Deadly Sins

Peter Blake took his place in the first class carriage sweating and breathing heavily. He’d had to hurry for the train – indeed he’d nearly missed it – and he was cross. He’d told the local surgery’s receptionist in no uncertain terms that he had to catch the train in order to make an important appointment in London but the surgery had insisted on his regular follow-up with the Practice Nurse – a double appointment which, apparently, were difficult to fit in though Peter couldn’t understand the logic. Then, as usual, she was running late. Really, the NHS needed sorting out. Peter himself really couldn’t see why he should not have had a follow-up with that excellent doctor, or if needs be, a nurse at the Nuffield. After all, as he often self-righteously told his friends and business contacts, he paid enough for private medical cover, as well as large amounts of tax part of which went to feed the NHS. But then, he recalled, it was his expensive medical checks – albeit prompted by his wife – that had started all this fuss.

“Your weight and your blood pressure are still far too high,” the nurse had said to him. “Have you been following the exercise and diet plan we gave you?”

“With difficulty,” Peter had replied tetchily. “Do I have to keep reminding you and your colleagues that I am a busy man with a number of very important business positions for which I get paid a lot of money and the shareholders expect to see results – it’s called accountability. I don’t have that much time, to be honest. Being chairman of two listed companies and a non-executive of two more is very demanding, but I don’t suppose you here in the surgery would understand. I work long days, you know and I have functions and dinners to go to of an evening. I’m sure a bit of high blood pressure and extra weight are common to a lot of people in my position.”

“Well, the doctors and the nurses here are usually in work by 8am and we don’t finish until gone 7pm or later. I think we understand long hours. We have just as much paperwork, you know.” The nurse looked rather scornful. “Anyway, the next time you come in we’ll need to do blood test – check your liver function. But I don’t know what Dr. Jenkins will make of these results; he may call you back in earlier. We don’t actually do all this just for the good of own health.”

Peter had sighed and hurried off to the station.

The train departed and Peter felt slight feint and the intermittent chest pain he’d noticed some months ago hsad returned. He wished the staff would hurry up with the at-seat service so he could have a glass of water and coffee. He picked up his papers but found it difficult to concentrate on the work for the day ahead what with the doctor and his staff nagging him. Fortunately, he hadn’t told Pat the full story of his tests for fear of being nagged at home to boot. Something else for her to add to the list. She’d probably urge him to retire or ease up on his commitments, change his diet and spend more time with his family. But, for heaven’s sake, she didn’t complain about the lifestyle, the London flat – not that she often came to London – or the villa in Portugal, not that he found as much time as he would like to visit Quinta do Lago and it was sometimes difficult judging when those acquaintances with whom he liked to network over rounds of  golf or having supper at one of the more elegant restaurants would be there. That said, July and August would soon be here and no respectable company held AGMs or Board meetings then.

Then he remembered, he really must get a fresh supply of business cards before their next visit to Portugal. He’d speak to Carole about it on Friday when he went in to see the Chief Executive at Tusker plc. Charles Gladwyn ….  Inexperienced, and perhaps a tad too independent to Peter’s way of thinking, but making his way as a CEO, he mused. But with the right coaching and guidance he could do well, which the other non-executive directors agreed with – indeed they had asked Jim Collins to spend time with Charles, although Peter had indicated that as he lived reasonably locally he could more easily have helped. Still, he rationalised matters, probably better that someone other than the Chairman coach Charles. That said Peter found Charles’ vegetarian diet and abstemiousness a bit odd, even unhelpful, especially at formal business dinners. But Carole, his secretary, was so efficient, helpful and obliging as she fully understood Peter’s important role in the company and the business world in general.

He struggled as he sipped his coffee and downed a bottle of mineral water. He realised his trouser belt was too tight and he’d forgotten to loosen it to its usual position after his appointment with the nurse. Always dress to impress he’d been taught by his parents and look the part,  although secretly he did worry about his increasing waistline and his neckline too. He ordered another two coffees and mineral waters and it was only when he went to the toilet and was washing his hands not long before arriving at Paddington that he looked in the mirror. He saw himself looking flabby and rather grey which surprised him given how hot and flushed he’d felt earlier.

