It was time to talk to Errol Daventry again. The i2 investigation into his involvement in the regional corruption was complete. It had found no wrongdoing on his part and he was cleared of any complicity in the corruption. Moreover, his actions at DöhmCorp had not contravened any federal laws.
Since the IG had no reason to further detain him, Errol was released. An important question remained, however: should I take legal action over the deception? If the answer was no, there was a further concern: should I allow Errol Daventry to return to his position as company secretary? Pending my decision he was placed on leave.
To satisfy myself that his leadership at DöhmCorp had not affected the company adversely, I commissioned an independent appraisal of the company’s performance over the previous ten years. I made available to the review team the projections my parents had prepared, spoke to Riccardo to ensure that the company would cooperate in every way, and left them to it. The report confirmed my gut feeling that all was well. Performance did not match the projections in some areas, but the report pointed out that adjustments to expectations have to be made as circumstances demand, and that it is rare for projections to be accurate in all respects. The conclusion was that the company had been managed well and that it had performed better than its competitors.
I needed to talk with my advisers, and I also wanted to find out what the Döhm executives thought.
I paid a visit to Riccardo first. “How would you feel about Errol Daventry’s return?”
“I would welcome that, as would the other executives.”
“The i2 investigation found that Errol was not involved in any way in the corruption.”
“That is great news. None of us could believe that Errol would have done anything illegal.”
“There is one thing I need to ask you,” I said. “You’re already aware that Errol passed Yoso off as me to keep DöhmCorp operating when it should have been wound up. I want to know how you and the other executives feel about that.”
Riccardo sighed. “I think I speak for all of us. On one hand we’re disappointed that he did that and kept it from us. On the other hand, we are grateful that he did. I have never subscribed to the idea that the end justifies the means, but in this case I almost think it did.”
I chuckled. “I can understand that, because I feel the same. Had he not done what he did I would still be in the orphanage with a not-very-bright future, but I keep coming back to the fact that it all worked out. It seems wrong, and it seems weird, yet it also seems right. Somehow.”
“Perhaps it would help to think of his actions as a particular response to a unique situation,” Riccardo said.
“Hmm, you have a point. That might be a good way to look at it.”
My conversations with the other executives were very similar. They were all saddened that Errol had deceived them, but they all believed he had acted in good faith. Each one felt that the outcome had been good, and each would be happy for Errol to be reinstated. Moreover, none of them could see much point in my taking legal action over actions that had effectively turned out to be correct.
Satisfied that I had the executives’ thoughts straight in my mind, I met with my advisers, including the emperor, to discuss the pros and cons of taking legal action against the secretary. My own belief, reinforced by my talks with Riccardo and the others, was that doing so would not achieve anything. I listed the facts as I saw them, and presented the list to the meeting:
I ran through my impressions of the discussions I’d had with the Döhm executives, and explained my conclusions. “I think I’m going to have to give Errol the benefit of the doubt,” I said. “He did the wrong thing, but with the right motives, and the result has been good. The other senior execs would be happy for him to return to his job, and that seems to me to be the best solution.”
Much to my surprise my advisers agreed with my assessment. I had expected discussion, but there was little. There were questions, but they were more to ensure that I had covered every angle than to cast doubt on my reasoning. They endorsed my decisions: that I would forego legal action, and that I would offer Errol his job back.
“That settles that, then,” I said. “I’ll see what he would like to do.”
* * *
I visited the secretary at his home. He looked much better than when I first met him.
“Have you been well?”
“Oh, yes, thank you,” he said, then added, with a wry smile, “I’ve been a bit bored, though. Sitting around at home is relaxing, but I’m so used to being at work I’ve struggled to find things to keep me occupied. My wife is getting sick of me.”
I smiled. “I might be able to do something about that. Would you like your job back?”
His mouth dropped open. “Are you serious? After all I did?”
