“A lot of my business stems from the impression the client receives from others. It’s a good investment to have hotel staff on your side.”
“You’d have a logical reason for which side of the bed you rose from.” She was laughing, Tony gone from her mind. She hugged Richard’s arm, thanking him for the miracle as the lift door opened at the first level and Gloria stepped in.
“He’s new,” she said. The senior partner’s PA, Gloria was impossibly glamorous, intelligent, efficient and armed with a razor tongue.
“Richard, this is Gloria James.” Heather chose the order of introduction deliberately. She didn’t like Gloria. Office rumor had her as the bearer of tales.
Richard seemed oblivious of the atmosphere, exerting himself to charm their companion as the lift continued its journey. By the time they exited, Gloria had claimed his other arm and was talking animatedly as they walked down the passage to the Drawing Room venue. Once inside, she stayed with them for an unconscionable time and left only when Charles Stuart, the senior partner, beckoned.
“You’ve made a conquest there.” Heather didn’t like the way her voice sounded.
“I would think her a very useful ally.” Richard’s response was mild. “She feels her position quite acutely.”
She’d never seen this side of Richard. He’d graduated with honors and followed the bigger money to Malaysia, working as an expatriate for Petronas, the state-run oil company, for five years before forming his own company in association with a Malay national at its head to get around the affirmative economic policy for ethnic Malays. He was successful, for Abigail’s home was fully owned and Heather’s studies had incurred no debts, government or otherwise, yet Heather had never really considered how he’d achieved it until now.
She was learning.
He had the knack of listening. Seldom asking a direct question, he could prompt his companion of the moment into speaking of their interests and opinions, inserting just enough of his own to make them feel comfortable in continuing. People joined their group easily and left reluctantly, few analyzing why.
Charles Stuart did. Gloria brought him over and he stayed until the clients arrived and his duties took him away. He claimed Heather’s attention for a private word before he left. “That’s a very interesting man, Heather,” he said. “You could learn a great deal from him.”
She felt a little guilty skirting around the fact of their relationship, speaking only of his recent return from Malaysia. If Richard noticed, he did nothing to compromise her position, which made her feel worse. Not enough to change, but more conscious of the anomaly. She was proud of her brother, but didn’t want to explain why he was there rather than Tony—or so she justified her lack of candor.
“Richard.” It was Gloria again. “Some of our clients would like to meet you. They would value you opinions on lace Malaysia, post Doctor Mahathir.”
Heather found herself drawn into the upper echelons of the firm on Richard’s coat tails, welcomed into the group of senior partners and clients because she came with him. Not required to contribute much in the beginning, she could watch him unimpeded as he guided the conversation through the complexities of the Malaysian political system, the unusual affirmative policy affecting ethnic Malays considered Bumiputera and its effect on doing business there, somehow drawing contributions from everyone. When he deliberately involved her, saying “Heather would know much more about this than me,” she found her opinions listened to with interest.
The appointed time for mutually congratulatory speeches broke up the group and Heather was involved in the exchange of business cards, though she suspected hers were sought more as an immediate pipeline to Richard than for any perceived personal value. One guest, a man with a scarred face disturbingly familiar, probably a friend of the client’s, drew Richard aside and spoke privately for a minute before letting him return to her side.
Richard answered her inquiring look with a shrug and the first of the speeches prevented further discussion.
A near sleepless night began to catch up with Heather afterwards and she found herself stifling yawns.
“The day’s beginning to catch up with me,” Richard grasped a moment of privacy to speak quietly. “Would you mind if we made our goodbyes and left?”
She nodded gratefully. “I know what you mean. I’m a willing Cinderella and midnight is fast approaching.”
Their departure attracted nods from the principal guests and hosts alike, their expressions of regret more than just polite.
“I’m serious about that lunch,” Charles Stuart said. “Gloria will arrange it through Heather.” Richard had explained his movements would be a little erratic over the coming week and Heather was his best point of contact until he replaced his cell phone. His Malaysian one was having trouble connecting to the local networks.
“Thank you. I’ll look forward to it.”
Then they were out the door and walking together towards the lift.
“I’ve spoken to people tonight who would pass me in the office without a word,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how they react on Monday.”
“Meeting people takes time. If you’re busy, it’s easier to shut them out.”