Francesca Danco arrived precisely at ten, Saturday morning, exactly three weeks after our evening with Roger and his startling proposition.
Sally had returned from Hong Kong, and I from San Francisco, to what we used as our home—the same suite at the Regal Arms where we had our first real date. A knock at the door was her only announcement.
There she stood when I opened the door, the bellhop patiently waiting with her two small bags, an aristocratic beauty in black slacks and white blouse, her thick black hair cascading around her shoulders.
"Frank," Sally said as she brushed passed me to hug her. "Come in, come in. You look wonderful."
She certainly did. The natural but aristocratic air unmistakable in her every move and gesture, always poised, always in self-control.
"It's so good to see you, Frank. I was afraid we might not make it this year, with all that trouble in South America," Sally said, motioning Frank toward the couch after the bellhop left her bags.
"I'll just sit here, Sal," Frank said as she sat in the easy chair by the window. "You and Mark take the couch."
She was used to giving orders, but she was not telling us what to do. She simply did not want to separate Sally and me.
"How was the trip, Frank?"
"Good. If I didn't have my own plane, I think I wouldn't travel overseas at all. Perhaps by boat, but certainly not by air. What indecent horrors they inflict on people, and they accept it like fear-stricken children.
"I especially liked the drive here, though. I don't fly my plane myself so much anymore, because I can get so much work done during a flight, so driving gives me a chance to be in control. I leave the flying to one of my pilots these days. But not always. I still love flying.
"Oh, Frank," Sally said, "I'll never forget that flight to India. You were marvelous, else we wouldn't be here would we?"
I wanted to hear about the flight to India, but Frank and Sally were moving on to other subjects before I had a chance to ask, and I wouldn't interrupt. I just enjoyed watching these two lovely women talking and laughing like little girls, except the subjects were not dolls and boys, but copper shipments, mining accidents, and dealing with crooked politicians.
"Mark," Frank finally addressed me, "I spoke to Roger yesterday, to let him know I'd be here. He told me what he's asked you and Sally to do." Looking at both of us, she asked, "Do you think you'll do it?"
Sally looked at me, obviously expecting me to answer.
"We haven't decided yet, Frank. We've certainly talked about it enough, and we've come to the conclusion there is no real reason we couldn't manage it. Sally thinks she could be perfectly comfortable living at Roger's, eventually, and we would be willing to give up any part of what we are doing now, if necessary, to do it.
"We know it will be work, very hard work and perhaps harder than any we've ever had to do. But that is what we live for. For us, living is working. How can one work too hard for that?
"We would always be part of it anyway—Roger's friends are now all friends. They're the only people in this world we care about, the only ones we enjoy the company of, the only people we love.
"Our only big question now is whether we can do it right. Roger does so much, so many people depend on him, and he is able to solve almost any problem that comes along. Frank, we just don't know if we can fill Roger's shoes?"
Frank looked at us as though we were children who had just given the wrong answer to teacher's question.
"Well, you can't!" Frank said with finality.
"Neither of you is Roger. The two of you together are not Roger. Only Roger is Roger. But nobody expects you to be Roger. Nobody, least of all Roger, expects you to fill his shoes, or anything else that defines what Roger is.
"And what did you mean by 'right' Mark? Since when have either of you ever done anything that was not right? When have you ever done less than the best you possibly could, without compromise, without cutting corners, without evading any facts?"
"As for the others, do you think it is for them that Roger has asked you to continue his work? It is for you, and only you. Roger did what he did, the way he did it, because it was what he wanted to do, and could do. He expects you to do the same. It won't be what Roger did or the way he did it—it cannot possibly be—but whatever you choose to do, it will benefit others, others worthy of that benefit, whether you ever give a thought to those others or not. It may not benefit them in the same way Roger's work did, but it will benefit them.
"Forget the others. The only thing you need to decide is if both of you want to do this more than anything else you want to do. If you cannot be certain of that, you shouldn't even consider it."
With that, she stood.
"Now if you'll excuse me, and show me where my room is, I'd like to freshen up before dinner, since I'll be taking you out this evening," then looking directly at me she added, "if Mark will give me permission to."
That changed the subject, of course, and her request for my permission, I knew, was sincere.
"We'd be delighted, Frank," is all I said. Sally and I both picked up one of her bags and carried them into the room Sally showed her.
