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Chapter Two

Willikin was up early the following morning, not out of choice, but by courtesy of the girl at the hotel’s reception desk, who insisted on dragging him out of a deep sleep by calling him on the telephone. A telegram had just been delivered and was evidently marked ‘URGENT, URGENT, URGENT’. Rather than telling the young lady what she could do with the obviously over assuming communication, in his sleepy state, Willikin gave instructions to have the telegram brought up to his room and begrudgingly crawled out of his bed to receive it. It was from the US head office in New York and had come via the Miami Home: BEEN TRYING TO PHONE YOU STOP JUST ARRIVED IN NY STOP FLYING DOWN STOP and it was signed UNCLE.

As Willikin sat on the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes in the dim light he wondered how his quick-tempered uncle would take to the news that he would not be staying in the relative comfort of the Home during his stay but in some out-of-the-way hostelry in an unfamiliar part of the city. As he got up he refolded the telegram, put it in the breast pocket of his pyjamas and smiled at Stone’s probable reaction. He could hear him saying: “Who the hell does Spinosa, that trumped up little fart, think he is? If the place is full we’ll have his bungalow and he can rough it at the hotel.” It would be just like his uncle to do it as well - or at least try. But with Spinosa as his adversary he might not find it such an easy task.

Willikin walked to the window. As he stood, bare footed, gazing through the half-opened curtains to misty Miami beyond, the previous day’s frustrations filled his mind. What his uncle would make of Spinosa was fairly easy to predict. Stone had a passion for straight, no-nonsense talking and wouldn’t much appreciate Spinosa’s somewhat restrained approach. Stone would probably throw in the towel within minutes of attempting to strike up a conversation and dismiss Spinosa as a time-wasting pain in the arse. Willikin smiled at the probable encounter then reflected that it wasn’t so much what Spinosa had said the previous day that was bothering him, but what he omitted to say. His outward manner was deceiving to say the least and seemed to suggest a completely different character to the one Willikin had got to know and admire through his monthly reports. They were the epitome of a go-ahead, far-sighted executive and displayed aggression, determination and an exacting, positive quality coupled with an openness Willikin had never before seen in any executive in his employ. But on meeting the man, Willikin was left convinced that if he had been sitting in on the series of interviews to find the new executive-in-charge of the Miami Home, Spinosa wouldn’t have even made the short list. How the visionary from the New York office managed to see through him at the interviews was beyond him, but see through him they did, and as a consequence of their inspired judgement and Spinosa’s subsequent appointment the Home was currently witnessing an astonishing turnabout of fortune. From being the black sheep of the family it was fast approaching the status of being the most profitable. And this in just three months.

Four months earlier, Willikin had anticipated that his next visit to Miami would be to officially close down the Home. Then it was not only flagging behind the other Homes in the chain but was being financially supported by them and was proving such a drain on available resources that closure seemed the next logical step. But then along came Spinosa. He was appointed as a last ditch attempt to salvage something from the Home. He had never before worked with the elderly but came highly recommended as a master of business strategy (from a small local laundromat business!), which he quickly proved to the surprise of everyone. His first monthly report was not only an eye-opener but also a virtual showstopper in its composure. And now, three months after his appointment, he was performing positive miracles. The icing on the cake was in his latest report that stated that the Home had achieved “a no-vacancy situation” and even mentioned the existence of a waiting list. Money was rolling in at an alarming rate. No other Home was in such a fortunate position. Spinosa had clearly achieved what everyone, including Willikin, had considered impossible.

But despite the magnitude of Spinosa’s achievements, Willikin had to admit that his uncle’s probable assessment of his executive as a pain in the arse was very near to the truth. Willikin was feeling decidedly frustrated at Spinosa’s reluctance to open up and could see no apparent reason for it. In fact, he had anticipated his visit would have prompted the exact opposite reaction. It was, after all, a perfect opportunity for Spinosa to blow his own trumpet and boast openly to his boss of how he single-handedly transformed the Home. It was to hear such pearls of wisdom that Willikin had made the trip to Miami in the first place. A special one-off trip to seek knowledge from someone outside his usual circle of advisers. And he had decided to make the journey in person rather than send one of his senior administrators to do the job for him. “Secrets of success,” he thought. The expression was decidedly apt as far as Spinosa was concerned.

Willikin sighed heavily, crossed the room to where he had left his luggage the night before, took out his toiletry things and set off in the direction of the bathroom. The quicker he got ready then the quicker he could get to the bottom of the problem that was Spinosa and the secrets of his success.

At 78, Willikin was the complete and dedicated businessman. No other love - mortal or otherwise - ever turned his head or captivated his heart as his brainchild, the chain of Homes for the elderly bearing his name. Almost every waking hour - and many of his sleeping ones as well - were filled with affairs of business of one form or another. He might preach the dispassionate approach to business to his juniors - and passionately believe that ideal to be the essential stance for any responsible businessman - but as far as he was concerned it was an ideal impossible to achieve. With very few days off and little or no thought of slowing down, he would repeatedly force his ageing frame into daily activity and with such obvious enthusiasm that it left the ambitious junior management wishing for a less exacting example from which to draw inspiration. If succeeding in the context of The Rudyard Willikin Homes Consortium meant measuring up to the old powerhouse then life was certainly going to get tougher as they got older. They were of the opinion that businessmen at Willikin’s time of life should be put out to pasture to make way for the up and coming younger generation; they should be thinking of taking it easy and start yearning for the quiet life and retirement. But not for Willikin. For most businessmen, retirement is viewed as their opportunity to take it easy and to spend time with their wives, for so long ignored; and an opportunity to do all those things they never had time for when in business. A form of reward for past accomplishments and a life-long job well done. Willikin, with no wife, and a head full of accomplishments yet unaccomplished, and an appreciation of business life that put it on the same level as a perpetually young love, daily took to heart the maxim that life begins at 40, which currently made him a mature 38, with not too long to go before he experienced rebirth for the second time around.

