It was like being in the eye of a hurricane.
Everything flowed across Elizabeth's desk from the hundreds of departments at headquarters, from the factories in Zaire, the laboratories in Greenland, the offices in Australia and Thailand, from the four corners of the earth. There were reports on new products, sales, statistical projections, advertising campaigns, experimental programs.
There were decisions to be made on building new factories, selling old ones, acquiring companies, hiring and firing executives. Elizabeth had expert advice on every phase of the business, but all final decisions had to be made by her. As they had once been made by Sam. She was grateful now for the three years she had worked with her father. She knew much more about the company than she had realized, and much less. Its very scope was awesome. Elizabeth had once thought of it as a kingdom, but it was a series of kingdoms, run by viceroys, with the president's office as the throne room. Each of her cousins had charge of his own domain, but in addition they supervised other overseas territories, so that they were all traveling constantly.
Elizabeth soon learned that she had a special problem. She was a woman in a man's world, and she discovered that it made a difference. She had never really believed that men subscribed to the myth of the inferiority of women, but she quickly learned better. No one ever put it into words or acted overtly, but Elizabeth was faced with it every day. It was an attitude born of ancient prejudices and it was inescapable. The men did not like taking orders from a woman. They resented the idea of a woman questioning their judgments, trying to improve on their ideas. The fact that Elizabeth was young and attractive made it worse. They tried to make her feel that she should be at home, in a bed or kitchen, and that she should leave serious business matters to the men.
Elizabeth scheduled meetings with different department heads every day. Not all were hostile. Some were predatory. A beautiful girl sitting behind the president's desk was a challenge to the male ego. Their minds were easy to read: If I can fuck her, I can control her.
Like the grown-up version of the boys in Sardinia.
The men went after the wrong part of Elizabeth. They should have gone after her mind, because in the end that was where she controlled them. They underestimated her intelligence, and that was their mistake.
They miscalculated her capacity to assume authority, and that was another error.
And they misjudged her strength, and that was their greatest mistake. She was a Roffe, with the bloodline of old Samuel and her father in her, and she had their determination and spirit.
While the men around her were trying to use Elizabeth, she used them. She tapped the knowledge and the experience and the insights that they had accumulated, and she made them her own. She let the men talk, and she listened. She asked questions, and she remembered the answers.
Every night Elizabeth took home two heavy briefcases filled with reports to be studied. Sometimes she worked until four in the morning. One evening a newspaper photographer snapped a picture of Elizabeth walking out of the building with a secretary carrying her two briefcases. The photograph appeared in the newspapers the next day. The caption read: "Working Heiress."
Elizabeth had become an international celebrity overnight. The story of a beautiful young girl inheriting a multibillion-dollar corporation and then taking command was irresistible. The press jumped at it. Elizabeth was lovely, intelligent, and down-to-earth, a combination they rarely came across in celebrities. She made herself available to them whenever possible, trying to build up the damaged image of the company, and they appreciated it. When she didn't know the answer to a reporter's question, she was not afraid to pick up a telephone and ask someone. Her cousins flew into Zurich once a week for meetings and Elizabeth spent as much time with them as possible. She saw them together, and one at a time. She talked to them and studied them, searching for a clue as to which one of them had allowed innocent people to die in an explosion, had sold secrets to competitors, and which one of them was trying to destroy Roffe and Sons. One of her cousins.
Ivo Palazzi, with his irresistible warmth and charmth.
Alec Nichols, a correct and proper gentleman, and gentle man, always helpful when Elizabeth needed him.
Charles Martel, a dominated, frightened man. And frightened men could be dangerous when cornered.
Walther Gassner. The All-German boy. Beautiful-looking and friendly on the outside. What was he like on the inside? He had married Anna, an heiress, thirteen years his senior. Had he married for love or money?
When Elizabeth was with them, she watched, and listened, and probed. She mentioned the explosion in Chile and studied their reactions, and she talked about the patents that Roffe had lost to other companies, and she discussed the impending government suits.
She learned nothing. Whoever it was, he was too clever to give himself away. He would have to be trapped. Elizabeth recalled Sam's marginal note on the report. Trap the bastard. She would have to find a way.
Elizabeth found herself becoming more and more fascinated by the inside operation of the pharmaceutical business.
Bad news was deliberately spread. If there was a report that a patient had died from a competitor's medication, within half an hour a dozen men were placing telephone calls all around the world. "By the way, did you happen to hear about...?"
Yet on the surface all the companies appeared to be on the best of terms. The heads of some of the large firms held regular informal get-togethers, and Elizabeth was invited to one. She was the only woman present. They talked about their mutual problems.
