Speaking with another director soon after Philip Johannsen, president of MidContinent Rubber another opportunity arose. Johannsen volunteered that frankly he didn't get along with Alex Vandervoort whose ideas he found unorthodox.
"Alex is unorthodox," Heyward said. "Of course he has some personal problems. I'm not sure how much the two things go together." "What kind of problems?" "It's women actually. One doesn't like to…"
"This is important, Roscoe. It's also confidential. Go ahead."
"Well, first, Alex has marital difficulties. Second, he's involved with another woman, as well. Third, she's a left - wing activist, frequently in the news, and not in the kind of context which would be helpful to the bank. I sometimes wonder how much influence she has on Alex. As I said, one doesn't like to
"You were right to tell me, Roscoe," Johannson said. "It's something the directors ought to know. Left-wing, eh?" "Yes. Her name is Margot Bracken."
"I think I've heard of her. And what I've heard I haven't liked." Heyward smiled.
He was less pleased, however, two telephone calls later, when he reached an out-of-town director, Leonard L. Kingswood, chairman of the board of Northam Steel.
Kingswood, who began his working life as a furnace molder in a steel plant, said, "Don't hand me that line of bullshit, Roscoe," when Heyward suggested that the bank's directors should have had advance warning of Ben Rosselli's statement. "The way Ben handled it is the way I'd have done myself. Tell the people you're closest to first, directors and other stuffed shirts later."
As to the possibility of a price decline in First Mercantile American stock, Len Kingswood's reaction was, "So what?"
"Sure," he added, "FMA will dip a point or two on the Big Board when this news gets out. It'll happen because most stock transactions are on behalf of nervous nellies who can't distinguish between hysteria and fact. But just as surely the stock will go back up within a week because the value's there, the bank is sound, and all of us on the inside know it."
And later in the conversation: "Roscoe, this lobbying job of yours is as transparent as a fresh washed window, so I'll make my position just as plain, which should save us both some time.
"You're a top - flight comptroller, the best numbers and money man I know anywhere. And any day you get an urge to move over here with Northam, with a fatter paycheck and a stock option, I'll shuffle my own people and put you at the top of our financial pile. That's an offer and a promise. I mean it."
The steel company chairman brushed aside Heyward's murmured thanks as he went on.
"But good as you are, Roscoe, the point I'm making is you're not an over-all leader. At least, that's the way I see it, also the way I'll call it when the board convenes to decide on who's to follow Ben. The other thing I may as well tell you is that my choice is Vandervoort. I think you ought to know that."
Heyward answered evenly, "I'm grateful for your frankness, Leonard."
"Right. And if ever you think seriously about that other, call me anytime."
Roscoe Heyward had no intention of working for Northam Steel. Though money was important to him, his pride would not permit it after Leonard Kingswood biting verdict of a moment earlier. Besides, he was still fully confident of obtaining the top role at FMA.
Again the telephone buzzed. When he answered, Dora Callaghan announced that one more director was on the line. "It's Mr. Floyd LeBerre."
"Floyd," Heyward began, his voice pitched low and serious, "I'm deeply sorry to be the one to convey some sad and tragic news."
Not all who had been at the momentous boardroom session left as speedily as Roscoe Heyward. A few lingered outside, still with a sense of shock, conversing quietly.
The old-timer from the trust-department, Pop Monroe, said softly to Edwina D'Orsey, "This is a sad, sad day."
Edwina nodded, not ready yet to speak. Ben Rosselli had been important to her as a friend and he had taken pride in her rise to authority in the bank.
Alex Vandervoort stopped beside Edwina, then motioned to his office several doors away. "Do you want to take a few minutes out?" She said gratefully, "Yes, please."
The offices of the bank's top echelon executives were on the same floor as the boardroom the 36th, high in FMA Headquarters Tower. Alex Vandervoort's suite, like others here, had an informal conference area and there Edwina poured herself coffee from a Silex. Vandervoort produced a pipe and lit it. She observed his fingers moving efficiently, with no waste motion. His hands were like his body, short and broad, the fingers ending abruptly with stub-by but well-manicured nails.
The camaraderie between the two was of long standing. Although Edwina, who managed First Mercantile American's main downtown branch, was several levels lower than Alex in the bank's hierarchy, he had always treated her as an equal and often, in matters affecting her branch, dealt with her directly, bypassing the layers of organization between them.
"Alex," Edwina said, "I meant to tell you you're looking like a skeleton."
A warm smile lit up his smooth, round face. "Shows, eh?"
Alex Vandervoort was a committed partygoer, and loved gourmet food and wine. Unfortunately he put on weight easily. Periodically, as now, he went on diets.
By unspoken consent they avoided, for the moment, the subject closest to their minds. He asked, "How's business at the branch this month?" "Quite good. And I'm optimistic about next year."
"Speaking of next year, how does Lewis view it?" Lewis D'Orsey, Edwina's husband, was owner-publisher of a widely read investors newsletter.
"Gloomily. He foresees a temporary rise in the value of the dollar, then another big drop, much as happened with the British pound. Also Lewis says that those in Washington who claim the U.S. recession has 'bottomed out' are just wishful thinkers the same false prophets who saw 'light at the end of the tunnel' in Vietnam."
"I agree with him," Alex mused, "especially about the dollar. You know, Edwina, one of the failures of American banking is that we've never encouraged our clients to hold accounts in foreign currencies Swiss francs, Deutsche marks, others as European bankers do. Oh, we accommodate the big corporations because they know enough to insist; and American banks make generous profits from other currencies for themselves. But rarely, if ever, for the small or medium depositors. If we'd promoted European currency accounts ten or even five years ago, some of our customers would have gained from dollar devaluations instead of lost." "Wouldn't the U S. Treasury object?"
"Probably. But they'd back down under public pressure. They always do."
Edwina asked, "Have you ever broached the idea of more people having foreign currency accounts?"
"I tried once. I was shot down. Among us American bankers the dollar no matter how weak is sacred. It's a head-in-sand concept we've forced upon the public and it's cost them money. Only a sophisticated few had the sense to open Swiss bank accounts before the dollar devaluations cone."
"I've often thought about that," Edwina said. "Each time it happened, bankers knew in advance that devaluation was inevitable. Yet we gave our customers except for a favored few no warning, no suggestion to sell dollars." "It was supposed to be unpatriotic. Even Ben…"
Alex stopped. They see for several moments without speaking.
Through the wall of windows which made up the east side of Alex's office suite they could see the robust Midwest city spread before them. Closest to hand were the business canyons of downtown, the larger buildings only a little lower than First Mercantile American's Headquarters Tower. Beyond the downtown district, coiled in a double-S, was the wide, traffic-crowded river, its color today as usual pollution gray. A tangled latticework of river bridges, rail lines, and freeways ran outward like unspooled ribbons to industrial complexes and suburbs in the distance, the latter sensed rather than seen in an all - pervading haze. But nearer than the industry and suburbs, though beyond the river, was the inner residential city, a labyrinth of predominantly substandard housing, labeled by some the city's shame.
In the center of this last area, a new large building and the steelwork of a second stood out against the skyline.
Edwina pointed to the building and high steel. "If I were the way Ben is now," she said, "and wanted to be remembered by something,: I think I'd like it to be Forum East." "I suppose so." Alex's gaze swung to follow Edwina's.