The head waiter, his trademark smile firmly in place, leant over to speak to Bernard. He ran his eye over the five other people at the table, who were deep in conversation, and then spoke in a low voice.
“I’m afraid your card has been refused again, sir,” he said. “We have tried twice. The usual stupid computer glitch no doubt. But it was the same last week with the other card, and that issue is still outstanding…?”
He cocked an eyebrow. His eyes went ceaselessly round the room, checking the tables were being served properly.
Bernard’s stomach lurched. He thought for a moment he was going to be sick over the heavily laden damask tablecloth. It was not just the excess butter on the sole meuniere, or the sticky toffee pudding with double cream that was responsible for his nausea. The company MasterCard and the Visa had obviously hit the buffers. He patted his wallet pocket, then pulled his hand back. Perhaps that old American Express card was still valid?
“All right, Pierre,” he said, flapping his hand in dismissal. “I’ll deal with it in a moment.”
“I say, Bernard? Any more of that port left?” said a white haired man at the side of a woman in a tight red dress, tapping his nearly empty glass. “Jolly nice drop of Taylor’s, that, don’t you reckon? Another bottle?”
“Certainly, Sir Angus. An excellent idea,” Bernard said. As the Vice President of an international bank, one didn’t refuse one of the bank’s biggest customers another glass of port. He turned to Pierre, who was back beside him, the smile on his face now as crooked as the napkin over his arm.
“Another bottle of the ’93 then, Pierre. Chop chop.”
The head waiter’s hesitation was almost imperceptible. Then he bowed and moved away, pausing at the kitchen door to speak to one of the waiters. The young man looked across at the table, and shrugged.
“Well, Bernard,” said Sir Angus, leaning rudely across his attractive companion. “Everything organised for the loan tomorrow then? Legal johnnies all lined up? Thinking of all the interest you’ll rake in on lending us 10 point two mil?”
He smirked. Some redcurrant jelly from the exquisite Welsh Saltmarsh lamb had spilt on his shirt front, looking oddly like blood. His large teeth were very white, thanks no doubt to some very expensive dental work. To Bernard’s mind the image was of Count Dracula at a feast. Well, this may be the best time to break the news.
“I’m afraid there’s a bit of a snag there actually, Sir Angus,” he said. “I ‘ve been looking for the right moment, but… it looks very much as if the bank’s own liquidity has dried up. Almost overnight actually. Massive crisis in the Far Eastern markets, you know. And given one or two other little current, er, issues, it seems that the bank is about to go, well, bankrupt.”
His normal fluency seemed to have deserted him. He paused and cleared his throat. “And I very much fear that far from our being able to extend you any further lending facility, we shall be obliged to call in your existing loan arrangements. With immediate effect, I’m afraid.”
For some reason the whole restaurant had gone silent. Sir Angus’ face went as red as the port wine still left in his glass. He swallowed hard and was about to speak when the head waiter returned, followed by two men in raincoats. They looked out of place among the well-dressed diners.
“I very much regret that the ’93 Taylor’s Reserve is no longer available, sir. And these two gentlemen would like to speak to you. Do accept my apologies for allowing them to disturb you, but they say it is a matter of some urgency.” He bowed, and backed away, his crooked smile now wider than ever.
I retired to the Cotswolds ten years ago after selling the retail business in North Wales which I had built up over forty long years. Fortunately for my sanity most of my time was spent creating advertising copy and promotions, which dramatically increased the business and taught me the power of words. Being a member of the Chippy Writers’ Group encouraged me to attempt a lifelong ambition to write a novel. Recently published, In the Shadow of Hitler is a romance set in the ruins of bombed-out Hamburg in 1946.... more