The Savoy Handshake

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

Alex loathed cheats. The business of high finance, however, was replete with them and he’d met his fair share of miscreants. He 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 Alex wasn’t certain.

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

“Let’s put it on hold,” said Alex.

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

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

The Savoy Hotel (two weeks prior)

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

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

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

He 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 Alex had come to detest.

Alex sat back in his chair, ran his fingers through his hair, bit his lower lip and, without hesitation, firmly addressed the man sitting across from him.

“I hope this matter will finally be resolved.”

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

There was nothing more to be said. Alex stood up, thanked Daniel for breakfast and left the table. He stepped out of the hotel and opened his umbrella before emerging from the covered entrance into a downpour. He 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 Alex’s ear. The German tycoon hung up the phone as soon as he recognised Alex’s voice.

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

Alex 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 Alex to meet him at the Savoy.

Earlier in the year, Alex 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, Alex 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 the former. 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 Alex to push the deal over the line and had in fact approved for the ibanker to reach out to the investor.

76 Days after the Savoy encounter

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

Alex was seated on the grass with his legs stretched wide. He was just about switch off notifications on his phone and go for a run through Hyde Park. He decided he’d talk to her afterwards. She was an investment officer in the Middle Eastern fund he occasionally advised.

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

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

Alex furrowed his brows. A run normally helped him clear his mind but the emotions his former client’s name aroused within him wouldn’t allow it. The run could wait. He dialled her.

Alex listened while she spoke. Then he hung up the phone.

The revelation took him 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, however, had some difficult times ahead of him, to say the least.

Alex switched off notifications on his phone. He did not start running right away. The news about his debtor left him pensive. It forced a loud exhale. Then a complacent smile. He looked around at the beautifully manicured lawn surrounding him.

Karma is a bitch, he murmured to himself.

He 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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