It was one of the rare times that we were chauffeured anywhere these days, and we all agreed to it because it would give us more opportunity to talk—at least it would give Sally and Frank more time to talk, and me more time to enjoy the company of two lovely dynamic women.
Frank was describing some of the vicious attacks that had been attempted against her copper mines in Chile by a coalition of environmentalists and political opportunists.
"They won't try to nationalize them again. It cost them too much last time. They'll just try to bleed them with fines for environmental clean-up projects, forced unionization and government-fixed wages, and mine-financed rehousing for workers. They'll try it, but there won't be any mines if they do."
"What's that rehousing business, Frank?" I asked.
"In Chile, Danco Mining provides all the housing for its workers. The city of Chinquimato, which provides housing for more than twenty thousand workers was built entirely by Danco Mining. The government is trying to force Danco Mining to move all those workers to a new location further from the mine, to meet some draconian environmental regulations.
"It won't happen. At the moment the government is afraid to do anything, because if it does, I'll just shut the mine and all the associated processing plants down and pay off the best workers, so they won't try to run the mine, which will leave about twenty thousand workers without jobs. Even if the government could manage to get the mine and processing plants operating, it will do them no good since I will shut down all the established markets, and cut off all the shipping—or get Roger to do it, since he manages most of it."
"Oh," is all I said, beginning to see some of the Roger connections I never imagined.
The Angus' Angus is a strange mix of the rustic and elegance, but so well managed, you immediately feel comfortable and relaxed. Frank had reserved a table, but was not at all perturbed when told there would be a small wait.
We were told we could wait in one of the lounges but sat instead on one of the long padded benches in the waiting room. Beside Frank was a young couple with a very pretty dark-haired girl, about ten I guessed, sitting between them. The father was teasing the girl.
"If brown bulls give chocolate milk, what kind of milk do white bulls give?"
"Bulls don't give milk, silly. Only cows do, Daddy."
"Are you calling your Daddy silly?"
"Only when you are. Most of the time you're just stuffy."
"Stuffy? Is that what I am?"
"Yes, except when you're silly. Then your fun," the girl giggled.
Frank spoke to the mother of the little girl.
"She's a lovely girl. Obviously very intelligent, and very independent."
"Oh yes, just like her Daddy," the mother smiled.
"What is her name?" Frank asked.
"It's Roxane," the mother said.
Frank raised her eyebrows and asked, "From Cyrano?"
"Why yes," the mother said, surprised. "You are the first one who has ever recognized that without my telling them."
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question? What does your husband do?" Frank inquired.
"No, I don't mind. He's a computer engineer, and a brilliant one if I do say so myself. We're both computer programmers but I mostly help with his work. He works for himself, and consults, by contract, on various jobs with different companies. He also develops his own software."
"I hope he's doing well. It's very difficult today, especially if he's designing software. I use a lot of software in my business, and I know the problems a software entrepreneur faces today—especially the good ones."
I think it would have taken the better part of an hour to read the entire menu, so we all decided on their famous steak, and chose the Kobe beef fillet mignon. The steak was preceded by a small bowl of vichyssoise, followed by a salad of chopped lettuce, tomato, and onion with a delicate garlic and rosemary dressing. The steak was accompanied by white asparagus with a light sauce I could not identify, but suspect was a variation of a Bearnaise.
Frank ordered a lovely Cabernet I had never heard of, and there was another before dinner was over.
While we were eating, I noticed Frank looking over at the table where the young couple with the little girl were eating.
"You know, I'm very impressed with that little girl. She is more poised and has better manners than most adults. I notice little things. Did you notice the young husband held the chair for his wife? What man does that today?
"Do you believe you can tell things about people on first impressions?" Frank asked.
Both Sally and I agreed that you often could.
"But I don't make any decisions based on those first impressions." Sally added. "Nevertheless, I've been surprised how often I've been right about an individual, often from just a few words they've spoken, or even expressions they've made while speaking. But, I only use a first impression, when it is a good one, as a reason to learn more about an individual. I'm very reluctant to make any judgments based on them."
"First impressions are not always right. What kind of impression to you think Franz Wolfe made the first time I met him?"
We all laughed.
Frank asked for the maître d'. She took some note paper from her bag, and one of her cards. She wrote something on the paper and folded it, placing her card on top of it.
