When he had first arrived in the firm someone called him Titch and the name had stuck. He was a short, slight, man, very quiet but with a keen sense of humour and a total devotion to his job. He was fifty and had been with the firm twenty years. Nobody knew much about his background, or his home life, or his interests outside work, except that he lived with his wife and son in cramped, rented rooms for years until his promotion and a house of his own in the suburbs. From the very first his immediate boss discovered he had a razor-sharp mind, and when the boss retired it was only natural that Titch was appointed to succeed him. After another ten years he was elected to a seat on the Board of Directors. His quiet presence exerted its influence and he attained a measure of control over general policy, though he remained unobtrusive and never spoke of his personal affairs. Titch spoke perfect English but with a still perceptible trace of the accent from his native country from which he had arrived twenty years earlier.
A new chapter opened for the firm. There was a takeover battle, a boardroom shake-up and a Managing Director from the predator firm was placed in overall charge. He brought new colleagues and new ideas with him into the boardroom. The new Managing Director was Douglas, an extremely ambitious, relentless and ruthless thirty-five year old. His rise so far had been meteoric and he was convinced that his trajectory would be unstoppable. He had made up his mind to streamline the firm and go all out for the big contracts, the bold contracts, competing in international markets overseas. To do this, he thought, he had to root out the dead wood in the firm, from top to bottom.
The reverberations of the new appointment were felt in the boardroom and it wasn’t long before he found himself dealing increasingly with Titch. And there was the rub. Titch would co-operate, would suggest brilliant ideas, but he retained his reserve. His attitude, his general bearing seemed to convey to Douglas that he needed no directions on how to do his job. He frankly infuriated Douglas and soon the clash of personalities resulted in real animosity on Douglas’s part. He felt that Titch was holding him back and considered his business practices outdated. He decided very early on that Titch would have to go, but apart from some minor differences of opinion, he had no grounds for getting rid of him, and decided to bide his time.
When he announced his new idea to Titch he realised immediately that this could be the chance he’d been waiting for. Douglas had made up his mind beforehand that the firm should tender for a valuable contract in a certain foreign country. He told Titch so, and told him also that he would have to handle it. Titch listened in silence, but was momentarily shaken out of his studied calm when he heard the whole proposition.
‘But the country – it’s a cruel dictatorship. It has been like that for twenty two years.’
‘We’re not concerned about the politics of it,’ Douglas snapped. ‘We’re in business. What we really need is a bit of pull, some influence with the guys at the top.’
‘You’re going to do business with a gang of thugs like that? With a country that’s known for murdering and torturing dissidents?’ Titch was trembling visibly.
‘They’re efficient and they’re there. Certainly we’re going to do business with them. If we’re lucky. It’ll be the biggest breakthrough, the biggest money-spinner, in the firm’s history.’
‘It will be the blackest day in the firm’s history,’ Titch said intensely. ‘Other firms still have scruples and standards. They won’t be tendering.’
‘I’m glad you mentioned that,’ Douglas said. ‘It seems you have less than complete single mindedness where this firm is concerned.’
‘I’ve always done my best for the firm, and you know it,’ Titch said. ‘But this is a matter of principle.’
‘It certainly is,’ Douglas said. He had a spasm of pure unalloyed joy at having at last got a lever on Titch. ‘We’re in this to win it and if we don’t get that contract the board will hold you personally responsible. And as far as I’m concerned that means the red card.’
‘You wouldn’t.’ Titch was pale.
‘I’m afraid I would,’ Douglas said, ‘and the board will back me. I’ll see to that.’
‘So I have three weeks,’ Titch said. ‘Is that what you mean?’
‘Precisely,’ Douglas said.
The days crawled by for both of them. Titch was occasionally abstracted but went through the day’s work methodically. Douglas could hardly conceal his triumph. Either way he had Titch where he wanted him. If they won the contract it was in spite of Titch’s consistent objections, and Titch’s influence in the boardroom was at an end. If they didn’t get the contract, Titch was out.
After two weeks, Titch said to Douglas, ‘can I have a word with you?’
‘Yes?’ Douglas said.
‘The tender is in.’
‘Well we’ll just have to play the waiting game now, won’t we?’ Douglas said.
Five days later the country in question was suddenly projected into the world’s consciousness with screaming headlines in all the papers. They announced Revolution. Government overthrown. Democracy to be established. New regime firmly in control. All political prisoners released from gaol. Titch didn’t come into the office that day.
The following day he said to Douglas, ‘ the firm’s tender has been turned down.’
Douglas said, ‘how very unfortunate for you.’
‘Not really,’ Titch said, more quietly than ever. ‘You see, for the past twenty years I’ve been a member of the opposition government in exile. I have been appointed my country’s next Foreign Minister. And I turned it down myself.’
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, place and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. The right of Serena Fairfax to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, digital, cyber, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.