Frantic clicking of a mouse and scrolling of endless web pages was soon followed by an exasperated male voice, “What … the fuck … are these?”
A young and almost equally beleaguered female replied promptly, “I was going for something minimalist, sophisticated … I was thinking Japanese.”
“Did you just put the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘sophisticated’ into the same sentence?” the chap taunted. “Sasha, those people still sleep on the floor and eat domestic pets – and not a piece of cutlery in sight. I think your definition of sophisticated is somewhat distorted, don’t you? How are you with classic and timeless?”
“Shut your face.” She snapped back playfully before turning a one-eighty and swanning out of the room.
He hollered at her, “At least four bedrooms! And with walls thicker than paper!” Before muttering to himself, “I’ll be entertaining.”
Seconds later the intercom on his desk buzzed and a playful, breathy tone announced, “Edward, I have your mother on line three.”
“I love it when you do that voice.” For a moment he forgot the afternoon that lay ahead.
“Did you forget you have lunch with her at two?” Sasha countered as she buffed her nails at her desk, which was conveniently located in the lobby outside. Glancing at his watch he noted it was already one thirty-five. Then he recalled the reason for their meeting and instantly his temples started to throb with an anxiety he hadn’t felt for exactly a year. It was her birthday, which happened to fall on the same day as his last in the office; a day that had already become one of those hectic existences when there were a hundred things to do and only enough time to do half of them, half as well as they deserved. He panicked. With his finger firmly pressed on the intercom he asked, “Did you get the...”
“Yes.” Sasha interjected as if psychic.
She interrupted again, “It’s with the driver...”
Ed thought for a moment, “...but what about...?”
His seasoned PA reassured him one final time, “I told her you were shy.”
“Bitch!” He hissed in defeat.
“She says she’s waiting in the car outside.” Referring to the firm’s chauffeur-driven Jag that had collected Ed’s mother from a prior engagement at an Arts Society fellowship meeting in Chelsea Wharf. She’d often invited her son along but he’d always negated. After his father died, she seemed to spend much of her time indulging useless friends and hobbies - and that really wasn’t his thing. She didn’t really belong at the Arts Society fellowship meetings, but she was committed to rising above all adversity - and she did it rather well. In a way, Ed admired her for it. Occasionally he would catch himself acting like her in certain situations, but then he’d rebel and change his ways, determined not to become like her, or the father who had always chosen the office over family picnics, long bike rides and climbing trees on sunny Sunday afternoons.
At the Ritz on Piccadilly an aberrantly introverted Edward Lennon sat opposite his mother Georgina, the perfect vision of new money doing it right. Her tight grey curls and the Monroe Mikimoto pearl necklace Ed had purchased at auction for her special day framed her porcelain face and complimented her slate grey Chanel two-piece in a simple symphony of elegance; “Why didn’t you give me my gift yourself darling? Too busy for me again I suppose?” She pouted.
There was no point in beating around the bush. “I didn’t want you to throw it at me.”
She chuckled dismissively, “Oh Eddie, darling, that only happened that one time, my goodness you have a good memory don’t you? Besides, you’re much better at selecting gifts these days.”
“I’d made it.” He sulked as he remembered back to that fateful day many moons ago, his temper allayed only by the way she made his name sound like he was the only person in the world with it.
Clearly incapable of feeling any kind of sentiment one would usually attach to such a gesture as a child making a gift, his mother dismissed his complaint as mere trivia, “And now you make wonderful things for all kinds of interesting people. I am proud of you dear. I really don’t mind half the stuff you spend your time and money on now. By the way, your stepfather says his hemorrhoids have made a vicious return and he’d like you to send over that rather nice doctor you recommended the last time. What was his name again...?” She peered around the room like a prairie dog preparing to venture from its hole, “My goodness they take a long time to make a pot of tea in here don’t they?”
Startled somewhat at the sound of someone tumbling through the double doors to her office, Sasha looked up from her computer screen, “How was lunch?”
Her semi-inebriated boss removed his sunglasses and drawled, “I’ve decided that the Ritz – or in fact any place like it – is the best place to go when you have to face someone as impossible as her!”
“That well, eh?” She teased, only half-paying attention to the drunken drama queen.
Ed waved his coat around his head, “You can’t really make a scene at the Ritz,” then tossed it over the back of a chair, “you never know who you might be sitting next to. It’s like a safe house. Stops you from making the kind of ruckus that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those fast food joints or on Jeremy...what’s-his-face.” Sasha turned her nose up as if repulsed as Ed concluded, “All I’m saying is that the Ritz saved my mother’s life this afternoon. Do I have any whiskey left?” And with a belch he wandered in to his office to find a glass, decanter and ice. Three Scotch and Americans later, he was interrupted by the intercom, this time as he attempted to play a new game on his mobile phone, “Yes!” He barked irately, followed by “Whaddya want?” and then “Aww...fuck it!” He’d been killed by a zombie prostitute.
