Roger Groomsman-Smythe chafed as he waited for his appointment with Caroline Cleverley, now CEO of the Dustmaster Company (tagline: For a Cleaner Future) following the retirement of her father, Sir Horace Cleverley, CBE. He stared at the framed newspaper cutting on the wall: 'Hoover Hero's Mysterious Disappearance.' Quelling his usual irritation at the journalist's inevitable conflation of any brand of vacuum cleaner with Hoover, he reflected that it was a year to the day since his late father, Sir Temperley Groomsman-Smythe, had set off on his ill-fated expedition to the headwaters of the Orinoco. Sir Temperley was a perfectionist for whom only the finest latex from virgin forest trees was good enough for the pressure seals on his greatest achievement, the legendary Dustmaster Supreme™. He had paid the ultimate price for his passion. Now his son strove to maintain the family tradition in an increasingly challenging world.
'Go in, please, Mr. Groomsman-Smythe,' the secretary smiled at him. Was there a touch of sympathy in her smile? Roger braced himself for what he knew would be a difficult meeting.
He entered the room sullenly and sat down stiffly opposite Caroline. Resentfully he said, 'I suppose you want to ask me about what happened last night?'
'Obviously,' she replied haughtily, 'when an explosion in the machine shop destroys the prototype of the new vacuum cleaner whose revolutionary design was going to transform the prospects of the Dustmaster Company, I would want to interview the man who was seen by security leaving the building late last night just after the explosion occurred.'
'You have already tried me and found me guilty, he expostulated bitterly. 'I have devoted ten years of my life to the service of Dustmaster, and my loyalty to it has been unswerving, yet you have never accorded me the respect I deserve. Is it because you can never erase the memory of my late father, who disappeared on his expedition to the Orinoco to source the special latex required for the seals on the company's premier machine, the Dustmaster Supreme™? Do you resent the fact that it was his genius that was the foundation of Dustmaster's success? Does it gall you to know that you and your own father, who exploited the company's temporary financial difficulties to seize control, are unworthy to step into the shoes of a man' – his voice broke – 'whose memory I revere above all others?' To hide the intensity of his feelings, he crossed to the window and stared out moodily. Only the tiniest working of a muscle at the angle of his chiselled jaw hinted at the turmoil within.
He could barely contain his sense of outrage. That he, in whom the name 'Dustmaster' was written on his heart, should be accused of such treachery was more than he could bear. And this from Caroline, the woman for whom he cherished feelings that he had suppressed, rather than risk being taken for an adventurer seeking to recover the wealth and status within the company that his father's untimely death had snatched from him.
A frown crossed her face briefly. 'I'm sorry,' she retorted icily, 'you lost me at "Orinoco." Can we revert to the matter at hand with fewer appeals to maudlin sentiment? What were you doing in the machine shop, and how do you account for these photographs taken by the private investigator whom we hired after the transparent plagiarism of one of our best selling designs by our leading rival, The DustSucker Corporation of Philadelphia, convinced us that we were the victims of industrial espionage?'
With that, she angrily threw onto the desk a bundle of photographs. Disdainfully he picked them up and glanced at them, then scornfully threw them down.
'As you can see,' she went on coldly, 'you are clearly depicted in an intimate conversation with Emmylou Walker, daughter of the American cleaning magnate Cyrus P. Walker, the CEO of DustSucker, at the Rotary Beater Club, the prestigious meeting place of the great and the good in the world of vacuuming and rotary polishing. So what have you to say for yourself?'
As Caroline gazed at him, her senses thrilled in spite of herself. Why, she thought, he has the raw power of the Dustmaster Turbostream™, the company's latest combined wet and dry cleaner, combined with the delicacy of the Dustmaster Dainty™, the tiny cordless machine designed to vacuum crumbs from banqueting tables (By Royal Appointment). Then she checked herself. She had incontrovertible evidence of his treachery; photographs of his dalliance with the daughter of the CEO of their deadliest rival. She recalled with a shudder how, after the company had hosted the Baggies, the industry's premier awards ceremony, Emmylou had insisted on being taken to the factory workers' favourite pub, the Tube and Nozzle; how she had howled at the antics of the Works' all-female Glee Club, the Dust Bunnies; and how, inflamed by drink, she had climbed on to the stage and sought to outdo them with the coarseness of her doggerel.
He drew himself up to his full height. 'I will say only this,' he grated furiously. 'Yes, I have cultivated Emmylou, but only to draw out of her the details of her father's dastardly machinations. Armed with that knowledge, I moved the prototype to a place of safety and replaced it with an earlier version before lying in wait for the saboteur. To my astonishment, I saw that it was your brother, Jeremy.'
She gasped in horror, and her hand flew to her mouth. 'Not Jeremy!' she cried brokenly. His eyes shadowed with concern, he said gently, 'Yes, it is true. I challenged him, and we wrestled for control of the explosive device, but he threw it at the machine, and I shielded him from the blast with my own body.'
Her womanly sympathies aroused, she said falteringly; 'But were you not injured?' He shrugged deprecatingly. 'A trifling burn to my hand.' For the first time, she noticed the bandage swathing his left hand. Her eyes filled with tears. 'How could I have so misjudged you? And Jeremy – how could he – ' Overcome, she sank into his arms. It was as if a great cleansing wind swept through Roger's heart, banishing all his prideful reservations. He murmured, 'He had gambling debts that he could not pay. He is ashamed of his betrayal – of you, your father, and not least, Dustmaster. He swore to me that he would never darken the company's doors again, and so I let him go, knowing that you would not want to inflict the shame of prison on your own flesh and blood.'
'Oh, Roger,' she sighed meltingly. Their lips met, and she felt true love for the first time filling the vacuum of her heart.