Roger never makes an appearance in this, but it certainly concerns him, and would have been impossible without him. I'm certain if it were not for him, I never would have met Sally Westfield, and what I'm about to tell you would never have happened.
I have to warn you, however. It's a bit personal. I'm not going to tell you everything, but enough. If you're not at all interested in my personal life, you won't miss much if you skip this one.
I arrived at the Regal Arms at six, as promised. When I pulled up in front of the hotel, one of the doormen informed me my car would be parked for me.
"I'm just going to pick up Miss Westfield and will be leaving immediately," I explained.
"I'm sorry sir, you cannot leave your car parked here. I'll have the valet park it for you."
"Alright, but you'll just have to turn around and bring it right back," I tried again.
"We'll bring it back, sir," he said smugly.
"Perhaps you didn't understand me. I'm picking up Miss Westfield. You know, your boss. I'm her chauffeur, this evening, ...Walter," I added after seeing his name badge. "Do you intend to make Miss Westfield cool her heels out on this walk while someone goes to pick up her chauffeur's car?
"Oh no sir. I'll go in immediately and let her know you've arrived."
"No you won't buster. I'll go in and I'll escort her to the car and you'll stand here and make sure nothing happens to it. Got it?
"Very well, Sir."
It didn't take very long. Sally was sitting on a love seat near the door looking at a magazine. She saw me coming through the door, looked up and smiled.
She was wearing a business suit, at least it would have been a business suit on any other woman. On Sally it was a costume which only accentuated her femininity. The suit was dark gray, the blouse was silk with pink and yellow flowers that accentuated her own high color and soft blond hair.
"You are lovely, and all ready for business I see."
"You think it's too formal?" She asked.
"You'd be dressed perfectly for anything even if it were pinstripes and spats. I was just teasing. It's perfect, as far as I'm concerned."
"We better get going though," I said, taking her hand, "before Walter has my car towed away."
Sally laughed and we practically skipped out of the lobby together.
Walter was just about to open the back door and I had half a mind to let him look stupid. But I really didn't want to embarrass the old guy. "Thank you Walter, but I'll get the door. Miss Westfield will be riding in front with me."
"The Old Lyne House," she exclaimed as we pulled into the parking lot. "You know, I grew up not five miles from here and I've never eaten here."
"I hope you like it Sally. I've only eaten here a couple of times myself. It was wonderful as I remember it. I hope it still is."
"I'm sure I'll love it. I'd have been happy with a hamburger at the Jiffy-K."
Well next time that's what it will be, I promised myself; that is, if there is a next time.
The booth they reserved for us was exactly as I requested in a lovely quiet corner. I went to sit beside her instead of across from her, and when I asked, "do you mind," she gave me her warmest smile, and quickly slid over.
"Oh, not at all. You are the first man who has ever wanted to do that, or at least had the courage to. I think it is very romantic."
She thought it was romantic and she liked it. Things are going very well, I thought. But where could they possibly go. I decided not to think about it and just enjoy the lovely creature beside me.
The Old Lyne House was a very old restaurant with a very unusual menu. All their food was prepared to perfection, but it was not gourmet at all. Just simple dishes like roast beef, lamb, turkey, goose, and chicken; there were pork chops and lamb chops as thick as your wrist; as well as home style stews and meatloaf. There was a wide variety of sea-food, all baked or made into stews, chowders, and casseroles. Nothing was fried, but it had nothing to do with so-called "healthy eating," as the luscious gravies and casseroles dripping with butter made obvious.
Sally ordered the seafood casserole. I ordered the lamb shanks.
I would have had a drink if Sally had chosen to have one. I was anticipating a Martini and had planned to order a bottle of wine with dinner, but following her lead, we both had coffee.
The coffee, home-made bread, and a lovely tossed salad preceded the meal. Sally had a little of her salad, and sipped her coffee.
"Mmmm, that's really good.
She looked at me with that sparkling smile in her eyes.
"I like this, Mark. It's quiet and cozy, but light enough so you can see what you're eating. I really dislike those places that substitute, "dark and dingy," for "atmosphere."
"I know what you mean. It makes you wonder what they're hiding. Speaking of hiding, did you notice there are no fried foods on the menu?"
"I didn't notice any, but really didn't give it any thought. I really don't care that much for fried foods anyway. What's that got to do with hiding things.
