The Savoy Handshake

It was a rainy London afternoon. I placed the official letter on the mahogany table between myself and Norman and sat back in my chair. I wasn’t in the mood to read its contents, let alone to comment on the changes my lawyer had made to increase the severity of the notice. I had far too much on my mind than to preoccupy myself with the despicable actions of a conniving crook. Someone I once thought could potentially become a proper client.

I loathed cheats. The business of high finance, however, was replete with them and I’d met my fair share of miscreants.

I momentarily focused on a framed picture on Norman’s desk. A black and white family photo. Norman, his wife and three daughters smiling into the camera. The background suggested Oman but I wasn’t certain.

“What’s going on?” said Norman. “Don’t you want to read it?”

“Let’s put it on hold,” I said.

Norman looked at me with surprise but didn’t put up a struggle. He saw the expression of sheer exhaustion in my weary eyes.

“That’s fine. You’ve got plenty of time to sue the bastard.”

The Savoy Hotel (two weeks prior)

I knew that £200,000 was the best I could get – below the £350,000 I was owed. I thought about it again and accepted the loss. The alternative was taking Daniel to court and that’s not a path I was eager to take, even though I had threateningly voiced the possibility. Were the sum a little higher, perhaps. But I had too much going on at the time and a law suit brought with it far too much negative energy.

I extended my arm out. The coffee marks near the bottom of the porcelain cup next to me looked sinister and the remaining drops of white coffee curdled into ugly clouds that, to my gaze and with the natural light that pierced through the glass dome in the Savoy Hotel foyer, foreshadowed trouble. Yet I chose to be optimistic. My belief in a favourable outcome, perhaps a bit naive, subdued all negative thoughts.

Our hands met over the table right above a half-eaten plate of scrambled eggs and avocado on brown toast. Understandably, I had little appetite that morning.

I accepted Daniel’s unsteady handshake as guarantee, even though the tenuous grip said otherwise and the perfunctory smile on his face disappeared just as quickly as it formed below the pencil moustache I had come to detest.

I sat back in my chair, ran my fingers through my hair, bit my lower lip and, without hesitation, firmly addressed the man sitting across the table.

“I hope this matter will finally be resolved.”

“Of course,” said Daniel blankly. “We shook on it.”

There was nothing more to be said. I stood up, thanked Daniel for breakfast and left the table. I stepped out of the hotel and opened my umbrella before emerging from the covered entrance into a downpour. I walked onto the Strand and then in the direction of Covent Garden.

Daniel had no intention of paying.

Two months earlier

The sound of the dead phone line rang loud in my ear. The German tycoon hung up the phone as soon as he recognised my voice.

This was the seventh, maybe eight, time it happened. The only way I could get hold of Daniel anymore was by calling from an unknown number. The latter never answered the phone if he knew it was me calling. Because he owed me money and didn’t want to pay.

I dialled Daniel once more and got his voicemail.

“Daniel, we have a legal contract in place. I’ve raised you money and you are obligated to pay me. If we go to court you’ll end up paying more money. I’m ready to settle this once and for all.”

Further calls and e-mails went unanswered, until one day Daniel asked me to meet him at the Savoy.

Earlier in the year, I had raised millions of dollars in short term debt for Daniel’s firm from a large Middle Eastern investor and the very moment the capital landed in Daniel’s hands he was never to be heard from again. Four days after the deal was concluded, I bumped into him by chance on Mayfair’s Mount Street and confronted him about his success fee. The latter went so far as to claim he already knew the investor and therefore would not pay. It was a very poor excuse and a drastic change in tone and behaviour displayed by the man who, in the months and weeks leading up to the deal, practically begged me to push the deal over the line and had in fact approved for me to reach out to the investor in the first place.

76 Days after the Savoy encounter

“Can you talk?” read the text message from Amanda.

I was seated on the grass with my legs stretched wide, about to switch off notifications on my phone in order to go for a run through Hyde Park. I’ll talk to her afterwards. She was an investment officer in the Middle Eastern fund I occasionally advised and who’d lent to Daniel.

I texted: “Going for a run. Will call you after.”

“Sounds good,” Amanda texted back. “It’s about Daniel.”

I furrowed my brows. A run normally helped me clear my mind but the emotions my former client’s name aroused in me wouldn’t allow it. The run could wait. I immediately called her.

I listened attentively while she spoke. Then I hung up the phone.

The revelation took me by complete surprise. Not only did Daniel face criminal investigations for wrongdoings but he was on the verge of losing his business empire. Luckily, the investor had already been paid back.

Daniel had some difficult times ahead of him, to say the least.

I switched off notifications on his phone and did not start running right away. The news about my debtor left me pensive. It forced a loud exhale. Next, a complacent smile emerged. I looked around at the beautifully manicured lawn that surrounded me.

Karma is a bitch, I murmured to myself.

I took off running.

Moral of the story

This short story was in fact based on a painful experience which taught me two very important lessons:

  1. Work with people you trust: life is too short to work with assholes. Find a partner or client who shares the same values as you and keep them. It’s not always easy to find such people but when you do it’s the best thing in the world
  2. When bad things happen you must sometimes learn to let go: if you allow a negative situation to take over your entire being it can ruin you. It will consume your every thought and affect your personal life. It will even affect your relationship with family and friends. Sometimes you gotta accept whatever has happened, take it as a learning lesson and move on.

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