The queue for taxis was quite lengthy so, glancing anxiously at his watch, Peter decided reluctantly he’d have to go on the Tube, no doubt hot and sweaty. He then realised, since it was so long since he’d caught the Tube, he’d have to cross over to new platforms on the east side. He hurried as best he could, puffing away and beginning to feel hot again, with his briefcase and trusty little Burberry case dutifully following on its wheels. After half an hour sandwiched on the Tube he finally made it to Moorgate and the Conference Centre feeling hot and bothered and trying not to drip sweat onto his Armani tie.

“Hello, and you are….?” the receptionist enquired, wondering who Peter was as most of the guests for the event would be arriving by taxi.

“Peter Blake, one of the hosts of the Corporate Governance event,” Peter gasped, trying to sound important whilst mopping his brow. “I’m a bit later than I’d hoped, but prior appointments and travel issues – busy start to the day.”

“Oh, Mr. Blake, of course,” crooned the receptionist. “I am so sorry…. Please let us take your luggage. Here’s your badge and you should be in time for a coffee before the event starts.” She ushered Peter into a side room.

“Peter, hello…. How are you? You look hot and bothered.” Sir Michael Freer greeted him.

Now Sir Michael was an important contact – chair of an FT100 – and could open lucrative doors so Peter was suitably unctuous in his reply explaining his delay due to the trains. Best not to mention the surgery appointment, he thought. Michael asked after Peter’s family and well being – all fine, Peter assured him – and then complimented him on Tusker’s recent half-year results which prompted a brief response to the effect the new CEO was settling in well with guidance. In return, Peter asked the usual questions as to how the family and business were receiving stock answers in reply.

“Anyway,” Michael confided, “we must go in soon but I need to talk to you about Parsifal plc…. Perhaps over dinner if you’re free?”

“Of course,” Peter replied. Parsifal – an FT100 – what an opportunity to enhance his earnings and profile.

Peter thought the seminar went well except for feeling uncomfortable and quite hot despite the air conditioning. He felt slightly nervous when one young delegate from an investment company asked what Peter felt was an unnecessary question of the panel about non-executive directors’ remuneration. Well, the recent increase in his fee from Trodos was quite deserved. Surely a fee of £120,000 pa for what Peter calculated was nearly a day and a half per week was about right considering the responsibility he shouldered for chairing the Nominations Committee, although it seems the Employee Council at Trodos had questioned it after the Annual Report had been published last week. Did any of the employees have any idea how much work and effort was involved in finding suitable candidates to be directors of public companies? And on top of that the general work of being a non-executive director. Probably more like two days a week in total. And how much did this spotty young man earn as an investment manager, Peter wondered.

The seminar wound up with drinks and canapes, though Peter tried to be restrained with the wine as he was looking forward to dinner with Sir Michael and the discussion about Parsifal as the chance to become a non-executive at a company like that would be a real feather in his cap. Maybe lead to a Chair at an FT100 – now that would be the pinnacle. Of course, he’d have to give up one or two of directorships at Tailors, Trodos, Tusker or Marlike but they were only smaller companies, FT250 or, in the case of Marlike, FT350. Yes, the latter would probably have to go.

In the meantime, filing his dreams in the back of his mind, he schmoozed the guests, chatted amiably and felt flattered if one or two knew about Trodos’ increase in profit last year, though Peter preferred to talk about the increase in earnings per share which had sent the share price surging. Peter had worked out that was an increase in value of £80,000 in his shareholding. He idly wondered if he should sell some to fund the planned extension to the villa in Portugal. That should keep Pat happy as he knew she fretted about the time he spent away in London, although she would never join him.

“Sir Ian… and Mr Blake. How nice to see you both again,” the maitre d’h at “Torro” intoned unctuously, showing them to Sir Ian’s favoured table in the corner, one that Peter had tried to reserve a number of times, but without success. “An aperitif for you perhaps…..”

Sir Ian ordered a mineral water. Peter thought about a sherry then decided to follow Sir Ian’s example. The menus were produced, dinner ordered, a bottle of good claret selected and they got down to business.

