About the Author:
Og Mandino is one of the most widely read inspirational and self-help authors in the world. Former president of Success Unlimited magazine, Mandino was the first recipient of the Napoleon Hill Gold Medal Award for literary achievement. Og Mandino was a member of the Council of Peers Award for Excellence Speaker Hall of Fame and was honored with a Master of Influence Award by the National Speakers Association. Og Mandino died in 1996, but his books continue to inspire countless thousands all over the world.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When my half-empty flight on the Concorde touched down at Heathrow Airport, the entire advance contingent of Gardiner Industries, as I expected, was waiting inside the terminal.
“Welcome to London, Mr. Gardiner! After two miserable weeks, even the sun decided to show itself for you today.”
“Thank you, Sidney. How’s my advertising and publicity genius? Is everything set for a memorable introduction to our British friends tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, smiling nervously, “I’ll review the entire schedule for you on the way to the hotel.”
I moved slowly through my eager group of executives, shaking hands, embracing, and answering endless questions on what it had felt like traveling in a graceful white missile faster than the speed of sound. After the usual delays for luggage and customs, Sidney guided me outside toward a black Rolls-Royce. A white-haired uniformed chauffeur stood stiffly at attention, holding the rear door open for us.
“First class, Sidney?”
“Just want to make you feel at home, sir. If you can drive around Scottsdale in a Corniche convertible, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have at least a Silver Cloud in London.”
As soon as we had settled back in the soft leather, Sidney unzipped his briefcase, removed a legal pad, and began his briefing. Ground-breaking ceremonies for the three-story complex that would house the first foreign branch of Starcrest, Inc., one of the nineteen companies in the Gardiner Industries conglomerate, was scheduled for two o’clock the next afternoon. The building site, in Hampstead Heath, was only about twenty minutes from our hotel. We would all depart from the Dorchester Hotel at one-thirty.
It was difficult to concentrate on what Sidney was saying. I forced myself. A large tent, he droned on, had been erected to shelter the invited dignitaries in case it rained. Following my brief speech, after turning some earth with a gold shovel for the newspaper and television cameras, I would conduct at least a thirty-minute press conference. The vastness of my corporate holdings, and certainly my wealth, he reminded me, would undoubtedly be the prime focus of reporter interest. American capital had virtually ignored Great Britain during the past several decades. Why was Gardiner Industries making such a huge financial commitment?
Names on traffic signs began to divert my attention as we headed toward London. Greenford, Eton, Basingstoke, Hounslow, Ealing ...
Winnie! I almost spoke her name aloud.
Winnie Marlow, where are you? What happened to you? I closed my eyes and I could still see her pale, lined face with those large green eyes filled with tears as she held me close, kissed my cheeks and repeated, many times, that I was to write often.
December 1944. Forty years. A long time ago. I did write often, for a year or more. A few of my letters came back marked “Gone away” or “No longer at this address.” I have no idea what happened to the rest of them, but she never responded. Not even a postcard. How could she have closed the door between us forever, especially after she had dispatched me on a lifelong mission? I had fulfilled her mission, far beyond my wildest dreams and possibly hers, but all my victories would have been so much sweeter if she had known.
“Sir, sir?” Sidney’s monotone had risen several octaves. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I replied, “just doing a little wool-gathering.”
He let his briefcase slide to the floor and crossed his legs. “You were stationed here during the war, weren’t you?”
“Yes. Eighth Air Force. Bombardier, in B-24’s. Up north or northeast, I guess. Our field was near a village called Marley.”
“Did you get to London often?”
“Not often enough. Five or six times during my tour of duty. Flew thirty combat missions.”
“And you’ve never been back to England?”
“No. There was a marriage followed by quite a few jobs while I was trying to find myself, then the kids, then my own first small business, and I just got busier and busier as the years rolled by.”
He chuckled. “That’s putting it mildly. What a fantastic career you’ve enjoyed, sir.” He pointed at the landscape speeding by. “Does any of this look familiar to you?”