With little time for games, Sasha began to reel off some of the items on the afternoon’s agenda, “I need to sit down with you before you go, to discuss the numbers for the hotel.”
He’d been putting this off. He thought for a second then agreed reluctantly, it had to be dealt with before he wrapped up for the day, “Ok, gimme ten minutes.” In his office en-suite he splashed some water on his face and patted it dry with a fresh towel, then took refuge on a sofa in the middle of the room, and a bottle of water from a small fridge adjacent to it.
“Water eh?” Sasha mocked as she waltzed in sniffing at the air around her, “Yet it smells just like whiskey. Amazing.” “Just give me the bottom line, then go change your tampon.”
His esteemed and long-suffering colleague rolled her eyes, “Not good I’m afraid.” She began, ignoring the insult. “Down twenty-thousand on last year.”
His mood barely faltering, Ed swept back the mane of sun-kissed hair from his face, “Hmm, first loss since opening. Maybe I’m losing my touch.” He said it, but he didn’t believe it.
Sasha confirmed his self-confidence, “Nope, you’ve just found something else to spend your money on. I know you well enough by now.”
The beleaguered hotelier didn’t disagree. Instead he took on board her comments and came to an executive decision, “Well maybe it’s time to move on then,” he suggested. Then taking the papers she’d placed in front of him, wiped his bleary eyes to make out the small print that filled the columns of numbers. “Get a valuation will you,” he instructed, “tell them to stop taking bookings but to honour those we have taken. Then contact the PR agency and tell them I want to manage this in the usual way - no fuss. How many staff do we have there now?”
Between scribbling down notes, Sasha flipped the pages of her report to find the details, “Seventeen full-time and ... five part-time, but they’ve all been there for three years-plus.”
Edward Lennon was a shrewd businessman but he was also a fair one – the illuminated cabinet full of ‘Businessman of the Year’ and honorary charity awards contested to that. Pondering the situation took only a brief moment – doing the right thing was always the quickest and easiest decision to make, “Let’s look at a profit share. Put some numbers together for me and send them over when you get a chance, no rush. We won’t be making this final until the New Year anyway. Also, draw up a list of suitable charities we could donate it to. Give the part-timers a month for every year and the full-timers two. Can you rustle together some hampers as well? And a nice card ... sign it from me.”
“Will do.” She smiled as she scribbled down his list of requests. Despite his often-fierce temper, caustic sense of humour and a resolute disinclination to suffer fools, Ed had a genuine soft spot that always made an appearance at the perfect time.
Sasha had begun to sweat a little from the lights in the studio as she stared out at the rows of blank faces that filled the black void beyond the barricade of cameras and running staff. Noticing her mild discomfort, the well-dressed and courteous host leaned over and handed her a glass, “So was that the last time you talked business with Edward?” He asked.
Taking small sips of cool water instantly brought life and colour back to her cheeks, “No, not at all, we spoke regularly after that.” She answered. “Well, not that regularly, I mean once or twice a month he would check-in for an update. He trusted me to run things I guess.”
The TV host smiled coyly, “Tell us about the leaving party. I hear it was quite something.”
Every member of the audience sat in silence, staring blankly at the young demure woman as she composed herself in readiness to reply. She took another sip of water as she gathered her thoughts, remembering back to the evening of her boss’s farewell shindig and with a deep sigh closed her eyes and drooped her shoulders as if the task of recalling the past was a weight too heavy to bear, “It was a wild one...” she began, “but that was Edward. We started at Gaucho’s because Ed and steak? Inseparable. He paid for everyone – as always.”
“He was generous?”
Sasha nodded without hesitation as she sipped at the now half-empty tumbler, “Absolutely. To a fault. Then after the meal we went to Café de Paris; there’s usually a burlesque show on there two or three times a week, so we all walked to the club and stayed until it closed. In fact the manager stayed back with us after hours – we must have been there until around five I guess. Ed outlasted nearly everyone as usual and I eventually managed to pack him into a taxi and took him home.”
The host pressed for more over the din of giggling on-lookers, “And what about his mood? Did he seem in high spirits?” Ever since the story had broken in the press, it was all people could talk about. Why had he done what he did? Why had he taken such risks? What could his motives have been? His mental state came into question. All slurs of course. It was getting tiresome; “As content as I’d ever seen him” Sasha defended, “he was embarking on what he felt was a real adventure; A departure from everything he’d done before. Everything he was known for. For once he was doing something for himself, instead of for the bank managers and investors and shareholders that kept him up every night. He was happy. Really, he was.”