Nothing But The Best (a short story)

10 Feb 2021. Bob Kaplan

Philip Smith was recruited personally by the bank's CEO, Martin Middletown, to fix its ailing investment bank. Middletown viewed him as his heir apparent and turned a deaf ear to rumblings about how Philip conducted himself.

But the corporate head of HR, Frank Brescia, took the discontent seriously. He personally tried to reach Philip but didn't get very far. So he decided to call in reinforcements and set up a meeting with him to break the news, without saying what the agenda was. In dark suits and ties, they both arrived on time and went straight to the credenza boasting urns of piping hot coffee, regular and decaf, hot water for tea, decanters of milk, whole and skim, and tidy stacks of white cups and saucers—and helped themselves to coffee. The striking high-floor view of the midtown cityscape didn't merit a glance.

Walking on eggshells, Frank told Phil it was his turn to work with a leadership specialist. "You're not being singled out. We're making this available to a number of senior people." Never mind that Philip was the first. 

"Can I get back to you by the end of the week?" Philip said. He wanted time to find out directly from the CEO what this was all about. 

Late that day Philip caught up with Martin as he was packing up his briefcase. Philip knocked a couple of times on the open door. "Come in, Philip," Martin said, giving him his full attention. "What's up?"

"Frank wants me to work with a consultant. Am I in trouble?"

"You should know better than that." Philip was reassured and thought better of asking whether it was voluntary. "I know the guy, he's good at this," Martin said. "If I had more runway, I'd do this myself." Almost as a throwaway he added: "He went to fancy schools, if that matters."

"Okay, boss, sign me up," Philip said, sounding like he meant it. He always wanted to be in his superior's good graces.

To his surprise Philip took to the consultant right away and wasted no time telling his wife about him. They were sitting in their spanking new kitchen. "His name is Jake Waverly. Martin thinks highly of him. I'd like him to meet you and the kids." Actually, Philip wanted to show her off—Camille had been quite the catch. The kids were attractive too, cute and smart. As was their new house with its expansive yard.

"Hold your horses," she said, palms out. Camille's pleasant expression wasn't skin deep but she had her limits.

"What horses? You're the one who rides."

That fell flat. "Look, this isn't just about work, it's also about what I'm like outside of work."

"Then, sure—why not," she said, good sport that she was. He kissed her hand in thanks. He had an idea he wasn't the easiest guy in the world to live with.

The next time Jake was in town they had him over. Philip showed him around and Jake said all the right things. Over dinner Jake proved able to engage the kids in conversation, always a trick. Once they peeled off, he and Camille talked at length about the helping professions and various "treatment modalities," as she termed them. She had a social work degree. ‎Seeing them connect, Philip said to himself, Chalk it up! ‎

"I hope it wasn't an imposition, having me over," Jake said to Camille. 

"Not at all." She wasn't pretending. 

Jake had planned to take a taxi back to the hotel but over his objections Philip drove him there. He had the top down on his antique Jaguar. Wind noise kept conversation to a minimum.

*   *   *   *

Once Jake finished interviewing Philip's coworkers and the report was ready, they met upstate at a luxurious faux-French chateau. Built in the 1920s as a private residence, it boasted turrets, leaded-pane casement windows, a slate roof and an indoor swimming pool with Italian tiles and floor-to-ceiling windows. Philip was impressed.

They met in the Board Room with a long mahogany table. ‎Philip was nattily turned out—worsted gray slacks, a blue dress shirt and a blazer with a neatly folded white handkerchief tucked in its breast pocket. An expensive-looking watch sat prominently on his left wrist. He could have passed as lord of the manor. The fine figure he cut was only marred by a bit of bulge at the waistline.

Jake motioned to Philip to take the chair at the head of the table, and opened enthusiastically, "The good news is very good indeed!" Which brought a broad smile to Philip's face. "People sing your praises like it's the Hallelujah Chorus: Gloria in excelsis deo!"

Philip didn't object to the hyperbole. "One thing's for sure," Jake went on, "you've worked wonders with investment banking."

"Right, I'm amazed by how well you can get an organization to perform. It just exceeds your wildest expectations." The thrill of high achievement rippled through his body. When Philip had taken over, only fixed income and institutional bonds were performing. Everything else was lackluster at best, M&A, trading and equities. Jake noticed the sun was in Philip's eyes and lowered the blinds. 

"One of your peers told me you want to make it the top firm of its kind anywhere."

"It's true! I've been on a crusade to do just that. You get it rolling and you move heaven and earth to make it happen. You've done it so many times it isn't an accident. But you've got to put it together right—that's key—and that means recruiting the best and the brightest. I scour the world, literally. God, we have one of the best staffs in the world. If you've gone to one of the top schools, that really puts the thumbprint on you."