“Not really. We never spent much time sight-seeing when we hit here on those short forty-eight-hour leaves.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t, sir.” He smiled, then he shook his head. “You truly have had an amazing life, Mr. Gardiner. From what I know about you, there wasn’t much except the clothes on your back and your severance pay when you returned from combat and were separated from the Army Air Force in 1945. And no family. Now here you are returning as one of the wealthiest men in the world. What a story! I hope you’ll touch on some of that in your speech tomorrow. Just points out, so dramatically, what a great land of opportunity we live in back in the U.S.A. Are you going to cover that?”
“Yes, but in a slightly different way.”
“Oh,” he said cautiously, “are you planning to go beyond what we’ve included in our press release?”
“I haven’t seen our press release.”
He unzipped his briefcase once more and handed me the three pages of public relations material that had been supplied to the media. I read it and handed it back.
“Well done, Sidney.”
“Does that pretty much cover the points you will make, sir?” he persisted.
“Just about.” I turned and stared out the window. If he only knew ... but then, I wasn’t sure that Sidney could handle surprises.
The Rolls eased its way through Hammersmith and turned onto Cromwell Road. Soon after we passed the Victoria and Albert Museum we were on Brompton Road, and I leaned forward to get a better look at that magnificent old department store, Harrods.
“We’re almost at the hotel, sir.”
“I know. I recall that Harrods was not far from Hyde Park.”
At last we turned left at Hyde Park Corner on to Park Lane, and the Rolls glided to a stop.
“Welcome to the Dorchester, sir. I’m sure you will enjoy your suite as well as the fantastic service here and you’ll find that the food in the Terrace restaurant is unsurpassed.”
A smiling bellhop patiently held open my door, but I made no move to exit my comfortable confines. Sidney waited, furrow marks gradually deepening on his pale forehead. I glanced at my watch.
“Sidney, when is my first corporate obligation?”
“Not until three, sir. The BBC is dispatching a television crew to your room here. They want a brief interview that they can run on their evening news tonight. I didn’t think you would mind. You’re free, after that, until tomorrow’s festivities.”
“Okay, why don’t you have the luggage sent up to my room. I won’t be long, but I’ve got an errand to run. Important.”
“Let me do it for you, sir. You must be exhausted after your long trip.”
“No, no, I’m fine and I must do this myself. You go ahead and take care of things until I return and don’t worry about me. I’ll be back in plenty of time for that television interview.”
After Sidney and my luggage had finally disappeared inside the Dorchester, I leaned forward toward my driver and asked, “What is your name?”
“Henry, do you know a Matthew’s Court, just a small street off Gloucester Place?”
“Indeed, I know it well, sir. I’ve lived about two blocks from there, in a small flat, since before the war.”
“Great. Take me.”
When the Marble Arch came into view, I could feel my stomach muscles beginning to tighten. How many times had I passed that lovely monument in Italian marble on my way to Winnie’s place? At the arch we turned right and then left on Gloucester Place.
“Baker Street is just a short distance away, sir,” Henry called out.
“Yes, I know. Is Sherlock still at 221b?”
He laughed. “You’ve been here before!”
“A long time ago, Henry, a long time ago.”
Even the tiny doorways and iron balconies along Gloucester Place looked familiar. Total recall can be a terrible or wonderful asset. Finally the Rolls slowed and turned right. “There was once a sign on that corner post, sir, but this is it. Matthew’s Court. What number did you say?”
“Twenty-two. It’s on the ... right ... side.”
Matthew’s Court was a short dead-end street. On my left a three-story brick apartment extended to the street’s end and turned, forming an L-shaped building. But to my right was nothing but mounds of bricks and stone and rotted lumber almost covered by tall, ugly weeds.
I opened the car door, and although the day was warm and humid I felt a sudden chill. I don’t remember how long I stood, staring at the debris, before Henry’s hand was on my arm.
“Begging your pardon, sir, but was this the address you wanted?” He nodded solemnly at the ruins.
I hardly recognized my voice. “The lady’s name was Marlow. Winnie Marlow. Since you’ve lived in this neighborhood for so many years, did you happen to know her?”
He hesitated before removing his visored cap and wiping his brow. “No, sir, I can’t say that I did, but I do remember, vividly, what happened here. Such a shame.”
I inhaled deeply. “Tell me.”
“I’ll never forget it,” he said, sighing and bowing his head. “T’was early on New Year’s morning, 1945. One of the last German V-2 rockets scored a direct hit on the apartments on this side.”
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