When the maître d' arrived, Frank handed him the note with her card and asked him to have them given to the husband of the young couple; then, informed the maître d' he was to include their bill in hers.
The maître d' immediately recognized the name Francesca Danco and could not have been more obsequious.
"And please do not give him the note until we have left if possible," Frank added.
"I know you're both wondering what that was all about," Frank said when the the maître d' had left. "I'm doing just what you said, Sally. I like that young couple. I'm going to try to learn more about them. I've asked the young man, whose name I do not even know, to call me about a possible programming job. He won't know it, but if my impression is right, I intend to exploit him mercilessly."
We left the restaurant shortly after that. The conversation on the way home was mostly pleasant chatter about the dinner, some joking about the 'style' of our beloved flamboyant Franz, and some teasing of me by the 'girls.'
At home, over coffee, we talked.
"I was just thinking, Frank. If you have to close up those Chilean mines and put all those miners out of work, it won't do much for your reputation," Sally said a bit sardonically.
"Are you kidding, Sally?" Frank said. "Do you know what my reputation is? Why I'm the cruelest, meanest, most ruthless and heartless business woman in the world. I run roughshod over anyone and anything to get my way, and they're all the same to me—people, countries, the environment—nothing stands in my way. Of course none of it is true, except that last. Nothing and nobody will ever stand in my way, at least not without being rolled over by the biggest bulldozer I can find."
"My reputation!?" Frank said emphatically. "Why putting twenty thousand people out of work will do wonders for my reputation."
"Well I certainly won't ever get in your way," I said.
Frank suddenly changed her tone entirely. Looking directly at me, speaking softly she said, "You know what, Mark? You could. Or you and Sally could. I know if you or Sally ever wanted to get in my way there would be a good reason, a reason I would respect, a reason I know I would agree with, even if I hated it."
I'm not sure I understand why she said that. There could not possibly be any reason either Sally or I would even think of standing in her way. I really didn't know how to respond to it—so I said nothing.
A bit later, Sally said to Frank, "You know, I'm not at all surprised that environmentalism is being used as a club to beat you with. It's being used against every genuine producer. It's certainly been used against me.
"It wasn't so bad when I first started, but it's grown to be one of the biggest threats I know against doing anything of real value, or actually producing anything worth producing."
"It's not new, Sally," Frank said authoritatively. "It's been around for centuries. It's one of the biggest lies in history. The big lie is that the world has some kind of value and purpose of its own, a value and purpose more important than any human value or purpose.
"It's not really a religion, but it's just like one, only instead of some god, it's the earth itself that's revered. I don't mean earth is worshiped, like animism or Gaea worship, I mean it is held up as the source of all things, and the environmentalists are the self-appointed prophets to whom all that is right and good for the earth has been revealed."
Frank, paused, before continuing.
"You know, the whole environmental thing was one of the hardest things for Roger to understand. He couldn't understand how the environmentalists held so much authority, or why they were simply believed by most people.
"Once, when we were talking about it, he said, 'They act as though the earth belonged to them, as though it were up to them to decide what the right way to use the world is. What gives them any claim to that? Why does anyone believe that lie? What makes it their world?'
"'I understand that things like air and water are abundant on this planet, but they aren't everywhere, and they will not always be abundant here either. There are many places in the universe where they do not exist at all except for what is produced or provided by those in the business of producing and providing them. On those worlds, water and air have to be purchased like any other product. The only air or water anyone has a claim to is the air and water they have purchased or produced themselves.'"
"You see, Roger didn't really understand the religions at first either, until he understood the nature of superstition. He concluded that environmentalism was really just another superstition mixed with the ubiquitous belief that individuals had a 'right' to what they had not earned or produced."
"'Perhaps the abundance of air and water on this planet has been a kind of curse,' he said. 'It has deceived people into believing that the necessities of life are somehow free, that somehow they belong to everyone.'"
I had no idea Frank and Roger were so close. She had apparently been one of Roger's major research resources and I was beginning to understand why.
Sally was very interested in what Frank had mentioned about environmentalism having been around for centuries and asked her what she meant. Frank launched into a history lesson from which we not only learned about the history of environmentalism, but the history of Frank's family as well—a history which was long and complicated and which I'll have to tell you about another time.