Everett Hutchinson's pride and joy was the Dartmouth, a 1:48 scale model ship, which majestically anchored in all its beauty on top of his humongous mahogany desk. In a vain effort to protect the fragile treasure from overeager cleaning staff, the model was framed by two large signs which read "Do not touch!" in no less than 54 Commonwealth languages.

Hutchinson was an experienced shipping partner at the law firm Lipton & Twinings. That firm had two distinct particularities. First, the firm lived by the motto that tea is the finest solution to nearly every catastrophe and conundrum that the day may bring. For that reason, the firm had Mrs Agatha Firstflush, or the tea lady, as she was called. She was an elderly lady wandering the aisles of the firm's office with her tea trolley every day from early morning till late in the evening serving tea to everyone. Well, in theory to everyone, but in practice only to the people she liked.

Second – and arguably more important – there was no visible top management at the firm. Instructions came by email and medium-level management carried them out without asking or second-guessing. And the firm was managed by this invisible hand quite effectively. Top management obviously had its ways of always knowing everything, seeing everything, hearing everything, and with that knowledge take very sensible decisions. People wondered how that was possible. No one knew.

Denzel Doright, a very promising third-year associate, who occasionally worked for Hutchinson, did not care who ultimately managed the firm. It was well run, successful and a perfect place to work, except for Johnny Bravo, a fifth-year senior associate, who only loved himself. 

Johnny was more form than substance. A beautiful face, a buff body but a distinctly subprime character. He had very good manners and a winning smile, but was egocentric, lazy and vain to the point of being a narcist. He spent more time at the firm's gym than at his desk and with his mediocre legal skills, he only survived at the firm thanks to his ability to mercilessly have younger co-workers do his work, and to ruthlessly pin his mistakes on others. He routinely bullied the younger associates, among them also Denzel Doright.

One evening, Denzel was personally delivering a hardcopy memorandum to Hutchinson's abandoned office, when Johnny Bravo sneaked up behind him and pushed him in the direction of the Dartmouth. Denzel lost his balance, instinctively reached out with his arm to stabilize and knocked the replica ship off its foot with his elbow. In a split second he regained his balance, dived under the table and caught the ship before it hit the ground. He delicately put the replica back on its foot and already thought he had gotten off lightly, when he realized that the ship's mast was broken in the middle. He took the upper part of the mast and placed it gingerly on the lower part. To his relief, the two lines of breakage interlocked and the mast stayed up without any glue.

When he turned around, Johnny said: "That’s it for you, Doright. You broke Hutchinson's beloved ship. Your prints are all over it. I am afraid that I will have to report that to him, and that will be the end of your career."

"You pushed me!" Denzel replied.

"Prove it."

Later on that evening, Denzel received an email from Hutchinson, which read: "Denzel, I am very disappointed. We need to talk. Come to my office tomorrow afternoon at 5 pm sharp."
Denzel was desperate. He saw his whole career, his life, for which he had worked so hard day and night, go up in smoke. "I'm toast", he said to himself.

"Everything will be fine in the end, and if it's not fine, it's not the end!" Agatha stood in Denzel's office door, smiling.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!", he said, although he was not in the mood for their usual movie citation guessing game. She only smiled. "This special occasion calls for a very special tea.” She said while taking out a fresh tea pot, hot water and a very old dented tea caddy. The faded label read: Three French Hens.

"What you need now is to keep the faith and not to lose hope. Keep calm and drink tea."

He drank and instantly felt better. He still was painfully aware of the problem, but with every sip of tea it felt lighter, the unbearable weight disappeared. He looked up to thank the tea lady, just in time to see her disappear down the aisle and turn the corner with her trolley.

The next day, when Big Ben struck five in the afternoon, Denzel Doright knocked at the door of Hutchinson's office. When he entered, the partner did not even look up, he just pointed to a chair.

Denzel sat down and waited, his heart rate was 180 and cold sweat ran down his spine. The partner finished writing a note and then looked up right into his face. Denzel choked but withstood what seemed to him to be a killing glance.

"I am afraid to tell you that when you leave this office, you will no longer be an associate of this firm."

His heart sank. This was it. The end. He will get fired.

"I congratulate you on your promotion to senior associate!"

Denzel's jaw dropped. The message first had to sink in. Eventually, he said. "I am speechless. Thank you, Sir. But can I ask you something? In your email, you mentioned that you were disappointed."

"Yes, that is true, I am disappointed, but with Johnny Bravo. A reliable source informed me that he consistently adorns himself with borrowed plumes and bullies younger associates. We had to let him go this afternoon. And by the way, on the Pensky matter, I would like you to take Johnny Bravo's place."

"Sir, I very much thank you for this, but I have a confession to make. I broke the mast of your model ship yesterday. It was an accident. Johnny pushed me from behind, but it was me who knocked the ship off its foot and broke the mast. I am very sorry."

"I really appreciate your frankness, but I cannot accept your apology. You are also adorning yourself with some else's feathers. This mast has been broken for over twenty years. It was in the early days of my career. I had to finish some work on a Saturday and brought my five-year old daughter with me to the office. When I was not paying, she started playing with the ship, and eventually broke the mast. I never got it fixed. In the beginning, I was too busy to sort it, then I forgot about it and lately I don't want to fix it anymore as it reminds me of her. She is 25 now and lives with her husband in Boston. I don't get to see her very often anymore. God, I miss her, especially around Christmas time. So at least, every day a broken mast reminds me of her and the happy times of her childhood."

When he left the partner's office, he was still in shock. He wondered who had informed Hutchinson about Johnny. He was not even in the office yesterday. But who else could it have been? Lost in his thoughts, he turned a corner and bumped into Agatha. They looked at each other, and then it dawned on him. He said: "I think this is going to be the beginning of a long friendship, Agatha."

She smiled and replied: "A true warrior, like tea, shows his strength in hot water. Congratulations on your promotion!"


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