"Batter. I've always had the feeling it's used to hide what you're actually being fed. Who knows what's under that greasy crust; it's all you can taste.
Dinner came, and there was nothing hidden about it, because there was nothing to hide. I know Sally enjoyed her casserole, because she kept oowing and ahhing about it. The lamb shanks literally melted. The asparagus and mashed potatoes just begged for that delicious lamb gravy.
Neither of us was interested in dessert. Interested, perhaps, but we wouldn't have been able to eat any more. Besides, I think Sally was as eager as I was to have our planned conversation.
Sally's suite was like a home. I saw a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, and living room with a bar. There may have been more.
After we both freshened up a little, Sally took off her jacket and asked me if I'd like a drink.
"If you're having one I will." I had begun to think Sally did not drink.
"I am going to have one. I seldom drink except on special occasions. I think this is a special one, Mark. Don't you? What would you like?"
"Do you mind if I ask what you're having?"
"I'm having a Brandy Alexander. I'll mix you one if you like, unless you think it's not manly enough."
I hadn't had a Brandy Alexander in years. I have always liked them. I just never think of ordering one. Not manly enough, indeed. I've seen more than a few men put under the table trying to keep up with their ladies' Brandy Alexanders.
"I'd love one, Sally."
She brought the drinks over and sat beside me on the couch.
"How is it?"
"Perfect. And very dangerous."
"Dinner was wonderful, Mark. Thank you so much, not just for the dinner, but for your company. I really enjoyed it." Then she put her arms around me and kissed me, gently and sweetly, leaving me breathless.
I'd describe that kiss, the softness of her lips and all that she expressed in those few seconds, but it's none of your business.
"Your welcome, Sally." Yes, that's really what I said.
"I... I cannot tell you how much I enjoy being with you, Sally. I want to say ..." The truth was I didn't know what I wanted to say, or perhaps I wanted to say too much.
"Perhaps you better tell me about Ned," I finally blurted out.
"Alright, Mark. That is why you are here, isn't it? Before I tell you, I want to tell you why I said I trust you."
"Do you remember the first time we met, Mark?"
How could I forget? It was several years ago, when I was enjoying some success doing those notoriously controversial interviews. Sally Westfield was regarded as a mystery woman—a beautiful and self-made millionaire, regarded as the worlds most successful hospitality industry magnate with hotels, spas, and resorts world-wide.
She wasn't exactly unknown, but if you were looking for her in the magazines, it would have to be the business mags. It wasn't that the tabloids and celebrity gossip mags didn't try, she just lived a very private life. She did have a reputation, however. She was not mentioned often in any popular publication, but when she was, it was always as, "Sally Westfield, the all business all the time girl."
There was one magazine in particular that had been trying for years to find something about about her that would appeal to the kind of vicious gossip-mongers the magazine appealed to. They tried, but even though she was often seen in the company of some of the worlds wealthiest and most powerful men, there had never been a hint of any romantic interest. Considering her wealth, the circles she traveled in, and her stunning beauty, one would expect at least some rumors of scandal, even if they were only rumors. There were none.
When the editor of that magazine called me, it was completely unexpected.
"Mark, I've arranged for you to interview Sally Westfield."
I had never done anything for that magazine, and had never tried to interview Sally Westfield, because I was sure she would never agree to it. But I was about to be shocked.
"Why me?" I asked.
"Well Mark, at the moment you are considered the best in the field. Besides, Miss Westfield would only agree to an interview if you would do it."
The details of her life were not hidden, but were completely unknown to me at the time. I spent the entire week before the interview learning all I could about her. Except for where she was born, and how she got her start in business, everything else was business. It was, in fact, a very boring record of buying and developing property, investments, endless shrewed deals, and careful, almost military like strategy, management, and work.
The only personal things I could learn about her was her reputation for being ruthless in dealing with others, but it was ruthless honesty and absolute intolerance of anything less than total honesty from others. In spite of that reputation, those who worked directly with her regarded her as generous and kind, and were totally devoted to her.
The interview itself was less than stellar. I remember being embarrassed about some of the questions I had planned to ask her, probing questions meant to reveal secrets that she would prefer be kept secret. I never asked those questions. She was so totally ingenuous, confident and poised, yet relaxed and open about everything. Even when the questions were personal, she freely described her foibles, feelings, and mistakes. The only impression I had from that interview is that she was living her life exactly as she chose to, and was completely happy in it. The most surprising thing of all was that she didn't seem business-like at all.