“Mr Daventry, the imperial guard investigation was thorough. It found nothing to indicate even a hint of criminal behaviour on your part, so, as far as the federation is concerned, you have no case to answer. You did violate the DöhmCorp succession protocol, but I think you acted in good faith because you believed my parents were still alive and you wanted to do the right thing for DöhmCorp and my family. The whole situation is bizarre, but I have to look at what you achieved. You kept the company intact and it is in excellent shape. I requested an independent review of DöhmCorp’s performance over the past ten years. I doubt that my parents could have achieved more, and I certainly could not have. I have discussed the whole situation with my advisory board and with Riccardo and the other executives. The board and I made two decisions: that I would not take legal action against you, and that I would invite you to return to your job. The executives want you back. So do I.”
Errol exhaled. “Thank you, Lucien. You’re very gracious, and I am very grateful. When do you want me to start?”
“I think you should take some time off to have a holiday. Go somewhere with your wife and do some sightseeing.” I smiled. “There is one other thing. I understand you haven’t seen Yoso since you were released?”
He shook his head. “No, I thought that in the circumstances it would be best that way. I decided to wait until you had, uh… decided what to do about my actions.”
“Yoso misses you. Perhaps you could take him away with you.”
The man’s face lit up. “How is he doing?”
“He’s good. I went to visit him and I was so impressed with his music and paintings that I told him I would pay his tuition and living costs. At that stage I didn’t know what would become of you, and I didn’t want him to have to worry about that stuff. He was worried enough about you.”
“Yes, he’s a sensitive kid, but I think that’s what makes him so creative.”
“Oh, speaking of creative, the emperor has asked him to give an informal private recital in the palace. We think it would help Yoso if you could be there. You have always supported him and he thrives on your approval. It is tomorrow evening. Will you and your wife come?”
“Oh, my. The palace? He’ll be scared stiff!”
I laughed. “Yes, he is, but he will be among friends. He’s met Crown Prince Darm and they get along well, and Arden and Rebecca will be there as well. And Yoso’s music tutor. The only people he won’t know are the emperor and empress, but I’m sure they will win him over.”
Yoso looked petrified when he arrived at the palace with Arden and Rebecca. He even had a satchel of sheet music which, having heard him play by ear, I was sure he didn’t need. He brightened a little when his tutor appeared a few moments later.
Darm and I took them all to the private dining room, where the emperor and empress were waiting. Arden and Rebecca were formal but relaxed, and joined in the conversation over refreshments. Yoso was still on edge, despite Darm’s and my—and his tutor’s—efforts to get him to relax, until the emperor spilt some whipped cream on his shirt when it shot out of a cream puff he bit into. Darm, Julia and I burst out laughing. It wasn’t much, but it served to show that the emperor was just as human as the hypothetical man in the street, and everyone relaxed a little.
Yoso beamed with delight when the door opened and “Mr and Mrs Daventry” were announced. Errol and Yoso hugged and both had tears in their eyes when they parted. The reunion was just what Yoso needed, and he was relaxed and in good spirits by the time we all moved to the salon where the grand piano was located.
The audience settled into comfortable chairs arrayed around the piano. Yoso sat, took a deep breath, and began to play. He was only a few bars into the first piece when the door opened and a distinguished looking gentleman, the director of the Imperial College of Arts, was shown to a vacant seat where he couldn’t be seen from the piano. He had arrived earlier and dined with the family, then waited in another room until the recital began, because Darm and I thought Yoso would fall to pieces if he knew the director was present.
Yoso’s tutor had helped him decide which pieces to play, and in which order, and they had chosen well. He began a little tentatively, but soon lost himself in the music. By the third piece he had his audience enthralled, and the applause became more enthusiastic as he made his way through his repertoire. There was laughter when he played the upside-down version of Chopsticks. He ended with one of his own compositions—the piece he had played in his studio for Darm and me. As that final, high note died away, the emperor and empress stood, crying, “Bravo! Bravo!” That meant the rest of us had to stand as well, including the ICA director, who joined in the applause with enthusiasm, and with a huge smile on his face.
Yes! I thought. He liked it! Darm must have noticed, too, because he looked at me with a knowing grin.
