John Ennis finds himself plunged into an exotic adventure in Indonesia as the destruction of its last rainforests accelerates when investors plan to build a vast industrial forestry complexe in the untouched heart of Borneo. The promoters, backed by international banks, compete for a share in the rich pickings, heedless of the destruction to be wreaked on the habitat of the indigenous peoples and the natural environment.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 - A DOOR OPENS:
John Ennis parked his Citroen V6 on the quai du Point du Jour. He could see the hoarding indicating Nautique Croisière, a Parisian company specialized in river cruises. That evening a cruise and private diner party had been organised aboard a luxury bateau-mouche, Chante le Vent, along the Seine and through the heart of the historic city.
The day had been hot, very hot. It was half past eight and the temperature hung in the low thirties. The sun still shone fiercely through the broad leaves of the plane trees that lined the banks of the river.
The evening traffic had been very light. It was near the end of August and most Parisians were enjoying the last days of their summer vacation, sunning themselves on the beaches of the Mediterranean or Atlantic coasts. As for the foreign tourists, most were flopped out in their hotel rooms recovering from the day or preparing for dinner.
As Ennis wandered across the quay, he saw there was no hurry, he was early as always.
Martti Kivikoski was standing there at the foot of the gangway, chatting to one of the early arrivals. Through the broad windows of the boat Ennis recognised two of the girls in charge of the evening’s organisation.
He had been invited to the dinner-cruise at the suggestion of Tapani Hakkala, President of the Finntech Group, a Finnish multinational. John Ennis headed Finntech’s sales and marketing in its French HQ.
Following the restructuring of the company, he had found himself in suspended animation. Finntech had progressively become bigger and richer, but somehow, Ennis had been forgotten in the last of the endless reorganisations of the group.
He had returned from his holidays the week previously to the grim realisation that he was not part of the new organisation. There was a lurking feeling that it would be another of those turning points in his life. He could not avoid the depressing thought that his career was beginning to seem like a long story of jumping from one uncontrollably complicated situation to another, created neither by his design nor choosing.
Ennis tried to comfort himself with the thought that he had little to really complain of; after all it was the luck of the draw. He would survive, as he always had survived the waves of change that seemed to sweep through business and industry in regular cycles.
He nevertheless felt that time was catching up on him. His forty-third birthday had just passed and lasting success seemed to be as elusive as ever. Ennis was a good talker, good at convincing people with new ideas, the result was that he did not know how to refuse a challenge, and as a consequence found himself parachuted into a series of impossible no win situations.
Forty-eight people had been invited to the dinner cruise on the Seine. The restaurant of the Chante le Vent was arranged with eight beautifully laid out tables, five to the quayside and three to the river side. A cocktail table was also set out with drinks and canapés, against one of the long windows overlooking the river.
As he stepped down into the restaurant, he saw Marie, Laxell’s assistant. She put a drink into his hand and elatedly described the events of the day outlining the evenings programme. She had been given the responsibility of making the detailed arrangements for evening and was both nervous and excited. Laxell had sternly insisted that it was not an everyday event that such elevated personalities be invited together to Paris by the group and warned there should be no hitches.
Glancing up through the boats window, Ennis saw the green diplomatic number plates of a large black chauffeur driven Volvo. It slowly descended the ramp to the quay and turned in a broad semicircle towards the gangway. He made a sign to Kivikoski, it was the Ambassador. Almost at the same moment up on the main road, where he had parked his car, a blue coach was just pulling in.
The ‘boys’ had arrived, just like a works outing. Boys was not the exact word; their average age was over fifty, whilst the doyen of the group was certainly in his seventies.
They were the boys from Finntech. They included important shareholders and their representatives, CEOs, presidents and vice-presidents together with honoured guests including the Ambassador of Finland in France and even more distinguished the Mayor of Helsinki who had deigned to join the outing.
Many of them looked a little worse for wear. Einari Laxell had zealously organised the programme with a breakfast call at five thirty that morning. One part of the group had spent the day visiting the cellars of Cognac and the other had been guests of the Mayor of Beaune, nearby to one of Finntech’s recently acquired manufacturing units, conveniently not far from the good tables and vineyards of Bourgogne.