There were some personal things she told me I could have woven into a sensational story, but even though it would have been factual, it would have been a lie by the impression it would have made.
In the end, I never published the interview, or any of the material I had learned from it. I never ever wrote a thing about Sally Westfield. I could never decide how to describe what I knew about her without making her sound either like an uninspired workaholic or fictional saint. The magazine editor was not at all happy with me.
"Of course I do, Sally. It was the interview, which I never published."
"You could have, you know. Didn't you find me interesting enough?"
I had never thought about what impression my not publishing the interview might have made on her. It would never occur to me that she was expecting anything from me. What could she possible need or want from me?
"Oh, no, Sally. It certainly wasn't that. Quite frankly, I didn't know how to publish it, though I desperately wanted to. I just did not know how to write it and be certain it was true, not only factually true, but in the impression it would make."
"I know that, Mark." I've always known why you didn't publish the interview, and that's why I trust you. I know you always tell the truth. I know the truth you told in some of your interviews was sensational, but I know you never published them for that reason."
She paused for a moment, then asked me a question.
"Do you remember the one question you asked in that interview I did not answer?"
"I do," I said. "I asked you if there was any one thing you sought in life that you would not consider your life complete without accomplishing?"
"That's right. I told you there was something, but I was not prepared to say what it was at the time. I can tell you what it is now.
"I've been looking for a man, Mark, a certain kind of man, the kind of man I didn't think existed in this world."
She paused, but if she was looking for a reaction from me, she was disappointed.
"Well, that's not exactly true, I suppose. Roger, and Ned, and the Rices are the kind of people I have in mind, but I was looking for an individual that embodied in every aspect of his life all they represent.
"The man I've been looking for is totally honest, first honest with himself, then honest with others, all others—a man who always does what he knows is right, no matter what the price—a man who always thinks for himself and is always sure of himself, no matter what doubts he might have about others—a man totally competent and self-sufficient, requiring neither the approval or agreement of anyone else—a man so complete in himself, he needs no one else, which is why he can thoroughly enjoy others, others like himself, and why he can be of value to them.
"Please don't misunderstand me Mark. I wasn't looking for a husband, or a lover. I just wanted to find such a man. I've always known when I found him he might not, probably would not, be interested in me. The best I could hope for is that he would at least let me be a friend, but just having found him would have been enough. Just knowing that such a man is possible and exists in this world would have satisfied me.
"There's one other thing. I knew if I ever found him I would love him. Even if he had no interest in me at all, I would be his in any way he wanted me. I would remain forever a stranger if that is what he wished, or I'd be his lover, or his mistress, or his wife, or even his slave if that is what he chose."
She stopped abruptly, and got up.
"Will you have another?" she asked, picking up the empty glasses. "I'm going to have one."
"Well, if you don't mind, I think I'd rather have a bourbon, with a little ice, thank you!"
The subject and mood had changed when she sat back down beside me. She immediately launched into her Ned story.
"It was about ten years ago. I was just beginning and very green, but I was fearless and aggressive. I'd already had some success in bringing back some defunct hotels and resorts, so I thought I had made a real scoop when I acquired some very cheap but highly potential properties in the Detroit area.
"Needless to say, I don't own any of those properties today. I did make money on all of them, but could see where Detroit was headed, and learned some nasty lessons.
"Some so-called business men and their lawyers came to visit me one day to explain what I had to do to keep my businesses, 'compliant with Detroit laws,' they said. I knew what the law was, and knew I had more than complied with them all, so was a little slow understanding the real nature of the 'help' they were offering me. I decided I didn't need their help, but found out what the price of refusing it was.
"I had a beautiful hotel on the west side. It burned to the ground. It was obviously arson, but the fire investigators blamed it on faulty wiring. They were actually intending to bring charges against me for neglect and endangerment, even though no guest was hurt, and all their personal property was restored by me. The only one harmed was one of my bell-hops who suffered smoke-inhalation attempting to help some older guests get out.
"I do not know how, but Roger got wind of what was happening, and sent Ned to see me. I had no idea who Ned was in those days, though he sure has the style and manner of a thug. That's his reputation, and its necessary to his business, but he's anything but a thug. He is an extremely erudite and cultured gentleman, but it would ruin him if that ever got out.
"He asked me exactly who the gentlemen were who had visited me, and exactly what they had said. He was extremely polite, almost soft-spoken, almost reverent. It seemed very strange to me at the time.