Poor Yoso looked a bit stunned, so Darm and I rushed over to him, pulled him off his stool, and wrapped him in a three-way hug. “That was epic!” Darm cried.
The empress laughed at us, then gave our friend a hug of her own. “Yoso, that was magnificent!” she exclaimed, “and your own compositions… all I can say is, WOW! They were simply superb. The final piece was especially moving.” She gave him a warm smile. “Well done!”
Errol was next to congratulate his young ward, and his wife, whose name was Daisy, added her approval. Arden and Rebecca both hugged him and offered their congratulations.
Yoso was beaming, but still managed to look embarrassed at all the praise.
The emperor and the director had stepped aside, chatting quietly with Yoso’s tutor, but now they approached the piano, where the rest of us were still gathered.
“Yoso,” the emperor said, “that was an amazing performance, the best I’ve heard for a long time.” He looked at Darm. “My son, and this character…” he gave me a gentle punch on the shoulder, “insisted that we invite you here, and they would not take no for an answer. I’m very pleased that we listened to them.”
Darm and I high-fived.
Yoso gave a little bow. “Th-thank you, sir.”
The director stepped forward, holding his hand out. “Yoso, that was the finest performance by a young musician that I have heard for many years.”
Yoso looked a little puzzled, probably wondering who the stranger was and why he was there.
The emperor stepped in. “Yoso, this is Professor Jacob Brunel, director of the Imperial College of Arts.”
I had been wondering how Yoso would react when he met the director. He surprised me by simply shaking the man’s hand. “Thank you, sir. Um… I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
The director smiled at Yoso. “I did. I enjoyed it very much. Your interpretation of the classical pieces was exemplary. But it was your own compositions that really impressed me.” He smiled again. “I am told that you paint, too?”
Yoso nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I would very much like to see some of your work.”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Professor Brunel,” I said, “but I can help you there. Yoso has just finished a portrait of me. It arrived yesterday. If you like I can show it to you.”
“I would be grateful if you would, Echo.”
Darm grabbed Yoso and together we took the director to my study. The emperor, Yoso’s tutor, and the Daventrys followed us. I had hung the portrait behind my desk. A single spot bathed it in a warm light, and anyone stepping into the room couldn’t help but notice it.
I opened the door and ushered the director into the room.
“Oh, my word!” he said, slowly making his way over to the painting. More to himself than to the rest of us he said, “Superb! Delightful.” He seemed to be transported to another place as he spent several minutes examining Yoso’s work.
“You have more completed paintings?” he asked, turning to Yoso.
I chuckled. “He has a studio full. There are other portraits and a lot of landscapes.”
“Sir,” Darm said, “If you will step across to my study, I also have a portrait by Yoso.”
Again the director was rapt and for several minutes seemed to zone out.
Eventually he turned to the artist. “Yoso,” he began. “You have exceptional abilities. Your recital was truly wonderful. You are a gifted pianist, but I am amazed at the intricacy and depth of the original compositions you played for us tonight. Judging from these two portraits you are also a very talented artist. I would very much like to see and hear more of your work, but based on what I have seen today I believe you should take your training in both your music and your painting to a higher level.” He waved a hand towards the portrait of Darm. “This portrait and the one of Echo would be right at home in the most prestigious art collections. If they were on sale in a commercial gallery each would have a price tag of around ten thousand credits.”
There was a collective sharp intake of breath, then a thud as Yoso fainted.
A few minutes later, Yoso was sitting in one of Darm’s easy chairs, sipping a glass of water. The director was apologising profusely for inadvertently causing him to pass out. “I didn’t mean to give you such a shock,” he said, “but you really are very, very good.
“I was going to tell you more,” he said, “but I don’t want to cause you to faint again.”
The emperor chuckled. “I think Yoso is getting used to the idea that he is talented. He just didn’t realise how talented.”
Yoso nodded. “I had no idea… um, well… people told me my stuff was good, but I thought they were just trying to make me feel better about myself.” He looked up at the director. “Were you serious? Are my paintings really worth that much?”
