Standing in brooding silence at the windows of the elegant penthouse apartment, the tall dark man gazed at the panorama of twinkling lights fanning out across the dusky St. Louis skyline. Bitterness and resignation were evident in Ramon Galverra’s abrupt movements as he jerked the knot of his tie loose, then raised his glass of Scotch to his mouth, drinking deeply.
Behind him, a blond man strode quickly into the dimly lit living room. “Well, Ramon?” he asked eagerly. “What did they decide?”
“They decided what bankers always decide,” Ramon said harshly, without turning. “They decided to look out for themselves.”
“Those bastards!” Roger exploded. In angry frustration, he raked his hand through his blond hair, then turned and headed determinedly for the row of crystal decanters on the bar. “They sure as hell stayed with you when the money was pouring in,” he gritted as he splashed bourbon into a glass.
“They have not changed,” Ramon said grimly. “If the money was still pouring in, they would still be with me.”
Roger snapped on a lamp, then scowled at the magnificent Louis XIV furnishings, as if their presence in his spacious living room offended him. “I was so certain, so absolutely certain, that when you explained about the state of your father’s mental health before he died the bankers would stand by you. How can they blame you for his mistakes and incompetence?”
Turning from the windows, Ramon leaned a shoulder against the frame. For a moment he stared at the remaining Scotch in his glass, then he tipped it up to his mouth and drained it. “They blame me for not preventing him from making fatal mistakes, and for not recognizing the fact of his incompetence in time.”
“Not recognizing the—” Roger repeated furiously. “How were you supposed to recognize that a man who always acted like he was God Almighty, one day started believing it? And what could you have done if you’d known? The stock was in his name, not yours. Until the day he died, he held the controlling interest in the corporation. Your hands were tied.”
“Now they are empty,” Ramon replied with a shrug of broad, muscled shoulders on his six-foot-three-inch frame.
“Look,” Roger said in desperation. “I haven’t brought this up before because I knew your pride would be offended, but I’m a long way from being poor, you know that. How much do you need? If I don’t have it all, maybe I can raise the rest.”
For the first time, a glint of humor touched Ramon Galverra’s finely sculpted mouth and arrogant dark eyes. The transformation was startling, softening the features of a face that lately looked as if it had been cast in bronze by an artist intent on portraying cold, ruthless determination and ancient Spanish nobility. “Fifty million would help. Seventy-five million would be better.”
“Fifty million?” Roger said blankly, staring at the man he had known since they were both students at Harvard University. “Fifty million dollars would only help?”
“Right. It would only help.” Slamming his glass down on the marble table beside him, Ramon turned and started toward the guest room he had been occupying since his arrival in St. Louis a week before.
“Ramon,” Roger said urgently, “you have to see Sid Green while you’re here. He could raise that kind of money if he wanted to, and he owes you.”
Ramon’s head jerked around. His aristocratic Spanish face hardened with contempt. “If Sid wanted to help, he would have contacted me. He knows I am here and he knows I am in trouble.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know. Until now, you’ve managed to keep it quiet that the corporation is going under. Maybe he doesn’t know.”
“He knows. He is on the board of directors of the bank that is refusing to extend our loan.”
“No! If Sid was willing to help, he would have contacted me. His silence speaks for itself, and I will not beg him. I have called a meeting of my corporation’s auditors and attorneys in Puerto Rico for ten days from now. At that meeting I will instruct them to file bankruptcy.” Turning on his heel, Ramon strode from the room, his long purposeful strides eloquent of restless anger.
When he returned, his thick black hair was slightly damp from a shower, and he was wearing Levi’s. Roger turned and watched in silence as Ramon folded the cuffs of his white shirt up on his forearms. “Ramon,” he said with pleading determination, “stay another week in St. Louis. Maybe Sid will contact you if you give him more time. I tell you, I don’t think he knows you’re here. I don’t even know if he’s in town.”
“He is in town, and I am leaving for Puerto Rico in two days, exactly as I planned.”
Roger heaved a long, defeated sigh. “What the hell are you going to do in Puerto Rico?”
“First, I am going to attend to the corporation’s bankruptcy, and then I am going to do what my grandfather did, and his father before him,” Ramon replied tautly. “I am going to farm.”
“You’re out of your mind!” Roger burst out. “Farm that little patch of ground with that hut on it where you and I took those two girls from . . . ?”
“That little patch of ground,” Ramon interrupted with quiet dignity, “is all I have left. Along with the cottage on it where I was born.”
“What about the house near San Juan, or the villa in Spain, or the island in the Mediterranean? Sell one of your houses or the island; that would keep you in luxury for as long as you live.”
“They are gone. I put them up as collateral to raise money for the corporation that it cannot repay. The banks who loaned the money will be swarming over everything like vultures before the year is out.”
“Dammit!” Roger said helplessly. “If your father weren’t already dead, I’d kill him with my own two hands.”
“The stockholders would have already beaten you to it.” Ramon smiled without humor.
“How can you just stand there and talk as if you don’t even care?”
“I have accepted defeat,” Ramon said calmly. “I have done everything that can be done. I will not mind working my land beside the people who have worked it for my family for centuries.”
Turning to hide his sympathy from the man Roger knew would reject it and despise him for it, he said, “Ramon, is there anything I can do?”
“Name it,” Roger said, looking hopefully over his shoulder. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
“Will you loan me your car? I would like to go for a drive alone.”
Grimacing at such a paltry request, Roger dug in his pocket, then tossed his keys to his friend. “There’s a problem in the fuel line and the filter keeps clogging, but the local Mercedes dealer can’t take it in for another week. With your luck the thing will probably quit in the middle of the street tonight.”
Ramon shrugged, his face wiped clean of emotion. “If the car stops, I will walk. The exercise will help me get into condition for farming.”
“You don’t have to farm that place and you know it! In the international business community you’re famous.”
A muscle clenched in Ramon’s jaw as he made an obvious effort to control his bitter anger. “In the international business community, I have been party to a sin no one will forgive or forget—failure. I am about to become its
most notorious failure. Would you have me beg my friends for a position on that recommendation? Shall I go to your factory tomorrow and apply for a job on your assembly line?”
“No, of course not! But you could think of something. I’ve seen you build a financial empire in a few short years. If you could build it, you could find a way to save a piece of it for yourself. I don’t think you give a damn anymore! I—”
“I cannot work miracles,” Ramon cut in flatly. “And that is what it would take. The Lear is in a hangar at the airport waiting for a minor part for one of the engines. When the jet mechanics have finished with it, and my pilot returns Sunday night from his weekend off, I will be flying to Puerto Rico.” Roger opened his mouth to protest, but Ramon silenced him with an impatient look. “There is dignity in farming. More dignity, I think, than in dealing with bankers. While my father was alive, I knew no peace. Since he died, I have known no peace. Let me find it in my own way.”