Contemporary Fiction Science Fiction

The two men walked in silence from their presentation to Close Brothers Group to The White Horse pub on Exchange Square. One wondering if he had picked the right person to head the London office, the other wondering if he still had a job.

The pub was nearly empty. Getting a small table in the corner of the bar Tim finally vented “You set me up!”

Tim Westland was in London to sell the services of his company, “TW Bank Services”, to the banks. His service allowed much faster and more secure credit transfers for both inter branch and international transfers. While most of the Canadian banks and a few American banks were using the service, he needed to expand to Europe to get true international acceptance. London was the natural place to start.

Jim Morris shook his head. Hired to head the London office, he had been told to set up the meeting with Close Brothers Group even though he had warned Tim he wasn’t ready. 

Jim had been born in Canada, but grew up in the UK. After graduating from University College London in 2023, he started working at Santander UK. Young enough to take a chance and seeing the possibilities of TW Bank Services becoming a global service, he left Santander’s in 2026 to head the London office.

“No – you set yourself up. I told you, you weren’t ready.” Tim had said he should always be straight with him – no matter how bad the news. ‘Easier said than done!

Tim growled, people had been telling him he ‘wasn’t ready’ most of his life; told him he wasn’t ready for university when he was sixteen; that he wasn’t ready to go to Oxford when he was twenty; not ready to open his financial services business. Each time he took it as a challenge and proved them wrong. This was the first time he had failed.

Tim had finally calmed down. “Explain.”

“Do you know who Mark Carney is?”

Angrily, “Of course I know who Mark bloody Carney is!” then calming a bit “Sorry, go on.” 

People liked to compare him to Mark Carney. Like Tim, Carney was born in a small rural town, educated in a small Canadian city, and received both a Masters and a Doctorate in Economics from Oxford. Tim was tired of the comparison.

“A LOT of bankers were upset when he was chosen to head the ‘Bank of England’. There were others with an equally good resumé. Do you know why he got the nod?” 

Tim shook his head.

“He has the ability to put people at ease. From the clothes he wears to the way he talks, everything he does is designed to say ‘Trust me – I know what I am doing’. I don’t know if it is a persona he created or he was naturally that way – it doesn’t matter.” ‘In for a penny – in for a pound’ “But you – you come across as – I am ‘Tim from Terrace, I am the smartest person in the room and you need to buy my service!’”

While he didn’t like it, Tim was smart enough to see the truth in what Jim was saying. In many ways he still felt like a small town boy, completely overwhelmed by coming this far this fast. He compensated by trying to sound too self assured. 

“Is that how you see me?”

“No – but I know you. They don’t know you, they don’t trust you, since you are not ‘one of them’ – they don’t like you. . . . They know your service works, or you would have been given the interview. They are judging you, not your service. You dress west coast casual, don’t speak the same language as them – both figuratively and literally and you’re too damn young. . . . There is still a lot of truth in ‘Pygmalion’.”

Jim slumped in his chair, ‘I wonder if I can get my old job back’.

For the first time in his life Tim didn’t have any idea on what to do. And, for the first time in a long time, he asked for help. “What can I do?”

“For the next four months you are going to be Eliza Doolittle to my Professor Higgins. . . . Do you think you can do that?”

Tim smiled, “Just you wait ‘enry ‘iggins – just you wait!”

Jim looked relieved ‘Looks like I still have a job.’ “Try the Ploughman’s Lunch. . . . It's a cold plate – I think you will like it.”

That night Tim had to call his investors. They weren’t at all happy with the result. They were less happy when he told them he would be spending much of the next six months in London and opening the London office would cost considerably more than they had budgeted.

Tim arrived at the office on Bond Street about 9:30. The office was just a ‘storefront’, much of the equipment for their service was in Dublin. Jim had asked him to wear the same clothes he had worn to the Close Brothers interview. Jim was waiting for him with a middle aged woman Tim hadn’t seen in the office before.

“Tim, this is Margaret, she is going to be your personal stylist.”

Tim looked at him quizzically.

“You hired me to run the office and I know how to do that. If you want to fit into the bank board rooms you need to change your style. I am not a stylist – for that I need an expert. Margaret is the expert.” Jim was grinning. “I have an acting coach and a speech therapist lined up for tomorrow.”

Margaret was looking at Tim as if he were a side of beef she was getting ready to butcher. He suddenly understood how women must feel when he was judging them on their looks – he didn’t like it.

"We need to make him look a bit older. . . . Nothing too drastic – just a little grey on the sides. . . . I will get an appointment with a hair stylist.” She tousled his hair. “I think we should wait a few weeks before getting the hair done. Let it grow out a bit so we can change the style.”

“Beard or clean shaven?” Jim asked.

