January 23, 1996.
The front office was cold; very cold. Wemimo Martins looked at his watch again. It was just past three thirty in the afternoon. He heaved another sigh; he had been waiting in the cold reception room well over an hour. But he didn’t mind that; it was the uncertainty of the future that worried him, and of course the cold (even if he didn’t want to admit it to himself).
Waiting was no longer strange to him. In fact, it was now a habit. However, he was uncharacteristically jittery today. And he had every reason to be so – over Two billion reasons to be jittery and anxious.
That was what was at stake.
Two point five billion naira worth of contract he had chased for close to nine months. A deal that had demanded a lot from him in terms of time invested and monies spent. Now, he was here to pick up the contract – a life changing contract, or so he fervently hoped.
The call had come in the previous week, and since he had not stopped dreaming. It was the one chance he had been praying for, his launch board onto bigger and better things. All his dreams were just about to unfold big Time.
But first, he needed to pick up the contract first.
He was quite aware that a deal was not “done” or “sealed” until the necessary documents had been signed and delivered. In their world of ’contract chasing’, deals had been known to be hijacked overnight. This was what made him uneasy- having to wait this long to pick up the paperwork that would authorize him to activate assets towards the execution of the project – The building of a new ultra-modern headquarters for the information and data management giants BK Infometrics Inc. The Egg Shell is the code word everyone associated with the pitch at his office called it, and even the hotshots at BK picked up on the code name. What if someone stole his Egg Shell now, while he was sitting in this lounge waiting to pick up the contract?
Wemimo grimaced and shifted in his seat in an attempt to banish the evil thought from his mind. Now, he had a better view of the man seated beside him on the soft leather seat. The man was reading a newspaper and apart from the cursory greeting they had exchanged when he came in, they had not said another word to each other. A possible contract snatcher maybe? Or maybe just another innocent appointment for the Director. He looked eerily familiar though he couldn’t put a finger on where he had seen him before. But, that can’t be his concern for now. Other things were crowding out unwanted thoughts from his mind.
In his new sitting position, he also had a good view of the receptionist. He could monitor when the buzzer will ring asking for him to go in to see the Director. He had never met the director, and that was another major cause for concern. He liked to establish rapport with his client. In this particular case however, all negotiations and design details for the contract had been thrashed out in offices and conference rooms between floors two and four. But, now he had gone all the way to the top floor- floor 15, he hoped to receive the signed contract and to meet the man who was giving him a big chance to earn bigger bread and a yummier butter. He had been invited to come alone, which to his mind had been very odd.
The cold sifted through to his brain again and his body responded with an involuntary shiver. He was afraid to ask the receptionist to increase the temperature again, as he had already made that request twice. Another such request might not receive the same sympathetic smile as with his earlier ones.
He fought the urge to look at his watch again. Instead, he stared at the intercom placed on the secretary’s table, almost wishing it to ring. And as if on cue, the buzzer sounded. Wemimo watched as the secretary picked up the receiver and listened for a brief moment before replacing it in its cradle.
“Mr. Martins, you can go in now.”
Wemimo sighed deeply before shoving himself out of the seat. He gave his tie a flick, re-arranged the flap of his suit and walked purposefully towards the only other door in the room. He was vaguely aware of the man’s eyes watching him as he made his way to the door.
‘Let him watch…bloody contract snatcher,’ Wemimo thought as he reached the door and tapped it gently twice.
“Come in please.” The surprise was registered with a lurch of his heart. That was not a man’s voice. Wemimo stood motionless for a brief moment before opening the door and stepping into the office. His surprise was confirmed by the sight that greeted him as he stepped over the threshold. Seated directly opposite the door, backing the floor-to-ceiling window which occupied the far end of the office was a young but very beautiful woman.
Yes. She was beautiful, but very small.
Her semi-oval table was huge, but remarkably neat. Beside her laptop lay two phones – a SAMSUNG and a Nokia, a mug, an old fashioned table phone and a folder. There was nothing else in sight on the table. She was really small for the size of the table and the relative stark nakedness of the table further accentuated that. To Wemimo it was all surreal, but she seemed very well at home in the office. To the far left of her table was a small fridge. On top of the fridge were a set of glasses and two bottles of water. Beside the fridge stood a small bureau stocked with drinks. Many of the bottles were still full, which might indicate that the occupant of the office didn’t drink much or that the bar was only recently restocked. However, she must read a lot. The entire right wing of the room was occupied by a bookshelf, and the library was impressive from where he stood. No space was left idle on the shelf, every inch occupied by books of varying sizes and volumes. Floor to ceiling, there was The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Plato’s Republic, The Wealth Of Nations by the great economist Adam Smith, For Whom The Bells Toll by Ernest Hemingway, How To Win Friends and Influence by Dale Carnegie, The Metamorphosis with the author’s name obscured by Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It was a really impressive library. Oddly, they were all books that had been written by male writers and his chauvinistic mind noted, for male readers. Wemimo stood there for a while trying to take it all in.