“I am certain they are. They are exceedingly good.” He thought for a moment. “Now, have you given any thought to where you would like to do further study?”
“Not really. Uh… I just didn’t think it would ever happen.”
“Well, you need a school where your prodigious talents will be allowed to shine. Where you will be stretched and nurtured at the same time. Where the teachers are capable of challenging you. I must admit to a little bias here, but the only school I can see fitting the bill is the Imperial College of Arts.”
Yoso’s jaw dropped. “B-but… that’s the best school in the federation. They would never accept me.”
“Oh, I think they would be very happy to do so.”
A few days after the recital Errol and Daisy Daventry and Yoso left on a month-long tour of museums and art galleries in various regions of the federation. They also attended several orchestral concerts.
Yoso was so thrilled he called or sent messages almost every day to tell me what they were doing. “It’s like we’re a real family on holiday!” he said, animatedly, during one of his calls. He even sent me old-fashioned postcards from every city they visited. I didn’t realise until Yoso told me a few days into the holiday that the Daventrys did not have children of their own, so I imagine the trip was a new experience for them, too.
While they were away I did some thinking. There were two important issues that I needed to deal with.
The first was that I needed to make arrangements for Yoso’s support and accommodation. I expected that would be easy, since I could most likely simply extend the arrangements that the secretary already had in place.
I anticipated that the second issue would be more complicated. My parents, believing that DöhmCorp had a moral responsibility for the social problems caused by the company’s actions, had wanted to try and right the wrong. They had disappeared before they could act, however, and I had no idea what they had intended to do. The IG investigation had turned up tantalising hints about their thinking but there was nothing concrete.
When Errol returned to work I went to see him.
He cut me off. “Lucien, for all intents and purposes you’re my boss. I think, in the circumstances, you should call me Errol.”
“Okay, thank you… but… would you please call me Echo? I may be Lucien, but Echo is the only name I’ve known for ten years.” I paused, choosing my next words. “In fact, um, I have given this some thought. I could never forget who I really am. That would be well-nigh impossible, because I own the company. It would be easy to forget who I have been for the last ten years, though, and I don’t want to do that. My parents created Echo and I want to remember that, so I think I would like to be known as Echo except when I absolutely have to be Lucien. Most people are calling me Echo, anyway.”
The secretary looked surprised at first, then he gave me a wide smile. “What a fitting way to remember your parents! Certainly, Echo. We’ll reserve Lucien for official or formal occasions.”
I grinned. “Yes, that would work. Thank you.”
I reminded him of my promise to Yoso that I would cover his living expenses and the costs of his tutoring. “And now that he’s likely to be attending the College of Arts, I want to pay for that.”
Errol chuckled. “Yoso lost no time in telling me himself. He was over the Moon!”
I laughed. “I think he had visions of being thrown out on the street when I turned up out of the blue, but I could never have done that to him. Apart from that, his talent needs to be encouraged. If I hadn’t stepped up, though, Darm tells me his parents would have. They sponsor young, talented people through a foundation they finance personally.” I paused. “So, how do we do it?”
“Since you’re on board with this,” Errol said, “you can simply instruct DöhmCorp to meet the costs involved in Yoso’s education, and we’ll set up a fund to take care of it. As for his accommodation, well, the house where he’s living is yours. The company has been meeting the costs, and it also paid for the alterations to the house when I had Yoso’s studio built. You can allow him to stay there, or make other arrangements if you want to, er…” He trailed off.
“If I want to live there?”
“I think it would be best if Yoso stayed. He’s settled there, and he needs his studio. I have only vague memories of the house and what it was like to live there, so I don’t feel like I need to move back in. Besides, I think I’ve been ‘adopted’ by the emperor and empress.” I chuckled. “Darm, at least, would be disappointed if I left the palace. I think he was pretty lonely before I showed up.”
Errol accepted my proposal and I asked him to work out the details and put it into practice.
“Uh, there’s another matter I need to sort out, and I’d be grateful if you could help me.”
“Certainly, Echo. Is it related to DöhmCorp, or something personal?”