“Definitely not a Jack Dorsey look.” They all laugh. “A neat well kept beard or clean shaven either would be fine. But, this ‘west coast stubble’ has got to go.”

Tim quickly realised he didn’t have much say in the matter. He rather liked the stubble look, he thought it gave him a rugged outdoors look, but decided to go clean shaven.

Margaret gave a heavy sigh as if to say ‘This needs a lot of work.’ Sounding every bit like a Sergeant Major, “Stand up straight – get rid of that damn slouch.”

Tim hadn’t realised he was slouching.

“I will arrange an appointment at Gieves & Hawkes for next week to get measured for a made-to-measure suit. You should get a bespoke suit – but that would take too long. Today we are going shopping for shoes, shirts and socks. And”, she barked, “a real watch – get rid of that Apple watch, you’re not a damn hippie.” 

Jim was forcing himself not to laugh, he was really enjoying this. Tim, on the other hand, had not felt this overwhelmed since his first day at Oxford.

Margaret started towards the door. “Well – come along! I haven’t got all day.”

Tim looked daggers at Jim, who was still forcing himself not to laugh. “I know – but trust me she is the best.”

Over the next few days Margaret would rebuild Tim’s entire wardrobe. She turned out to do much more than give clothing tips. Ex military, both her parents worked in service at ‘The Palace’, she had a wide knowledge of British society. She started guiding Tim through the complexities of London social life. 

She gave Tim lessons in dining etiquette from which fork to use to things he would never have thought of, such as how to fold his napkin before putting it on his lap; she introduced him to the maître d’ at the finest restaurants; even gave him the phone number of an escort service to use when he just needed a companion for dinner and one to use for the full ‘Girlfriend Experience’. Nothing of London’s social life seemed outside her purview.

Four weeks had gone by since Margaret had taken over Tim’s life. He was standing in front of the mirror at Gieves & Hawkes and barely recognised his reflection. 

Damn I look good!

The slouch was gone. His acting coach had shown him how to project an air of confidence, his speech coach had taken some of the edge off his Canadian accent, and Margaret had made him feel a part of London society. ‘Tim from Terrace’ was dead, he had been replaced by Tim Westland Phd.

Jim and Margaret were watching. Both were smiling enthusiastically. 

Tim turned to Jim “Well Professor Higgins, is Liza ready for the ball.”

Jim was still smiling but shook his head. “Nope! I said four months. Margaret did her part - now it is my turn.”

After thanking Margaret for doing such an amazing job, Tim and Jim took a taxi back to the office. Tim was curious about what Jim had for him next.

“We’re going fishing.”

“What are we fishing for?”


“That’s a pretty big fish!” HSBC would not only give them a presence in Europe but in Asia as well.

“Yes, but first we need to sign some small fish for bait.”

Jim hired a press agent to raise Tim’s profile. Unlike the New York and Vancouver offices, which were focused on signing the large multinational banks, Jim had the London office focus on small banks and building societies. Two thirds of the staff focus on organisations in the UK and the rest on the continent. While this strategy didn’t generate a lot of revenue, it did generate opportunities for publicity. With the help of his press agent, Tim was becoming better at ‘glad-handing’ with executives and answering the press’s inane questions. Before each meeting with a bank's CEO or board, no matter how small, Jim gave Tim a dossier on each person attending the meeting. With this information, Tim was learning how to make even the most reticent prospect feel at ease. 

This strategy was so successful, Tim instructed his other two offices to adopt it.

It had been four months since the disastrous meeting with the Close Brothers Group. Tim’s makeover was complete. He looked and acted the part of a successful businessman. 

Under Jim’s guidance, the London office had signed up all the building societies including the Nationwide Building Society and the Coventry Building Society, both in the UK’s top ten largest banks. They were forecasting their first profit in the next quarter.

Tim had just returned from Strasbourg after signing a contract with Crédit Mutuel. He was convinced it was time to contact HSBC.

Tim was incredulous “What do you mean you are not going to contact HSBC. . . . I am ready to see them!”

Jim smiled. The last time Tim had been this angry with him was after the Close Brothers meeting. At that time he thought his job was on the line, this time he had no such worry. Besides – he had an ace up his sleeve.

Laughing Jim said “You would make a piss poor fisherman. You still haven’t learned patience.”

Tim laughed to himself remembering what his father would say on their fishing trips on the Skeena river ‘Have some patience. The fish will bite when they are ready – not before

Jim continued “Do you know how much time our sales people spent getting you the Coventry Building Society account?”

Tim shook his head.

“None – they asked to see you. . . . We have already landed some big fish, we’ll get the big one yet. While you are waiting we have a meeting with the Close Brothers Group. They asked to see you again.”

It was another three weeks before HSBC asked for a meeting.

May 12, 2022 20:18

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