“Are you sure? We were due to start our meeting at nine thirty. We’ve lost eight minutes already.”
“But what is eight minutes lost compared to a lifetime regained?” laughed Mr Clark.
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“No, I didn’t expect you to,” said Mr Clark.
“Anyway, I’m sorry I’m late, but I was just chatting to someone I used to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return home. I forgot something when I left the house this morning.”
“Oh, and what was that?” asked Veronica tartly.
“My priorities.” replied Mr Clark and with that, he turned his back to Veronica and the Bank, took another great lungful of air and walked off in the direction of town.
No-one at the Bank ever saw Mr Clark again.
Rumours circulated telling how the stress of maintaining his perfect record had so strained his mind that it had caused him to have a breakdown and even now he was lying in a sanatorium bed somewhere. Or that he had set off for work as usual the next morning, but in a sudden spasm of mental anguish brought on by his inexcusable behaviour the previous day, he had thrown himself from the bridge parapet into the river below and been swept downstream, his body never to be recovered.
No-one knew for certain what had happened to Mr Clark, but the speculation continued and grew ever more fanciful. However, exactly one year later, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Mr Clark entered an exclusive restaurant on the Left Bank in Paris in the company of a woman wearing a gold pendant embellished with the single initial ‘H’. They sat at a table by the window and ordered wine and hors-d’oeuvre and spoke affectionately of moonlit trips on the Seine and contented strolls in the warm, perfumed dusk.
Presently, the waiter was beckoned and the man was heard to ask his companion: “Would you like to order, darling?”
“Canard a l’orange, perhaps. Poulet?
L’escargot? But no. You decide, my dear,” she replied.
The man thought for a moment then a slow smile of satisfaction appeared on his lips. “Garcon,” he said, “saumon pour deux, s’il vous plait.”