“My husband has told me more than once that Gabe was the most determined student he ever had in the classroom,” Delores told her.
At the podium, Gabe continued his remarks.
“. . . I’m happy to say that I finally got my lemonade stand up and running . . .”
This understatement was greeted by more chuckles from the crowd. Likening Madison Commercial to a lemonade stand was somewhat on a par with comparing a rowboat to a nuclear submarine, Lillian thought.
“. . . in large part because of what I learned from Dr. Montoya. But looking back, I can see that it wasn’t just his nuts-and-bolts advice on how to survive market downturns and nervous investors that I took with me when I left his classroom.” Gabe paused for a beat. “He gave me something much deeper and more important. He gave me a sense of perspective . . .”
The crowd listened intently.
“. . . Dr. Montoya gave me an understanding not only of how business works in a free country but of what we who make our living in business owe to our communities and our nation. He showed me the connections that bind us. He gave me a deep and lasting appreciation of what it takes to maintain the freedoms and the spirit that allows us to succeed. He taught me that none of us can make it in a vacuum.
And for those teachings, I will always be grateful. I give you now, Dr. Roberto Montoya.”
The gathering erupted once again as Dr. Montoya walked to the podium. This time the applause was led by Gabe. It metamorphosed into a standing ovation. Lillian got to her feet and clapped along with everyone else.
No wonder Dr. Montoya was important to Gabe, she thought. This was how a kid from a family that could not provide any successful male role models became one of the most successful men in the Northwest. He found himself someone who could teach him how to get ahead and he had paid attention.
“I’m the one who’s supposed to be crying.” Dolores handed her a tissue.
“Thanks.” Lillian hastily blotted her tears, grateful that the lights were all focused on the podium.
The applause died away and the members of the audience took their seats again. The spotlight focused on Roberto Montoya. Gabe made his way back through the shadows to the chair beside Lillian. She felt his attention rest briefly on her profile and sensed his curiosity. She hoped he hadn’t seen her dabbing at her eyes with the tissue.
He started to lean toward her, as if about to ask her what was wrong. Fortunately his attention was distracted a moment by Dr. Montoya, who had just launched into his own remarks.
“Before I get to the boring parts,” Dr. Montoya said, “there is something I would like to clarify. I taught Gabriel Madison many things, but there is one thing I did not teach him.” He paused to look toward the head table. “I did not teach him how to dress. That, he learned all on his own.”
There was a startled silence and then the crowd howled with delight.
“Oh, hell,” Gabe muttered, sounding both resigned and amused.
Dr. Montoya turned back to the audience. “Five years ago when I approached Gabe to try to talk him into participating in a program that would place college seniors in local businesses during their final semesters, he said—and I recall his exact words very clearly—he said, what the hell do you expect me to teach a bunch of kids about business that you can’t teach them?”
There was a short pause. Montoya leaned into the microphone.
“ ‘Teach ’em how to dress for success,’ I said.”
When the fresh wave of laughter had faded Montoya continued. “He took me seriously. Every semester when I send him the current crop of business students, he takes them to meet his tailor. What’s more, he quietly picks up the tab for those who can’t afford that first all-important business suit. Tonight, some of his protégés have prepared a small surprise to thank him for what he taught them.”
The spotlight shifted abruptly to the far end of the stage. Two young men and a woman stood there. All three were dressed in identical steel-gray business suits, charcoal-gray shirts, and black-and-silver striped ties. All three had their hair combed straight back from their foreheads. Three sets of silver-and-onyx cuff links glinted in the light. Three stainless-steel watches glinted on three wrists.
The Gabe Madison clone on the right carried a box wrapped and tied in silver foil and black ribbon.
They walked forward in lockstep.
The audience broke out in another wave of laughter and applause.
Gabe dropped his face into his hands. “I will never live this down.”
The young woman in the Gabe suit assumed control of the microphone. “We all owe Mr. Madison a debt of gratitude for the opportunities he provided to us during our semester at Madison Commercial.
Most of us came from backgrounds where the unwritten rules of the business world were unknown. He taught us the secret codes. Gave us self-confidence. Opened doors. And, yes, he introduced us to his tailor and offered us some advice on how to dress.”
One of the young men took charge of the microphone. “Tonight we would like to show our gratitude to Mr. Madison by giving him a helping hand with a concept that he has never fully grasped . . .”
The clone holding the silver foil box removed the lid with a flourish. The young woman reached inside and removed a scruffy-looking tee shirt, faded blue jeans, and a pair of well-worn running shoes.
“. . . The concept of casual Fridays,” the clone at the microphone concluded.
The banquet room exploded once again in laughter and applause. Gabe rose and walked back to the podium to accept his gift. He flashed a full laughing smile at the three clones.
It struck Lillian in that moment that Gabe looked like a man at the top of his game—a man who enjoyed the respect of his friends and rivals alike, a man who was comfortable with his own power in the business world, cool and utterly in control.
He sure didn’t look like a man who was going through a bad case of burnout.
An hour later Gabe bundled her into the Jag and made to close the passenger door. Impulse struck. She gave into it without examining the decision.
“Would you mind if we stopped at my studio on the way back to the apartment?” she said. “I forgot a few things this afternoon when I went there.”
“Sure. No problem.”
He closed the door, circled the car and paused long enough to remove his jacket. He put it down in the darkness of the backseat and got in behind the wheel. She gave him directions but she had the feeling that he already knew where he was going. He drove smoothly out of the parking garage and turned the corner.