I shrugged. “It’s both, really, and I don’t know where to start.” I hesitated. Errol sat patiently, evidently understanding that I was gathering my thoughts.
“The IG investigation into the corruption uncovered clues that my parents were concerned about the social problems caused by the unemployment that was a direct result of DöhmCorp takeovers. It seems they wanted to act in some way to help people who were suffering, but there isn’t any indication as to how they intended to do that. Did they ever discuss this with you, Errol?”
The secretary thought for a few moments. “They did, but only in general terms. I know they felt that Agen, in his rush to expand, glossed over the human consequences of the closures. The only fact I can be sure of is that they wanted to help the people concerned, but I don’t know how. I don’t think they had progressed that far.”
I nodded. “I see. Do you reckon they would have kept notes or something? Where would I find those if they had?”
“Well, they both always carried personal computing devices and used them to record anything they wanted to remember, so, if there were any notes your mum and dad most likely took them on the trip that day.”
I groaned. “Bummer. I was hoping they might have left written records. I really want to honour their wishes, but I can’t if I don’t know what they wanted.” I threw my hands up in frustration.
“Echo, I’m impressed that you want to do this, and your parents would definitely approve.” He stopped to think. “But, you know, you don’t necessarily need to know what they intended. You can forge your own path through this.”
Errol chuckled. “Come on, you’re more savvy than that, Echo. Think sideways for a moment.”
I tried to get my head around what he had said. Suddenly a light went on in my brain. “Oh, you mean I can decide what I think should be done?”
“Exactly. You have all the resources of Döhm at your disposal. You already have some idea of the situation. Why don’t you do some research? Find out the extent of the problems. See what people on the ground—the peacekeepers, for example—think would help. Talk to your advisory board and get their input. And, finally, come back to us at DöhmCorp with a proposal. If it looks good we’ll help you to implement it.”
My head was spinning. In several short sentences Errol had set out a plan of action.
Over the next few weeks I did as Errol had suggested. With introductions from people at the palace and at DöhmCorp, and wearing my Lucien hat, I met with officials from the peacekeeper force as well as civic and business leaders. I informed each person that DöhmCorp wished to address the social problems it had caused, and then asked for their thoughts on how we could best achieve that. I managed to convince all of them that our discussions were private and confidential and that any publicity would cause me to take action against them. As far as I was aware, none of them knew that I was also talking to the others. I picked their collective brains and discussed their input with my board. I talked to Errol and the other executives to get a feel for the type of project they would approve. Darm and I spent hours with the emperor and empress, tossing ideas around. I felt guilty that I was encroaching on their limited family time, but all three were enthusiastic in their support.
Slowly, a strategy began to crystallise. We would tackle the scallies packs. They stood out as a priority in a lot of the conversations I had with the leaders. Everyone said the scallies had not existed before the Döhm-initiated redundancies had created the conditions that led to their emergence. It was possible that those people simply wanted to blame DöhmCorp and that they saw an opportunity to have someone else solve their problem, but the scallies were a constant theme in those meetings and, since none of the people I spoke with knew that I was also talking to the others, I was inclined to believe that they really did see addressing the scallies as the biggest priority.
The peacekeeper commissioner put it succinctly. “Our youth are our future. The scallies, their petty crimes notwithstanding, are organised and effective. For the most part they have good leaders. If we can change their circumstances so that they live productive lives and contribute to the community—rather than putting all their efforts into merely surviving—then we’ll have achieved something really worthwhile. And you, Lucien, are another side to that same coin. If we had more young executives like you the corporate world would receive much more respect from society.”
I felt myself blushing, but the commissioner’s words gave me a nice warm glow.
Wherever I went, one name kept popping up: Kashuba. He was head of a scallies pack known as Breaker. He was known to be a good leader who kept a tight rein on his group, and they rarely came to the attention of the authorities. No one knew where they lived, but it was thought to be close to the inner city. Other scallies leaders respected Kashuba and looked up to him.
I decided that Kashuba and Breaker were probably the best place to begin. With the approval of all concerned I moved ahead.
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