sembia, and the authorities aren't yet aware of his demise. They're looking for him, for unpaid taxes -- but then, they're looking for a lot of people for unpaid taxes. Hammerstars pretends to be Horath's hired rent collector, but to be himself waiting for Horath to pay him for this service. He has (forged) deed-claims ready for the day when the government tries to seize the buildings (which they can do for Sembians who die without heirs, despite creditors -- but not despite deed-claimants).
Thus the rents from this Manynets Lane tallhouse are untaxed profit for Hammerstars, who does no maintenance on the place. He can't get windstorm or tumbledown (building collapse) surety (insurance), but does have a fire bond -- and a covert standing arrangement with a nearby street gang (whom he pays watch-money to, every tenday, for spying on the doings of his tenants and the neighbors) to set fires in the ruins should the tallhouse ever collapse.
The second and third rental properties stand on the far more respectable Bellmaur Street. One is entirely given over to nicely furnished half-floor suites that command monthly rents of as much as 12 gp. The only Hammerstars "funny business" here is a single suite out of its four floors stands empty for either his use as a hidey-hole or meeting place for shady negotiations, or as a place he can rent to business acquaintances (for very steep fees) if they ever need a hidey-hole in a hurry.
The other tallhouse has a seamstress on the ground floor, and three stories of expensive full-floor rental living suites above. The trick here is that the seamstress, Lharal of the Needles, is not just a seamstress: she's the madam of her own high-coin brothel, located on the floor immediately above hers. Lharal pays taxes as a seamstress, but the bedwarmers upstairs pay none, and she "forgets" to notice her share of their takings -- just as Hammerstars splits that share with her in return for paying the head tax for an entirely fictitious renter of that floor, and overlooking what's really going on. Should he or a business friend he wants to cozen show up to share beds, they pay no warming fees.
Melvos is careful to pay his full taxes promptly on all properties he openly and personally owns, and he does what most struggling-up-from-lowcoin Sembian merchants do: buy buildings adjacent to his own whenever they become available, in hopes of someday selling a large block of land at a handsome profit to someone who wants to put up large tallhouses or a mansion.
Lending coin can be another way for merchants of means to make money. Find out more about this next week!
© 2004 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.