Bob Mackinnon

A Billionaire’s Blind Spot

Atypically on this particular morning in 1968 bright sunshine backlit the bedroom curtains of James Woolwich’s Lambeth flat where the young man lay in bed reading the Sunday papers, smoking a Turkish cigarette and drinking creamy Blue Mountain coffee. He was not alone, for in a far corner quietly sitting on a mat was a man with a shaved head wearing a black robe apparently doing nothing. We say apparently, but the man, James’ flatmate Hisashi-san, a Zen monk on leave in London to learn English, was hard at work trying to sweep from his mind the comments the other man was making concerning newspaper items he had found of interest. The frequent interruptions served as tests of the monk’s powers of mediation, and it was with some pride that the practitioner found that with time it was becoming easier and easier to forget what was being said and to return to a state of perfect indifference.

‘You know, Sensei, these American women are absolutely fabulous; I would like to get to know more of them.’

‘Maybe move to New York, James-san,’ suggested the Master.

‘No need, they are flocking here in droves this spring. Must be a migratory mating instinct of some sort.’

‘Be careful, happy woman stays at home.’

‘Look at this picture. The caption reads, “Miss Heidi Heinz, daughter of American billionaire real estate tycoon, Howard Heinz, arriving at Heathrow to join her father and promote women’s participation in the upcoming World Bridge Olympiad to be held in France where a strong representation from Great Britain is expected.”’

‘Belly interesting,’ acknowledged Sensei, successfully forgetting everything said.

James held up the newspaper for inspection. A photo showed a beautiful twentysomething woman descending the steps of a TWA Boeing 707 with her right hand raised behind her head to keep her broad brimmed hat from flying off her head at the same time revealing a nicely formed body clothed in a clinging white dress.

‘I wouldn’t mind meeting this one, in fact I think I shall.’

With a rare sense of purpose James sprang from his bed, put on his robe, went to his desk, and proceeded to write a letter. Thanks to a friendship with the Atticus columnist for the Sunday Times, James was a sometimes contributor to the social pages in matters of bridge. His contribution might be a caption reading: ‘The Hon. Leslie Townsend with Lady Rowenda Rowley who recently bid and made a grand slam at the Chelsea Bridge Charity Event.’ In his letter he requested an interview with Miss Heinz on the subject of the increasingly important role of women in the realm of international competition. He dropped in the name of Fritzi Gordon who he knew to be out of town.

Surprisingly his letter was answered in short order and he was invited to meet the lady at 8 pm on that same Wednesday in the suite at the Savoy where she and her father were staying.

‘Really, so soon,’ James remarked.

‘Not busy,’ observed Sensei.

James was met at the door by Howard Heinz himself, an after-dinner cigar protruding from between his lips. His hand shake was very firm, a test of some sort. James squeezed back. The great man was stocky of build with blue eyes and a full head of golden hair. James was reminded of Auric Goldfinger. He was best known as the owner of the Manhattan skyscraper known as The Heinz Skyreach whose tapered shape some snide critics likened to a ketchup bottle. This was unfair as they didn’t compare the Kellogg Building to a box of corn flakes. Howard was also known as a sponsor of professional bridge teams featuring himself as a playing member.

‘So you’re the bridge columnist. I expected someone more seasoned.’

‘Actually I appear on mainly on the social pages as my interests are mainly sociological.’

‘Are you a communist? You don’t look like a communist.’

‘Hardly! I’m a capitalist through and through. My South African mining shares are doing quite well, thank you, since the rioting has been stopped.’

‘Just kidding hyperbolically; you know ‘columnist’ and ‘communist’ sound the same and sometimes they are the same. Anyway, come on in. Here’s a tip: to become rich, and I mean really rich like me, you have to utilize other people’s money as well as your own. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Your letter mentioned Fritzi but she’s in Deauville with Martin Hoffman. It’s really great that these days Jews are allowed in everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jews. They’re great bridge players, really great some of them – the best. Oh, here comes my daughter. Isn’t she lovely?’

Indeed she was, much more beautiful than her photo had revealed. She was dressed in a white flowing silk pants suit featuring an unsuppressed floral design. The bright smile was as advertised, her hand, warm and soft. James had to resist the temptation to reach out to touch her long, blonde, luminous tresses that resembled a cascade of gold falling from the sky onto a multi-coloured garden filled with flowers. Her father’s monologue had carried them in to a sitting room decorated in Buckingham Palace style, strangely plush and drab at the same time. In the center was huge bridge table.

‘Isn’t that a beauty? Solid walnut – I had it brought in especially. You know, James, I admire you Brits immensely – Winston Churchill, Max Beaverbrook – they were great wartime leaders and great historians to boot. . I don’t think much of Anthony Eden. He let you down, in my opinion. What’s the point of having overwhelming military superiority if you’re caving in to Egyptians and the like? I plan someday to write the history of the United States myself starting with Andrew Jackson, a great general and a great president. You know, he was the last president to fully pay off the government’s debt and he did it without income tax.’

At that moment there appeared from the interior of the suite a quiet middle-aged man, sharp-eyed, but paunchy with unruly grey-streaked hair and stooped shoulders.

‘Mel, come in here and meet our guest, James Woolcroft. Meet the famous Mel Sanford, the greatest partner a man ever had. He could tell you some stories. We’re going off shortly to play against Reese and Flint at their club. Say, Mel, what say we take on these young kids as a sort of a warm-up rubber. How about it, James, a pound a point to make it interesting?’