“Please sit down sir,” the woman indicated one of the seats opposite her desk. He took three steps to reach the offered seat and sat.
“I have been fully briefed by my people on your company’s competence and track record in construction, the kind we have in mind. I have also seen your designs. They are indeed avante garde, especially the egg part. I like that very much. I however like to meet my contractors and business partners in person. It is one way I can reassure myself that I am putting money in the right hands…and beyond money, putting the future of my company in capable hands too. Now that I have met you I want to hear you for myself….” She trailed off. Her eyes wandered casually over Wemimo as she reclined in her seat, twisting her ball point pen in her finger.
The gesture was reminiscent of the ‘Wild, Wild West style’ Wemimo thought to himself. But, her posture had taken on a very different bearing now, he also saw. It was that of a seasoned executive waiting for a briefing before taking a very important decision. He himself had sat that same way many times. Known as the “power position” – seating in a relaxed position while your adversary takes a standing or aggressive posture. It was almost the perfect position to take when making powerful decisions that affect lives.
Wemimo instinctively knew this was the stage where he would win or lose a meal ticket of a lifetime. He thanked his stars that he had not spared any cost when he picked out his outfit the Saturday before at Zara’s on Adeniran Ogunsanya. That outfit, plus how he handled the next few minutes would be crucial. He knew it; those casual glances from the lady told him so.
He knew this was the last test. If he flunked this, he could as well kiss the Two point five billion goodbye. Still, he had an instinctive feeling he wasn’t going to lose out today. The woman seated before him didn’t strike him as someone who wants to take the bread out of his mouth. However, someone like this did not build a company like BK Infometrics Inc. without having some steel. Along the way, she must have crushed a few people. Granted, the field in which her company played was largely still very virgin – one of the reasons why the company had grown very fast in a very short time. People needed processed information and that was what BK delivered and with unwaveringly consistent accuracy. The government had even come to depend on the company for projections, assumptions etc. that form the basis for budgetary preparations. It was useful data to have for long, medium and short-term planning. The company stepped right into the void and had smiled to the bank with hefty contracts from companies and government agencies that need processed data for their operational, sales, production and marketing activities.
Wemimo sat upright in his seat, “I get results. When I cannot, I try my damnedest to make things happen so I can. Where that fails and I cannot, I call in for help. Where those I call in cannot help…,” he sat back and readjusted his tie, “I present my case to the boss and ask they do the calculations on how much I am to pay back from the entire project sum spent. Thankfully, I have never found myself in that situation before. My company has never done a project this massive, but rest assured it was not because of lack of competence. That is why we are delighted at this opportunity. We have built in all the safety valves we can think of into the contract, but we are confident both parties will never have cause to trigger any of them. We are that confident. And confidence for me and my team is the bedrock upon which we start off racing towards the skies.”
Wemimo sat back in his chair, giving a clear indication he had finished his pitch. He was amused at the quizzical look on her face. She had a half-smile and half-frown forming across it. It was funny, but he dared not laugh. Not when he didn’t know if he had just ruined or slam-dunked a massive contract opportunity. He had intentionally kept his response strictly short and devoid of mentioning operational issues. He had cut right to the heart of the matter as it were – the question of confidence, ambition and the security of investments. Those to him were the real heart of business relationships. It was a deliberate gamble and he hoped it worked.
After a short moment of silence from the woman seated before him, he noted a smirk appear on her face. “My name is Biodun, Mr. Martins. Biodun Kudesoh,” She stretched out her hand across the near empty desk for a handshake. Wemimo was not surprised when he shook it, that the palm was very soft and warm too…. It was the palm of a well nurtured hand.
“Welcome on board,” Her smile was radiant.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” It was a firm handshake, hinting at the strength of the woman who possessed the hand. More importantly, he registered the words she had spoken. His heart stopped fluttering and it was all he could do to hide his emotions.
“Please, Biodun is fine. You might have noticed I don’t encourage that subservient attitude among my staff. We are all here to do a job, so please humor me.” She grinned again. Wemimo nodded and grinned back at her. He had just clinched a deal of a lifetime and he couldn’t trust himself to say anything more at the moment.
“I hope you do not have another appointment soon? I booked for lunch knowing that I might keep you a while. Also, I want to hear more about your designs and so on. This is a major leap for us too and I am personally interested in how you want to help us take that leap – structurally speaking.”
It was becoming clear to Wemimo that this woman loved laughing. She was also very forthcoming with what was on her mind. He didn’t have anything else doing for the afternoon; even if he had he’d cancel for two point five billion.