"Martin agrees. Quote, 'Philip has almost an uncanny ability to find the highest-performing people in a discipline.' Credit to you, Philip: some people are too insecure to hire the best. Oh, and you're a talent junkie, someone said."

"Can't be too addicited to talent."

"Let's not forget, you look after that talent. Refurbish their offices to a high standard and you let them do their jobs. You don't micromanage."

"Not doing that is like buying a Porsche 911 but you can't afford to park it an expensive garage."

Jake sent him off to "bask in the glory," as he put it. The chateau's grounds were expansive and nicely landscaped. Philip enjoyed the park but couldn't help comparing it unfavorably to Blenheim Palace, the steep drop-off to the pond. But there was no basking. That's not how his mind worked.

He returned to find a magazine with his photo on the cover. It was the current issue of the industry rag, The Banker. He looked every bit the master of the universe.

"Impressive," Jake said. That was what Philip craved, precisely that word of all words he most wanted to hear—though he had never spelled it out in his mind.

"I was thrilled when it came out. Lots of congratulations. I gulped all that down but it wasn't long before I was thirsty for more, parched even."

"People say nice things about this?" Jake asked

"Pretty much, yes. Felt good."

"How about Martin?"

"Nothing. Not a peep." 

"Maybe he didn't see it."

"Oh, he saw it. I put a copy on his desk."

"How much does that matter?"

"More than I care to admit." He looked Jake over. "You see, I was the firstborn on both sides of the family.  'Our hopes are resting on you,' they said. I did my best, that's for sure. But I've got this superhuman image that's impossible to live up to."

Just as Jake was about to speak, he said, "There's more. You know how people will say he's always there for his kids. My father wasn't. I was a star pitcher in high school. My senior year I even got scouted by the major leagues. My father didn't come to a single game. My mother would tell me, 'Your father is very proud of you.' But that didn't count."

"It left a hole?"

"Which can't be filled."

They broke for lunch‎, but not before Philip returned phone calls. All in all Jake was pleased with how the morning went. Philip was into it and that meant a lot to Jake, a relationship guy. The connection they'd made, he believed, would carry them through the rough stuff ahead. 

Lunch was served in the same room, a tablecloth laid at the other end of the table. The meal had dulled his senses. He poured himself coffee, it was a fresh pot, and said, "Take a few minutes to make an entry in your journal: what struck you so far? Let me know when you're done. I'll be sitting over there." He pointed to a spare chair pushed against the wall.

He tried to quiet his mind, which he could usually do no matter what was going on. But something was bothering him. Ah, Philip overrated himself, that was it. Typically that meant the person's defensive, has trouble with criticism. But it could also mean acheiving is all-important. Jake had asked Martin if they leveled with Philip. The answer was, we tried. Jake comforted himself: a type like me is different.

Jake was startled back to reality by Philip's voice, which sounded different. "Can we get on with it—please?" That tacked-on "please" didn't help. 

"Sure. But let's bridge into it. Is there anything missing from the set of good things about you?"

"You first." Clearly he was in no mood for games.

"Okay," Jake said. Normally he'd have tried one more time but there was no room to maneuver. "Recapping: kudos for turning around IB and for recruiting great people to do that. What's missing—how you work with people."

Philip sneered. "That's what you're going on—what's not there?" Jake's stomach hurt. 

"No, of course not," he said in a level tone. "This is based on the interviews, it's based on people's ratings."

"Which people? Just come out with it, will you please?"

Philip's tone grated on Jake but he was not about to fight fire with fire. Nor was he about to proceed as planned—to unspool people's comments and let Philip draw his ‎own conclusions. He junked that plan on the spot. That would never work. Instead, he'd feed Philip the summary points, the headlines, one at a time. "Mainly your people," he said.

"Ingrates. Where would they be without me?" Jake now understood why management hadn't been straight with Philip—who needs this? 

"On the contrary, they are grateful for the opportunity, every single one of them. Of course they are. That came through loud and clear."

"At least on that their heads are screwed on straight." He eased up a little.

"Right. But I'd be less than honest if I didn't say they're frustrated," Jake said and recoiled inside: less than honest: I never use that phrase.

"What do you mean frustrated!? Be specific." Again, Philip hammered away. If Jake was treated this way in his private life he wouldn't put up with it. But here he felt he had no choice, no choice but to master his feelings. "You don't involve them enough, seek their counsel. You think you do but you don't."

"Bull crap!" Jake, like the conductor of an orchestra, made a pianissimo gesture. Philip lowered his voice but continued in the same vein. "My staff has lots of influence. Their expectations are too high."

Jake wasn't sure where to go next. Then he had an idea. "You're right, expectations are often the culprit. Do you know what the Buddhists say?"

"No, tell me." For the moment he was mollified or distracted.