Heidi protested.

‘Oh, Daddy, that’s not fair. We’ve never played together before. What if James can’t afford to play for high stakes?’

‘What do you say, James, make you nervous? If you can’t pay, we’ll take it out of my daughter’s clothing allowance.’

‘Sir, I’m sure that won’t be necessary. Even if I were to lose the rubber it would be well worth the price to have played against a world famous pair, such as yourself and Mr Sanford, not to say, to have partnered such a lovely lady as your daughter.’

‘Careful now, we don’t know you, but I can tell you’re trustworthy. Shake hands on it.’

Fortune somehow favours the bold especially those who have nothing to lose. Heidi made 3NT on the first hand after a favourable lead. As dummy James could sit and admire her frowning face at leisure. The next hand gave the opponents an opportunity to tie the rubber with a 3NT contract of their own.

 
E-W
East
N
Howard
K952
J10
KQJ52
73
 
W
Heidi
Q874
Q98652
A8
4
 
E
James
A63
K
109643
J1098
 
S
Mel
J10
A743
7
AKQ652
 
W
Heidi
N
Howard
E
James
S
Mel
Pass
1
Pass
1
Pass
1
Pass
1
Pass
2NT
Pass
3NT
All Pass
 

The auction began slowly with all four suits bid. Sanford resisted the temptation to jump to 3NT and 3 seemed inadequate. Experience had taught him that if final decisions were to be made it was best to let his employer make them, so he temporized with 2NT, assuring he would play the contract, regardless. Maybe a part score would pay off at rubber bridge by putting pressure on the vulnerable opponents to save the game. As it happened Howard had more than enough to raise to 3NT. Warned against a heart lead into declarer’s hand Heidi led a fourth highest spade through strength. When dummy came down, Sanford saw a possible 11 tricks.

From James’ side the lead of the 4 did not at first glance inspire confidence that the contract could be defeated, but closer inspection gave some hope which lay not in high card points but in distribution and timing. His long holdings in the minors would make establishment of tricks difficult there. It appeared that his partner had 6 hearts but didn’t lead them, hence they had gaps. She could have the A which would help neutralize the dummy. Putting it all together, and adding a reluctance to be left on lead later with his singleton K, James went up with the A and exited the K.

Sanford studied this card for a full minute, then folded his cards, conceding down 1.

‘What are you doing. Mel? Look at all the tricks sitting here.’

‘Good defence, Howard, there was nothing I could do,’ was all that the professional offered in explanation.

The next hand put an unexpected end to their brief rubber.

 
E-W
South
N
Howard
8654
A75
1096
AQ4
 
W
Lisa
J97
643
AK83
K63
 
E
James
AK103
J1092
Q2
J105
 
S
Mel
Q2
KQ8
J754
9872
 
W
Lisa
N
Howard
E
James
S
Mel
Pass
Pass
Pass
1
Pass
2
Dbl
All Pass
 

Expecting Howard to be well-supplied in the spade suit for his double, Mel led an informative Q, won by James with the A. A diamond to the K and a low trump to the jack gathered the Q from Mel who led a low spade expecting his partner to win the K and give him a ruff with the 8. It was not to be. James won the J in dummy and led a second heart. Howard could imagine an endplay where he would be trapped into leading a club, so he went up with the A and gave his partner a spade ruff with the high trump. A club was dutifully returned but the defence was limited to 2 clubs and 3 hearts, 2* making 2, game, set, and rubber.

‘Mel, I think my double called for a club lead,’ Howard claimed.

‘Yeah, I had a good sequence, 9-8-7. I’ll make a note of it.’ replied the professional.

‘And don’t we lead queen from king-queen doubleton?’ asked Howard.

‘Yes we do, but I had only queen-deuce. I sure wish I had had the king.’

‘Anyway, Lisa, good raise. Isn’t she wonderful; she’s learning to play like Rixi, maybe even better.’

‘Actually, Howard, it’s no tragedy if you don’t double,’ continued Mel who appeared to have had a few after dinner.

‘Mel, I gotta double.’

Heinz got out his chequebook and wrote down a large sum.

‘Well done, James…W-o-o-l-w-i-c-h… make sure I spelled it right – the oldest trick in the book. I added £10 for a taxi. Don’t stay up late, Princess, I’ll be back soon.’

Closing the door behind them, Heidi turned to James with a smile.

“Don’t believe Daddy, he’ll be out all night.’

‘Well, I guess I had better be going as well.’

‘James, what about our interview?’

‘I don’t think it’s proper for us to stay alone together in a hotel room, even if it’s in the respectable Savoy. Your father indicated as much’

 

‘Don’t I have a say?’

‘Your father thinks it could be dangerous for you.’

‘Maybe I like danger. And if I need it, the Savoy is known for its security… as well as its discretion. Let’s go into the kitchen and see if we can find some champagne. You drink champagne, don’t you? Do you have any other bad habits? Tell me about them.’

She took his hand and led him to the kitchen area where they found two empty Bollinger bottles in the tiny sink.

‘Oh, damn, Mel has drunk them both. There’s only Daddy’s beer left.’

‘We can order more.’

‘That will take time….can we wait?’

‘Maybe not.’

Heidi came to him and kissed him passionately.

‘I was thinking, I should give back this cheque.’

‘Are you kidding me? Daddy would suspect something for sure.’

‘I see what you mean,’ said James wondering where the bedrooms were located.

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