“No. It’s okay. I am hungry.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” She grabbed her phones and retrieved her purse from her drawer. She then picked up her phone – the old Don Juan and called the secretary.
“Get my car ready.”
When she walked from her side of the table to join him, it was all Wemimo could do to hold himself from whistling.
She was breathtaking.
Her breasts were full, not obscenely full; the kinds that make you take a second look. She was also well-built around the hips. Her entire physique was well proportioned and graceful. Her sitting posture hadn’t done her justice at all. Even though, she wasn’t tall she wasn’t bad-looking either. She was what people would term petite. The flowery print-styled cotton dress she wore made her look almost childish.
“Yes, please.” Wemimo held the door for her and closed it behind him. Outside, the man was still seated on the sofa. Wemimo gave him a winning smile on their way past him. They took the elevator and didn’t stop till they reached the ground floor. He noticed that the people they met in the front lobby only respectfully nodded at Biodun. Nothing suggested a subordinate – boss relationship in the greetings. Each nod was met with a customary nod and smile from her in return.
Out in the afternoon sunshine, Wemimo looked around for what would appear to be her car. Probably a big, stretched out limo driven by a decked out chauffeur. He was still looking around for the chauffeur driven car as she led him to a blue Maruti Swift car parked close to the gate. As they approached, the security lock snapped off and she crossed to the driver’s side of the door.
“I drive myself. I will bring you back here in one hour thirty minutes tops.” She hopped in and Wemimo got in beside her. The way she had delivered the word drive was not lost on him. This was a woman who knew what she was worth and how to get around.
“I like the car.” Wemimo complimented as they drove out of the high gates of the BK Infometrics complex on Adetokunbo Ademola.
The sun was shining bright, but the hum of the car and its cooling system obliterated the noise of the outside world. The soft boom of Mariah Carey’s voice as she sang Hero, was just as fitting. The car was almost noiseless, safe for their breathing and Mariah’s soft serenading.
“Thanks. It’s a lady’s car alright.” She pressed a button and the temperature in the car dropped further. They drove for about three minutes, then turned right at the end of Adetokunbo Ademola to head into Ozumba Mbadiwe. As they drove past The Civic Center, Wemimo explained some of his design plans to Biodun, using the architectural masterpiece as a case study. They drove a few more minutes down Ozumba Mbadiwe, the trip further lengthened by the several traffic lights on the road, before Biodun turned off one of the side streets and drove into a delightfully stylish restaurant whose signage proclaimed it as the Cactus Restaurant.
She parked the car near the gates and she was jovially greeted by the gate men. She obviously was a regular here, even the doorman smiled broadly at her when she came up to the door. She led Wemimo upstairs and to a seat near the windows. From here they could see into the street and watch the Lagos traffic moving past.
Over lunch, they spoke at length about the designs Wemimo had submitted. She was very much particular about how he planned to achieve the submerged part of the structure. It was a pleasure to find that she was very familiar with the Burj al Arab in Dubai. She was a pleasure to talk to and Wemimo was very thrilled to unveil his plans for the submerged extension.
She spoke passionately about her work and how she had been able to sustain her level of success.
“Hard work, a lot of legwork and massive brain work. The information gathering and data processing field was a vast vacuum no one ever thought of filling. Here we are; the largest databank of processed info in Africa. We have got lots of stuff in the air, and I mean that in both the figurative and literal sense. Sometimes I wonder if I won’t go crazy….the sheer amount of info that still remains crude and unprocessed out there,” She waved her hand around and her eyes had a filmy look in them as she spoke, “this Egg-shell project is to make a statement. We are here for serious business, and soon we are going global. So, Wemi you see why we are putting a lot into this project?”
The Egg-shell is a one of a kind design. Its basic architectural inspiration drawn from making the building complex look like an egg standing upright. The extension which will run into the water is an added thrill to wow visitors to the corporate HQ of BK Infometrics Inc. Wemimo drew inspiration for the submerged section from the Subsix Club – the world’s first underwater club, which was built under the ocean. He had flown down to take a look himself and see how it was done. One week of pleasure and serious spying around the luxurious island had yielded design blueprints with which he was able to use to plot his own audacious designs for Egg Shell. That was what must have clinched this project for him. His design was daring in a way verging on outright eccentric. An architectural masterpiece of such radical nature and unprecedented financial outlay had never been undertaken in the country and even more so by a corporate establishment. But, it was now plainly obvious to Wemimo that the owner of BK Infometrics Inc. was an architecture buff and a woman of dreams and fantasies. The informal and casual manner she mentioned his name earlier, and throughout over lunch, had not been lost on him.
His job was to make those dreams come true..
And he had put in a lot into it, because it was his dream also – a dream that started a while back.
============================ To Be Continued =====================