Herr Julius Badrutt was a thin, brittle man who resembled a praying mantis in a black suit He was like a stick figure drawn by a child, with angular arms and legs, and a dry, unfinished face sketched on top of his body. He was seated stiffly at the conference table of the Roffe and Sons boardroom, facing Elizabeth. There were five other bankers with him. They all wore black suits with waistcoats, white shirts and dark ties. They appeared, Elizabeth thought, not so much dressed as in uniform. Looking around at the cold, impassive eyes at the table, Elizabeth was filled with a sense of misgiving. Before the meeting had begun, Kate had brought in a tray of coffee and delicious, freshly baked pastries. The men had all declined. Just as they had declined Elizabeth's invitation to come to lunch. She decided it was a bad sign. They were there to get the money that was owed them.
Elizabeth said, "First of all, I wish to thank all of you for coming here today."
There were polite, meaningless murmurs in response.
She took a deep breath. "I asked you here to discuss an extension on the loans owed to you by Roffe and Sons."
Julius Badrutt shook his head in tiny, jerky movements. "I am sorry, Miss Roffe. We have already informed - "
"I haven't finished," Elizabeth said. She glanced around the room. "If I were you, gentlemen, I would refuse."
They stared at her, then looked at one another in confusion.
Elizabeth continued, "If you were concerned about the loans when my father was running this company - and he was a brilliant businessman - why would you extend them for a woman who is inexperienced in business?"
Julius Badrutt said dryly, "I think you have answered your own question, Miss Roffe. We have no intention of - "
Elizabeth said, "I haven't finished."
They were eyeing her more warily now. She looked at each of them in turn, making sure she had their full attention. They were Swiss bankers, admired, respected and envied by their lesser colleagues in other parts of the financial world. They were leaning forward now, listening carefully, their attitude of impatience and boredom replaced by curiosity.
"You have all known Roffe and Sons for a long time," Elizabeth went on. "I am sure most of you knew my father and, if you did, you must have respected him."
There were nods of agreement from some of the men.
"I imagine," Elizabeth continued, "that you gentlemen must have choked over your morning coffee when you learned that I was taking his place here."
One of the bankers smiled, then laughed aloud, and said, "You are quite right, Miss Roffe. I do not mean to be ungallant, but I think I am speaking for the rest of my colleagues when I say that - what were your words? - we choked over our morning coffee."
Elizabeth smiled ingenuously. "I don't blame you. I'm sure I would have reacted in exactly the same way."
Another banker spoke up. "I am curious, Miss Roffe. Since we are all in agreement about the outcome of this meeting" - he spread his hands expressively - "why are we here?"
"You're here," Elizabeth said, "because in this room are some of the greatest bankers in the world. I can't believe that you became so successful by looking at everything only in terms of dollars and cents. If that were true, then any of your bookkeepers could run your business for you. I am sure that there is much more to banking than that."
"Of course there is," another banker murmured, "but we're businessmen, Miss Roffe, and - "
"And Roffe and Sons is a business. It's a great business. I didn't know how great until I sat behind my father's desk. I had no idea how many lives this company has saved in countries all over the world. Or of the enormous contributions we've made to medicine. Or how many thousands of people depend on this company for their livelihood. If - "
Julius Badrutt interrupted. "That is all very commendable, but we seem to be getting off the point. I understand that it has been suggested to you that if you release the company stock, there will be more than sufficient monies to satisfy our loans."
His first mistake, Elizabeth thought. I understand that it has been suggested to you.
The suggestion had been made in the privacy of a board of directors' meeting, where everything was confidential. Someone at that meeting had talked. Someone who was trying to put pressure on her. She intended to find out who, but that would have to come later.
"I want to ask you a question," Elizabeth said. "If your loans are repaid, would it matter to you where the money came from?"
Julius Badrutt studied her, his mind circling the question, looking for a trap. Finally he said, "No. Not as long as we receive the money due us."
Elizabeth leaned forward and said earnestly, "So it doesn't matter whether you're paid from the sale of company stock to outsiders, or from our own financial resources. All of you know that Roffe and Sons isn't going out of business. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. All I'm asking is the courtesy of a little extra time."
Julius Badrutt smacked his dry lips and said, "Believe me, Miss Roffe, we are most sympathetic. We understand the terrible emotional stress you have gone through, but we cannot - "
"Three months," Elizabeth said. "Ninety days. With your getting additional penalty interest, of course."
There was a silence around the table. But it was a negative silence. Elizabeth could see their cold, hostile faces. She decided on one last desperate gamble.
"I - I don't know whether it's proper for me to reveal this," she said with deliberate hesitation, "and I must ask you to keep it confidential." She looked around and saw that she had their interest again. "Roffe and Sons is on the verge of a breakthrough that's going to revolutionize the entire pharmaceutical industry." She paused to heighten the suspense. "This company is about to reveal a new product that our projections show will far outsell every drug available on the market today."
She could feel the change in the atmosphere.
It was Julius Badrutt who rose to the bait first. "What - er - type of - ?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "I'm sorry, Herr Badrutt. Perhaps I've already said too much. I can only tell you that it will be the biggest innovation in the history of this business. It will require a tremendous expansion of our facilities. We'll have to double them, perhaps triple them. Of course, we'll be looking for new financing on a large scale."
The bankers were glancing at one another, exchanging silent signals. The silence was broken by Herr Badrutt. "If we were to give you a ninety-day extension, we would naturally expect to act as the prime bankers for Roffe and Sons in all future transactions."
Another exchange of meaningful looks. It's like a form of jungle drums, Elizabeth thought.
"In the meantime," Herr Badrutt said, "we would have your assurance that at the end of ninety days all your outstanding notes will be met in full?"
Herr Badrutt sat there, staring into space. He looked at Elizabeth, then looked around at the others, and received their silent signals. "For my part, I am willing to agree. I do not think a delay - with penalty interest - will do any harm."
One of the other bankers nodded. "If you think we should go along, Julius..."
And it was done. Elizabeth leaned back in her chair, trying to conceal the feeling of relief flooding through her. She had gained ninety days.
She would need every minute of that time.