Looking at them, there was no doubt that they had all indulged to a large measure in sampling the famous wines and spirits of those regions. In spite of that, they were still in relatively good form, ready for the next round. Ennis knew a few of them personally; others he was familiar with from photographs in the company’s news magazines, the rest were unknown.
With momentary stiff Finnish formality, they shook hands, announcing their names, one after the other, then quickly headed for the cocktail table.
Tapani Hakkala arrived. His face was red from the heat and wine, and with the fixed look of worry that he often wore. Ennis suspected that he was uneasy with the heavy responsibility he held as a high executive officer of the company, he would have been no doubt happier amongst his old colleagues as a simple engineer, but force of circumstance had projected him upwards, just as Ennis regretted he himself had been pushed sideways.
The quay slowly slipped away and the boats air-conditioning struggled with the unusually high temperature. Through the noise of animated talk and clinking glasses, he chatted with Tapani. Small talk about one thing and another. He had decided he would wait to see of his own personal position was brought up.
‘So John, the reorganisation is taking time, people will have to be a little patient!’ He placed his drink on a table and lit up a Marlboro.
Ennis waited, letting him develop his ideas, slowly, as Finns often did.
‘As a matter of fact I wanted to see you to talk over a couple of things, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the place,’ he said with a weak smile, pensively glancing around.
‘Let me think, when will you be in Helsinki next? Is it possible to be there in the second week in October? Yes, that’s best, October. Look, call my secretary tomorrow and confirm that date.’
‘Okay, that’s fine with me, I’ll call her tomorrow,’ Ennis replied forcing back the questions he would have liked to ask.
‘So, that’s that! Let’s enjoy our evening,’ Hakkala said looking out the window. The boat surged passed the Statue of Liberty and glided into the shadows of the Pont de Grenelle.
The meeting with Tapani Hakkala in Helsinki would be his last opportunity. Ennis supposed that he had at least been lucky on that point. He had worked closely with Hakkala some years previously. They had spent many long evenings drinking together on business trips, but that was before Tapani had arrived at the heady position of president, in a company of many thousands of employees.
The Finntech Group was Finland’s leading forestry products and engineering conglomerate, a sprawling multinational with it’s headquarters in Helsinki. Ennis was based in their prestigious Paris offices where he was one of their many overseas specialists.
Some days later, he received a fax from Hakkala confirming their meeting in Helsinki. His feelings were mingled with the doubt that it could be some kind of thank you and farewell, a final kiss off. Perhaps, he imagined, Hakkala had preferred to do it personally, for old time’s sake. It was true that they had maintained a friendly but rather distant contact, in spite of Hakkala’s high rank. He visited Paris a couple of times a year, taking time to lunch with Ennis, or a few beers together, talking over business trends, common friends and company small talk.
The Finntech Group head quarters were situated behind the 19th century Russian style, domed, Lutheran church, in the heart of Helsinki. It was about ten minutes by taxi from the Inter-Continental Hotel, over roads and tram tracks covered with frozen snow. The temperature was minus fifteen degrees centigrade, unusually cold for mid-October in Finland.
The weather could not have been very much worse, Ennis thought stepping out of the taxi, his thin-soled leather shoes crunched and slithered over the snow-covered pavement. The sharp icy wind crept around every corner of his Burberry, as he cautiously negotiated the icy flight of steps, up to the modest door on the side of a conventional and unimposing mid-seventies office building.
Ennis announced himself at the receptionist’s window. It would have been more in place in a railway station ticket office, than the entrance to the head office of a multibillion dollar group.
He took the lift to the seventh floor, leaving his hat and coat in the lobby where the staff and visitors shed their heavy winter coats and over shoes, he then reported to Hakkala’s secretary, who announced his arrival.
‘Hello there John! Come in, take a seat, not too cold for you I hope?’ Hakkala said with a large toothy grin, amused as always at the discomfort of a southern European in the harsh Finnish winter.
Hakkala was a tall man, like many Finns. He chain smoked Marlboro, Ennis sometimes thought that he even looked like a Marlboro man. He was in his early fifties, a rugged serious face, perhaps a little long, with his eyes set a trifle closely together.
