It has been a whole month since Sal and I decided we really had no choice about accepting Roger's challenge. The first person we told about our decision was Frank, but it would be a long time before any of the others would know. Frank agreed with us not to reveal our decision until Roger had made his departure.
We of course told Roger right away.
"I knew Frank would convince you," he said when we told him about our discussion with her. "She'll be very important to you, but you already know that."
He agreed with us that we should keep the decision to ourselves at least until the time of his departure had arrived. That time arrived much earlier than any of us expected. It was a very busy year for us all, and though the pending change for all of us was never completely out of our minds, the immediate concerns of our day-to-day lives kept any thoughts of those pending changes lingering in the background of our consciousness.
Roger vanished that summer. He had informed only Frank, Margo, Sally and me that his time to leave had come. I do not know how he informed the others, but the only announcement Sally and I got was a phone call.
"Mark?" he asked when I answered the phone.
"Yes, Roger. How are you?" I said recognizing his voice.
"Can Sally listen in on this?" he asked.
"Of course," I said.
"Please put her on," Roger insisted.
I called to Sally who was just coming into the room. "Pick up the other phone love. It's Roger." She did.
"Are you there Sally?" Roger asked.
"I'm here Roger. What's up?" she asked lightly.
"It's time," he said simply. His voice was controlled but it did not hide the emotion it was filled with. "I have to leave. I have to exchange all that I love here for what I love supremely, my wife, my family, my life in the free world. It is worth any price, but the price is more than I could ever have imagined it would be. I love you both more than you will ever know. If any wish were possible I would take you with me, and I already know you would go with me without reservation. It is impossible, but wanting it is not.
There was a momentary gap of silence. Roger was obviously struggling to regain control.
"It's all your's now. If you had not accepted my offer, I would have destroyed it all. I would not have trusted it with anyone else. It will be impossibly hard, but I know you both and you would not have it any other way.
"I cannot promise it, but I will try to find a way to contact you in the future. I'll be interested in what you do always, of course. Whether I am able to contact your or not, I'll always be with you and you with me in all my thoughts.
"Tomorrow I leave. Margo will accompany me to the place. She will tell you more about my departure. Goodbye for now. We'll always be together my most beloved friends of earth."
He then simply hung up.
Though we had known for a long time the day was coming, even that it had to be soon, both Sally and I were stunned. The world without Roger was something neither of us could imagine, but that is what our world would now be.
"What have we agreed to, Sal? What does it mean?" I said when I could speak again.
"Oh, Mark. You're right. We have to be so careful. Everything Roger did was what he wanted to do. He was no leader; there was no organization; there was no objective except the individual objectives of those who loved Roger and he chose to help or simply enjoy."
"But the temptation to think we've taken over something like that, some organization or movement is very hard to resist, isn't it Sal? Is that the illusive 'fault' of earth humans that Roger sought to define?"
"I don't think it's that, Mark. I think that's a symptom, but real fault is the idea that humans are some kind of herd animals—it's collectivism versus individualism. Isn't that what makes what we call Roger's 'inner circle' unique? They are all individualists, people who live their lives as they choose, by their own best reason, unwilling to compromise their values and principles for anyone or anything.
"Do you remember what Roger said when you questioned why he helped so many people? 'The only person's I will ever help are those who do not need it,' he said. 'If I do not benefit from the help I give others, I do not give it.'"
"I know, Sal. The only obligation we have is to enjoy what Roger has ..., I was going to say bequeathed to us, but of course he's not dead; though it's going to seem like that isn't it?"
So we would be moving to a real home since 'home' had been Sally's suite at the Regal Arms since we were married. We had spent time learning all we could about Roger's estate, and farm which were much more extensive than we could have guessed. We also learned about the machine shops, the communication center, data center—which was an unbelievable computer complex, and the staff.
It was Roger's staff we were most worried about because without them we could never have maintained the huge operation which we had always simply referred to as Roger's. We needn't have worried. They had no interest in anything other than doing the best job they could and being recognized and justly compensated for their work. It was obvious all of them had great respect for Roger and enjoyed working for him, or, I should say, working for themselves and selling their services to Roger. It was equally obvious that they all appreciated Roger whom they considered a friend as well as a customer.
Of course Sal and I did not expect the staff to have the same respect for us they had for Roger, a respect we knew had to be earned, but we knew they would receive the very same kind of objective and just treatment they had enjoyed in Roger.
The most important of Roger's staff, which was now our staff, the one we were already most familiar with was Andrew Fitzgerald, Roger's butler and valet. He was the first to greet us when we arrived less than a week after Roger's departure.
"Mr. and Mrs. Halpern. Allow me to welcome you to your new home on the behalf of Roger, who informed me about everything, which, if you'll forgive me for being forward, pleased me more than I can say."
There had been no agreement about any of the staff between Roger and us. I'm not sure what the rest of the staff actually expected, but there was obviously some doubt in Andrew's mind.
"Andrew, that reminds me of something we have to take care of right away. Who usually communicated Roger's wishes to the staff?"
"Well, Sir," Andrew explained, "Roger usually did that himself, but sometimes would ask me to contact the staff for him."
"I think I would like to continue Roger's method of communicating directly with members of the staff when possible, but this is very urgent. I would appreciate it if in this case you would help me. I wish to make it known to every member of Roger's staff we intend to retain all who wish to stay in their current positions.
"And, Andrew, that includes you most of all, if there were any doubt about it. I know how much you respected Roger and I cannot guarantee we'll be as interesting as he, but we would be pleased if you would perform for Mrs. Halpern and me the same kind of service you performed for Roger.
"I know it will be different for you after the years with just Roger. In fact, I would like to spend an hour with you this afternoon talking about just what you did for Roger, and any changes you, I and Mrs. Halpern might want to make. About two o'clock, Andrew?"
"Very well," Mr. Halpern. "And I can tell you I am eagerly looking forward to serving you and Mrs. Halpern. I'll also make your wishes regarding the rest of the staff known immediately. I know they are all anxious to know. Thank you, Sir."
"You are welcome, Andrew."
Our afternoon meeting with Andrew was very pleasant. Andrew pointed out a number of routines which Roger followed he thought we might like to change or adapt to our own schedules. We decided to make the schedule as simple and flexible as possible for the time being, and finally left Andrew with instructions to have us awakened at six, with breakfast at six forty five.
There is something I must explain about Andrew. What might be mistaken for formality, or even obsequiousness, was in fact only a sincere expression of courtesy and respect which Andrew understood was a part of the service he provided. He would, in time, address me as Mark, and even Sally as Sal, but only when we were alone with him and only when conversing with him as the dear friend, which, in time, he became.
We had plans to slowly adjust to our new surroundings and responsibilities fully intending to integrate them into our already very full lives, especially Sal's. That was our plan. The reality turned out to be quite different, but I'll have to tell you about that another time.