The president of one of the large companies, a pompous, middle-aged roue, who had been following Elizabeth around all evening, said, "Government restrictions get more unreasonable every Goddamned day. If some genius invented aspirin tomorrow, the government would never okay it." He gave Elizabeth a superior smile. "And do you have any idea, little lady, how long we've had aspirin?"
Little lady replied, "Since four hundred B.C., when Hippocrates discovered salicin in the bark of the willow tree."
He stared at her a moment, and the smile died. "Right." He walked away.
The company heads all agreed that one of their biggest problems was the me-too firms, the copycat houses that stole the formulas of successful products, changed the names and rushed them onto the market. It was costing the reputable drug firms hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
In Italy it was not even necessary to steal it.
"Italy is one of the countries that has no patent regulations protecting new drugs," one of the executives told Elizabeth. "For a bribe of a few hundred thousand lire, anyone can buy the formulas and pirate them under another name. We spend millions of dollars on research - they walk off with the profits."
"Is it just Italy?" Elizabeth asked.
"Italy and Spain are the worst. France and West Germany aren't bad. England and the United States are clean."
Elizabeth looked around at all these indignant, moral men and wondered if any of them was involved in the thefts of the patents of Roffe and Sons.
It seemed to Elizabeth that she spent most of her time in airplanes. She kept her passport in the top drawer of her desk. At least once a week there was a frantic call from Cairo or Guatemala or Tokyo, and within a few hours Elizabeth would find herself in a plane with half a dozen members of her staff, to cope with some emergency.
She met factory managers and their families in large cities like Bombay, and at remote outposts like Puerto Vallarta, and gradually Roffe and Sons began to take on a new perspective. It was no longer an impersonal mass of reports and statistics. A report headed "Guatemala" now meant Emil Nunoz and his fat, happy wife and their twelve children; "Copenhagen" was Nils Bjorn and the crippled mother with whom he lived; "Rio de Janeiro" was an evening spent with Alessandro Duval and his exquisite mistress.
Elizabeth kept in regular touch with Emil Joeppli. She always telephoned him on her private line, calling him at his little flat in Aussersihl in the evenings.
She was cautious even over the telephone.
"How are things going?"
"A little slower than I hoped, Miss Roffe."
"Do you need anything?"
"No. Just time. I ran into a little problem but I think it's solved now."
"Good. Call me if you need anything - anything at all."
"I will. Thank you, Miss Roffe."
Elizabeth hung up. She had an urge to push him, to tell him to hurry, for she knew that her time with the banks was running out. She desperately needed what Emil Joeppli was working on, but pressing him was not the answer, and so she kept her impatience to herself. Elizabeth knew that the experiments could not possibly be completed by the time the bank notes were due. But she had a plan. She intended to let Julius Badrutt into the secret, take him into the laboratory and let him see for himself what was happening. The banks would give them all the time they needed.
Elizabeth found herself working with Rhys Williams more and more closely, sometimes late into the night. They often worked alone, just the two of them, having dinner in her private dining room at the office, or at the elegant apartment she had taken. It was a modern condominium in Zurichberg, overlooking the Lake of Zurich, and it was large and airy and bright. Elizabeth was mere aware than ever of the strong animal magnetism of Rhys, but if he felt an attraction for her, he was careful not to show it. He was always polite and friendly. Avuncular was the word that came into Elizabeth's mind, and somehow it had a pejorative sound. She wanted to lean on him, confide in him, and yet she knew she had to be careful. More than once she had found herself on the verge of telling Rhys about the efforts to sabotage the company, but something held her back. She was not ready to discuss it with anyone yet. Not until she knew more.
Elizabeth was gaining more confidence in herself. At a sales meeting they were discussing a new hair conditioner that was selling badly. Elizabeth had tried it, and she knew that it was superior to similar products on the market
"We're getting heavy returns from drugstores," one of the sales executives complained. "It's just not catching on. We need more advertising."
"We're already over our advertising budget," Rhys objected. "We'll have to find a different approach."
Elizabeth said, "Take it out of the drugstores."
They all looked at her. "What?"
"It's too available." She turned to Rhys. "I think we should continue the advertising campaign, but sell it only at beauty salons. Make it exclusive, hard to get. That's the image it should have."
Rhys thought for a moment, then nodded and said, "I like it. Let's try it."
It became a big seller overnight.
Afterward. Rhys had complimented her. "You're not just another pretty face," he had said, grinning.
So he was beginning to notice!