"'Don't worry about it Honey,' he said. 'It was all just a mistake. I'll make sure they understand just how big a mistake they made. You'll never hear from then again, I promise you that.'"
"He kept his promise, alright. Nothing else ever happened.
"I had no idea how Ned had done it, because I didn't know, then, what Ned did. I do now, and he has done other 'jobs' for me."
"Excuse me, Sally," I interrupted. "Did you say Roger sent Ned to you."
"Yes. He had called me to say Ned was coming. That's all he's ever said about it—then or since. Everything I know about Ned I learned from Ned himself, or Joel Rice."
"So what exactly does Ned do, Sally?"
Sally suddenly got a very odd look on her face, as though she were totally befuddled.
"Why Mark, I don't know. I mean, I've never thought about trying to explain what he does, even though I know. Let me see...," she squinted her eyes and pouted her pretty mouth.
"I guess he's a kind of a private policeman, or body guard, or security guard. There is a kind of agency, only it isn't a real agency, like a company or anything. There's no hierarchy of any kind, as far as I know, but admit I don't know a lot about it. Perhaps no one does, which is probably how it all works.
"I have no idea how many people there are, or how they communicate, but when there is a real threat against someone's life or property, someone contacts Roger, or Ned, or Joel, and I think there are some others I do not know. That's it. Whatever it takes to eliminate the threat is done, anywhere in the world."
"Whatever is needed, Sally?"
"Yes, whatever is needed. I'm sure you don't know Dan Everett, but you've probably read about him. When his wife was kidnapped by that drug cartel in Mexico last year, and they demanded he use his private jet to ferry drugs across the border, he contacted Joel. That's all I know, that and what everyone else knows from the news, that twenty two gang members were killed. What didn't make the news was that Dan's wife was returned, unharmed, two days later.
"Ned's underworld reputation is carefully maintained. Every government agency in the world regards him as some kind of powerful crime lord, but none could tell you exactly what kinds of crimes are actually associated with him."
"He certainly has underworld associations. He's been seen with many of them, as well as many powerful politicians. Again, no one has identified exactly what those associations are.
"I've come to know Ned, over the years, Mark. He's absolutely fearless, and a fighter for real justice, a hero that will never be known except by a handful of people."
Her admiration for Ned was obvious. I sensed it was much more than admiration.
"Sally, can I interrupt for a moment?"
"Of course, Mark."
"You did not say whether you ever found the man you were looking for. Have you found him Sally?"
"Yes, I have found him, Mark."
"Is it Ned?"
"No, Mark, it is not Ned. Oh, I love him, alright, but it's just love for a very very good friend."
"Oh," is all I said. Though I wanted to ask who he was, I almost didn't want to know. I was sure if she wanted to tell me, she would.
She didn't speak for several minutes.
"Oh Mark, don't you understand?" she finally said. There was that smile in her eyes, but they were tearing too, and I did not understand at all.
"Mark, I know we have not seen each other often, but have you never noticed that when we are at one of Roger's get-togethers, or the occasional conferences we've met at, I always manage to spend most of my time with you? Didn't you wonder why it was so easy to get a date with me? Didn't my kisses tell you anything at all?
"Mark, you are the man I've found, the man I've always looked for."
Neither of us said anything for a long time. I know I took her in my arms, kissing her, and that we had fallen back together, the warmth and weight of her pressed against me, half lying on the the arm and pillow of the couch. I remember feeling that I was complete in some way I had never dreamed possible.
We did not speak for a long time. I could not speak, only wonder how I had been a fool so long, why it had taken so long to see what I had always known, why it had to be Sally who said what we both had always known. I had always loved her.
I could have stayed like that forever, with Sally in my arms. There was nothing else in this world I cared for, because she was everything I lived for.
There is really nothing more to say. If you've ever been in love then you already understand. If you haven't, nothing I could say could make you understand.
We didn't stay like that, of course. We would always live for each other, but for us, living was doing, only now, whatever we did would be in the context of our love and because we were each others.
So we talked, and we did all those things lovers do, and laughed, and were very serious, and very silly, and none of the things we talked or laughed about would interest anyone else. Although we did talk some more about Roger, before getting back to the hugging kissing.
We talked about Roger, but it was mostly Sally's revelation of what she called, "the insiders." I'll explain that soon, in another article.