“Peter…. Parsifal – of which, of course, you know I am the Chairman are looking for an additional NED. In particular we are looking for someone with good all-round business skills and also the ability to step up in due course to lead our Nomination Committee. Given your experience in this area we wondered if you could suggest some candidates. In view of the general board director responsibilities, we would consider paying a fee of around £300,000 pa plus expenses in view of the fact that the right candidate might have to give up some existing commitments. The role at Parsifal would require quite a bit of commitment plus there would probably be three or four trips overseas in view of the international nature of our business.”

The two of them discussed some potential candidates at length, although Peter began to think that Parsifal were aiming too low. Why with his experience he surely would be a good fit for the role? So, as the dessert and coffee arrived, Peter suggested he himself might be a candidate with his experience.

“Peter,” Sir Michael looked at him. “It’s very flattering of you to put yourself forward. And, of course, I greatly respect your achievements to date. But I think we need someone with a little bit more experience as I would think you need more time with your smaller companies.” Peter didn’t like the slight emphasis on the smaller …….To be honest, I would suggest a few more years in your current roles and continue to network and pick up valuable knowledge and experience…..”

“Also,” Sir Michael continued, “if I may say so – and please don’t be offended – you don’t look that well. Have you had a medical recently? I find regular check-ups so useful.”

“Er yes, quite recently, as a matter of fact,” Peter spluttered into his dessert. “I’m actually following a diet plan as I do need to lose a bit of weight.”

Sir Ian looked at him slightly askance and Peter realised that his companion had eschewed dessert. No wonder he looked so thin and angular.

Peter returned to his flat in the Barbican feeling quite humiliated. In addition he now had a constant pain in his chest. He rang Pat for a perfunctory conversation about his day although she seemed more interested in his medical appointment rather than the networking which was, of course, far more important. Feeling rather ill and tired he retired to bed with a couple of ibruprofen, the chest pain getting worse. About 2am he felt so uncomfortable he rang for an ambulance.

WPC Yvonne Arnold was very experienced and professional. She rang the doorbell at The Old Manor and patiently waited until a rather attractive lady with greying hair answered.

“Yes?” Pat answered. “Can I help you?”

“Mrs Blake….. Patricia Blake?” Yvonne asked. Then producing her warrant card, she continued, “I’m WPC Arnold from Gloucestershire Police. You may call me Yvonne. May I come in?”

Pat realised immediately something was wrong.

“It’s Peter, isn’t it? What’s happened?” she enquired.

Yvonne steadied herself as this wasn’t easy. Peter had rung for an ambulance from his London flat but when the medics had arrived there was no answer. The police had been called and the door broken down. Peter was, sadly, dead of a heart attack – the medics were very clear on the cause of death, although there’d need to be a formal autopsy, of course. Yvonne paused…. Pat offered tea which was accepted….. Then Pat went into the kitchen and burst into tears. She returned with the tea on a tray, her eyes red.

“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said quietly. “There’s no easy way to deliver this news. Would you like some more support? That can be arranged.”

Pat sniffed. “No thank you. I’ll manage. To be honest, over the last fifteen years, Peter had become so embroiled in his work and, I’m sorry to say, so obsessed with his position, or as I increasingly saw it his own self-image, so totally self-absorbed in the business world, that he became distant. Totally different from the young happy student I met at university; totally different from the young husband I had in my early twenties and thirties. Obsessed with money and status – he’d become so self-important – expected local people to know who he was and treat him like minor royalty.”

“And he put on large amounts of weight with all the entertaining – I know the local doctors were concerned although he wouldn’t discuss it or change his behaviour or take exercise. He never stopped to think about how I felt and I ended up not caring about the money or status. I just wanted the handsome young Peter back or just a normal Peter with whom I could share a conversation, a nice meal, real intimacy. I  grew to hate business dinners and the like so I stopped going. I hated the ridiculous tittle-tattle with the other wives or partners. I’ve been a business widow for years. Now I am a widow.”

After a pause, Pat blew her nose, wiped her eyes, straightened her back and confided in Yvonne,

“To be totally honest, I had made up my mind to leave Peter. But at least he’s saved me the both and the expense – which would have irked Peter greatly as much as the loss of standing. I know you’ll think me cruel and heartless but I’ve just been so fed up these past years.”

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