His office had an imposing conservative style. The furniture dated from the beginning of the twentieth century, in rich deep red mahogany. It had been inherited from one of the companies that had been absorbed. It was heavy, very heavy, designed for a long dead Nordic capitalist, well before the days of Scandinavia’s democratic socialism, equality and hyper-taxation.
Hakkala’s secretary reappeared holding a silver tray with a fine white bone china coffee pot and service, and a plate of Danish pastries.
‘Have some coffee John, you look like you need it!’ he said laughing and standing up to pour the coffee. Ennis squirmed in the deep leather armchair, adjusting his tie and patting his hair into place, not yet sure whether to look happy or serious, trying hard to look relaxed.
‘There’s been a lot of changes hasn’t there?’ Hakkala paused and then with a questioning smile said, ‘How are people taking it?’ He had often used Ennis as a sounding board following changes in the organisation.
‘Well, most people are pleased with the changes,’ he replied cautiously, trying to avoid looking at him too long in the eyes and stretching for his coffee, which Hakkala’s secretary had placed on a low table by his armchair, almost out of arms length, forcing him to reach out in a precarious fashion.
Hakkala continued his general line of conversation, asking about different persons that they mutually knew, as they sipped their coffee and ate the pastries.
‘So! I understand that you haven’t been fixed yet in the new structure?’ he said leaning back.
‘No.’ Ennis replied, feeling even more uncomfortably, shifting in his seat.
‘Do you know Brodzski?’ he paused and then added, ‘Antoine Brodzski of Papcon?’
‘Yes,’ Ennis replied hesitantly, surprised at the question and change of subject.
‘No, not really, I mean I don’t know him personally, you know, I’ve met him on different occasions, at conferences and trade fairs. Apart from that just by reputation,’ he shrugged.
‘Do you know about his project in Indonesia?’
‘Yes, well...at least I understand he goes there quite a lot, most of his business has been in Asia, in the developing countries out there. I believe he’s making a feasibility study for an Indonesian project’
‘That’s right,’ he paused, drawing deeply on his cigarette and appearing to reflect. ‘We’ve been contacted by the Banque de Berne, whom we know well, they have proposed that we participate in a consortium with Brodzski, to develop his project.’
Ennis listened to him, uncertain of what he was leading to, or how Brodzski’s firm could be linked to his own situation.
‘Well,’ he said, not without some gravity, ‘we have decided that we are interested in this project, since the South East Asian region is an important area for our group.’
He then paused, looking at Ennis rather intensely for a reaction, Ennis waited, he sensed that it was wiser to let Hakkala develop his idea and not interrupt his train of thought.
‘As you know John, the Russian economy is in trouble! In the past, some years back now, we had as much as thirty percent of our business from them, just recently it’s dropped to almost nothing though now it’s beginning to show some signs of picking up! That’s why we’ve developed a policy of diversification in recent years, buying into companies in the European and North America.’
Ennis thought to himself impatiently, this is all very fine for a lesson in economics, but what’s in it for me?
Hakkala looked at him, as if he were weighing him up, he seemed to take a breath, Ennis sensed that he was coming to the point, it was a critical moment.
‘As you know John, in our new organisation unfortunately there is no ready made place for you at the moment!’ he said slowly and paused.
Ennis felt his heart sinking, an acidy taste gathering in his mouth, he wondered what he meant by moment.
‘However!’ he paused again, carefully tapping the ash from his cigarette into a crystal ashtray. Ennis felt as though his heart was in his mouth. ‘We need a man, to look after our interests, in the consortium that is to be formed for Brodzski’s Indonesian project!’
Ennis held his breath.
‘John, you’re experienced in that region of the world, your knowledge of our industry and with the French would be an important factor for our involvement and success.’
Ennis felt an excitement rising in him, an exhilaration, a confusion of thoughts flashed through his head, he was saved and not only that, he was being offered a challenge that was worthy of his talents and experience. He felt recognition and gratitude towards Tapani. He had been plucked from a very uncertain future.