However, his reflection in the bathroom mirror told a very different story. Within himself, Willikin felt a young stripling, bursting with enthusiasm and vitality. Outside, his mask to the world, was of a serious man in the late autumn of his life with a silvery grey complexion that perfectly matched his hair and the stubble on his chin.

Willikin was impatient to get the day’s activities under way and started toying with the notion that as he was up he may as well rush them along by turning up at the home in time for breakfast. However, by the time he was dressed he had already changed his mind. Despite his growing anxiety it would be an unwise move. Why go looking for criticism. The staff might even interpret his early morning arrival as his way of checking up on them, which was definitely not the case. For he fully expected that at the end of the day he would be praising each and every one of them for their sterling efforts over the last few months.

At length, he decided instead to go for a pre-breakfast walk. If he was being forced to stay at the Bella Bella then he may as well make an effort and see the local sights. He announced his intentions to the cleaners in the lobby who were highly amused. He had to be English, they agreed, as he left.

Outside, the noise and smells dominated, and seemed unmistakably familiar. Another picture-postcard day in prospect, he thought, and turned left and set off down the hill.

He would only walk around the block, he decided, and set off briskly. As he came to the end of the narrow street he was surprised to see that, despite it being such an early hour, the place was a hive of activity, with cars bumper to bumper, full of people on their way to work, or back from it. The smell of fumes in the still, dusty air was almost overpowering. He turned left into the road and made quickly for the next side turning which would lead back up the hill past the rear of the hotel. The noise of car radios, engines and loud, almost shouting talk made him step up his pace, and as he bustled along he noticed he was the only pedestrian. “So much for the petrol crisis,” he muttered turning into the side road and changed pace again. As he ambled along, pleased at leaving the noise and fumes behind him, he was startled by a young couple who seemed to pop up from nowhere. They had emerged from stairs leading down to a basement apartment. They were wearing matching tracksuits. On seeing him they both smiled and one greeted him with a loud “Hi!” She looked very young to Willikin. Her tight-fitting outfit showed off her slender figure and her hair, which was dark and short, exposed her small, bright-eyed face. Willikin responded with a restrained twitch of a wave and a mouthed “Good morning.” The couple set off and ran past him back down the hill. So young, two fine examples of the enthusiastic generation encouraged to question everything. A far cry from the predicament he felt himself in at their age. His father had forced the medical profession on him and the young Willikin couldn’t question any part of the old man’s decision. All Willikin’s expectations of medical college were very quickly realised. He found it deadly dull, too demanding, and as far as he was concerned, without any startling prospects in the small and diminishing rural community in which his father’s practice was centred, and still he had to study, and study hard. It was largely due to the perseverance of his uncle, Dr Stone, that he passed his final exams. However, on the death of his father, he gave up the family practice and turned his talents elsewhere. The idea of having a captive audience in the form of paying elderly residents tempted him beyond endurance.

Willikin saw the young couple go and smiled at the parallel. He was again a student, this time with Spinosa as his tutor. But to his frustration his tutor was for some reason refusing to teach. The previous day’s non-conversation still puzzled him, and remembering his thoughts earlier his smile quickly dissolved at the prospect of the day ahead.

Willikin passed the rear of the hotel and was distracted by the smells of breakfast emanating from the basement kitchens. He quickened his pace and as he started on the home straight to the hotel, he was thinking again of his uncle. They had last met around a fortnight before when Stone had insisted he was too busy even to talk. Together with his young protégé, Dickie, he was investigating one of the projects earmarked to have future business potential. Why had Stone flown to New York, and why the urgent telegram?

Willikin’s thoughts were interrupted by a bearded man on the steps of the hotel, who greeted him as if he was an old friend. “Good morning Doctor Willikin, it’s good to see you again.” The man stretched out and shook Willikin’s hand warmly. Willikin looked up, studied the man’s face, then remembered. “It’s Sidney...Cameron, isn’t it,” he said at last.

“Yes sir, it is. I haven’t seen you for a long time. I hope you’re well.”

Willikin returned the greeting and then invited Cameron to breakfast. “Mr Spinosa thought you might want to start early,” said Cameron as they approached the dining room. “We’re all ready for you at the Home.”

Willikin turned his head and smiled. “That’s typical of your boss,” he said. “Always doing the unexpected!” and then added that he looked forward to meeting everyone.

“When I say all,” said Cameron, who had worked at the Home since it opened, “that’s all except for Margaret Templeton. She left this morning to visit relatives. Called away, I think. It was all rather sudden. I took her to the airport before I came here.”

“That’s a shame,” said Willikin as they arrived at their table. “I wanted to meet her. Your boss speaks very highly of her.”

“But surely you already know her,” said Cameron surprised. “She talks of knowing you.”

“Does she indeed. I don’t remember the name,” said Willikin, who then turned his attention to the menu before him. Gesturing to the waiter, he added: “Do you know if she will be away for long?” Cameron shook his head. “Well let’s hope not. It’s always nice to renew old acquaintances,” said Willikin. “Talking of which, tell me everything that’s happened to you since we last met,” and the two of them settled down to a quiet breakfast. Consortium business could wait.

 
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