Edward Vicquers was the youngest number three man in the bank’s history. That said, he was in his early fifties and his formerly raven-black hair now held a distinguished streak of gray. He was tall and lean and kept himself physically fit as well as impeccably dressed. Indeed, the suit of clothing he wore he had picked up from his Savile Row tailors only the day before. It was dark and as handsome as the gentleman who wore it.
Mr. Vicquers stepped into the lift to ride up to his office and pushed the button for the twenty-fifth floor.
Just before the doors closed, Emily Chardenne slipped between them.
She was in her early twenties and was of medium height and build although leaning toward the buxom and full-figured end of medium. She wore her long blonde hair up and held in a simple clip. Her silken blouse was a tasteful shade of lavender and her denim skirt was knee-length. Below this were tan knee socks and brown mary janes. A bright red purse was slung over her left shoulder.
Emily was employed by a large bookstore two blocks from the bank. She was in the building to meet a friend from her school days and go to lunch. Her friend worked on the fourteenth floor and Emily pushed the button.
Mr. Vicquers took quick but full note of the lovely young woman in the lift with him as he nodded politely at her. Then he returned his gaze to the panel above the door showing their upward progress. He permitted himself to appreciate his temporary companion for three floors before turning his mind firmly back to business concerns.
The lift suddenly dropped a couple of centimeters and halted abruptly. Being a man of instant decision, Mr. Vicquers stepped to the panel and jabbed at the button for the twenty-fifth floor several times. This is a natural reaction, and it is always useless. When nothing happened, he opened the telephone door and picked it up.
“Hello, yes, this is Edward Vicquers. The lift in my bank’s building has stopped moving.” He listened to the person at the elevator company’s office. “Yes, just now. … There are two of us in here. … I hadn’t checked; let me do so now. Just a moment.” He pried the lift doors open just enough to see a solid wall of bricks. He let the doors go and picked up the phone again. “No, it’s all brick. … Thirty minutes? Really? … Well, yes, I suppose so. Very well; thank you.”
He turned to the young woman in the lift, feeling that now he had justification for making prolonged eye contact with her.
“I’m afraid we’re stuck in here for the next thirty minutes or so.”
“Oh, dear,” Emily said. She pulled her mobile phone from her purse. “I’d better text my friend to let her know I’ll be late.”
Edward watched her work the keypad. “For the first time,” he said, “I wish I had one of those.”
Emily made no comment but watched the little screen intently. “Ah, good. Zoe’s acknowledged me. Do you need to call someone, then?” She held out the phone.
“Oh, well, thanks very much.” Edward took the phone and called his office. When his secretary answered, he briefly explained the situation and asked her to make the necessary adjustments to his day’s calendar. He rang off and handed the phone back to Emily, who had been openly studying him during the call; he hadn’t noticed.
“Thank you again.”
She let nearly twenty seconds of quiet go by.
“Are you married?” she asked him.
“Hm? No, no, not married.”
He permitted himself a small chuckle. “Not for nearly two decades. No time, really.”
She frowned thoughtfully. “You aren’t planning to take advantage of this situation, are you?”
Edward’s hand flew to the knot of his dark blue tie. “My goodness! I should certainly say not.”
Emily’s frown deepened as she considered his answer.
“Well, then,” she told him, “I guess I shall have to.” She let her purse slide off her shoulder to the floor of the lift. Emily took three steps toward Edward and, before he could react, embraced him and kissed him in the manner of the loving couples of France.
At the thirty-one-minute mark, the lift jolted back to life and continued to the fourteenth floor. The doors opened and Emily walked through them. She stopped and looked over her shoulder at Mr. Vicquers — whose name she had learned midway through their incarceration. The creases in his new suit were just slightly less sharp than before, but his tie was properly knotted. He wore a happy, glazed look in his eyes that no one had seen before.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Vicquers.”
“The pleasure is entirely mine, Miss Chardenne, I assure you.”
She smiled roguishly. “No, not entirely.” She turned away and the lift doors closed.
A small group of concerned employees greeted Mr. Vicquers when the doors opened again on the twenty-fifth floor. Their voices overlapped in greeting and inquiring about his welfare.
“Good morning, yes, fine, thanks. Just a stuck lift. Hardly worth mentioning.”
But his secretary noted the goofy look on her employer’s face; she followed him closely into his private office and scanned him for other clues.
“I have adjusted your calendar, sir, and have rescheduled your appointments. Mr. Varnum will be here in ten minutes to discuss the latest concerns about Parliament.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wensley.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Vicquers. And, Mr. Vicquers, if I may make mention…?”
“That shade of lipstick does not agree with your tie.” She turned professionally and left him alone in his office. He rushed into his private water closet and saw the pale pink smudge on his cheek that Mrs. Wensley had referred to. His hand went there and touched it gently. He sighed; he had no choice but to wash it off. Bugger the latest concerns about Parliament, anyway.
Just before the close of business, Mr. Vicquers used the two clues Miss Chardenne had given him of her friend Zoe working on the fourteenth floor and found himself in the Foreign Accounts office.
“Excuse me,” he said quietly.
Without looking up, Zoe handed the bank’s number three man a note Emily had left for him.
“Ah, thank you,” Mr. Vicquers said, slightly embarrassed.
“You’re welcome, sir,” Zoe said tightly, past her blush. She firmly clamped down on the giggle that would be detrimental to her longevity at the bank. Zoe had read Emily the riot act over lunch but couldn’t help but agree to be the go-between.
Mr. Vicquers turned back toward the door. He unfolded the sheet of paper and read the note.
My dear Mr. Vicquers,
I enjoyed awfully making your acquaintance today. I had no idea that time spent in a stuck lift could be so very engaging or that bankers could be such good company.
I think you will agree that I have very boldly made the first move. My mobile number is below. But if the number three man of a major bank has no proper interest in a shelving girl at a bookstore, just return this note to Zoe and I will understand, and I will at least have the memory to treasure of giving in to temptation just once.
Mr. Vicquers turned back toward Zoe and waited until he had her full, if cringing, attention. He slowly refolded Emily’s note and with great deliberation placed it in the inside pocket of his new suit coat. Zoe blushed again but smiled at the important man.
He looked around conspiratorially and approached Zoe’s desk. He leaned toward her and said softly, “You know, I wouldn’t want this to get around the fourteenth floor … but I’ve learned today there are things in life more interesting than banking.”
“Better late than never, sir. If you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I don’t mind at all. If you’ll excuse me, I’m in the mood for a new book.” He smiled and left the office, secure in the belief that Zoe had already started to send a message to Emily.