"Expectations are the root of all suffering."

"Their expectations, that is." He paused. "Maybe mine too." He calmed down as abruptly as he got riled up. Jake's stomach stopped hurting. There's still hope, he thought. 

"Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?" Philip didn't object. "See," he said pointing to a table, "you were rated down on listening and you were rated down on being open to push-back."

"I reject the data base," Philip said.

Jake almost fell out of his chair. "Hey, you're an analytical guy. How is it you have no use for this data?"

"This is soft stuff. I'm a hard-numbers guy."

I'm running out of options, Jake thought, and began to despair. But he came up with another move. "You know that hard numbers aren't always as hard as rock, right?" Philip listened. "Neither are so-called soft numbers always as squishy as marshmallows. Anyway, let's take a peek at the personality profile, which I happen to know is sound psychometrically. Remember, you're the only one who filled it out."

"Okay. But spare me the detail." He was behaving better. Jake gave him the upshot.

"Sir, will you grace the viewing audience with your answer? Does the tool fit the pattern or not?"


"Right, give the man a prize." An attempt to be playful that didn't backfire. But he had no illusions he'd changed Philip's mind.

"I'm still not buying it. Things have settled down since that survey was administered. We'll have to redo it."

"Anytime you want," Jake said, without for a minute believing the findings would be different. He tried a different tack. "In the meantime, can we agree to disagree?" He knew it was useless to press his case.

But Philip got hot again. "I have a problem with this conversation. It's way out of context. The CEO is unbelievably autocratic; this picture of me pales by comparison." It wasn't lost on Jake that Philip had indirectly admitted to the criticism.

"Are you a fan of constructive tension? Intellectually speaking."

"Yeah, nothing like a good debate."

"Then can we agree to disagree?"

"That's not unreasonable."

"A bitter pill, I know. I wish it were otherwise."

"It's not your fault." 

They parted amicably‎, to Jake's immense relief. It wasn't until he closed the door to his room--he had arranged to stay over--that he realized how worn down he was. Like wearing leather shoes to go scrambling on granite boulders. He changed clothes, took a run and had dinner in his room. Feeling like himself again, he sat down in an upholstered chair and put his feet up on the hassock. In a forgiving mood he thought, It's not Philip's fault, the way he reacted today. He could thank his parents and grandparents for that.

The Drama of the Gifted Child came to mind. Neither abused nor neglected, the gifted child is overburdened, by the adults' expectations. Jake was about to give up on Philip. He knew that the least likely prospects can surprise you, just as the most promising prospects can fizzle out.

Jake's mind jumped to something he had been told in the strictest confidence. By the head of trading, Sheila Armistead. Philip had met her at a conference, stayed in touch and had recruited her heavily for this position. She'd known that Philip had worked his way up in trading, had been a stellar performer in his day. But she hadn't been prepared for this: He dropped by the trading floor practically every day and chatted people up, glancing at their blinking screens that kept refreshing. She'd only been on board for nine months and felt strongly that his visits undermined her, given that she was new, an underling and, to boot, a woman.

It took her weeks to work up the nerve to say something to Philip. One day, walking by his office, she saw the door was open and knocked. He motioned her in. As she began to speak, she saw he was looking at the computer screen. He was still doing emails. Finally, he turned her way and she felt her face flush. But she blurted it out. "Philip, I'm trying to establish myself and your presence on the floor doesn't help. It gives people the impression you don't trust me."

"No, I don't think so. Wouldn't they think it strange, given my background, if I didn't walk the floor? I think they like my little visits."

"Sure, up to a point. But don't you see you're over-indexing?"

"Frankly, I don't."

"You have them looking to you, not me."

"Hey, you're doing great. Don't worry about it."

*   *   *   *

Philip was able to get home in time for dinner. In the car he had put himself on notice: you're not going to walk in there and unload on them. It took him the whole drive back to turn the mental heat down to simmer. Fake it 'til you make it, he instructed himself. 

Camille had prepared one of his favorite meals, slow-cooked brisket, potatoes and carrots, along with a green salad. Everyone took their usual spots at the kitchen table. He asked the kids about their day but studiously avoided saying anything about his. Afterwards he washed the dishes. He always did. He knew it wasn't much but, in his mind, something was better than nothing. He didn't want a repeat of the time when Camille lost all patience with him: "You don't lift a finger around here." It wasn't only that: he wanted to be good.

He thought he'd done a decent acting job but when he spotted Camille standing in the doorway waiting quietly for him to finish up, he could tell otherwise. She took his hand and without a word led him from the kitchen to the sunroom. It had glass walls on three sides—a "wing of light," the architect called it. It gave out onto the lush, closely cropped lawn with woods behind it. He called it the conservatory. She closed the door behind her. Gently she said, "So, Philip, how did it go?" She sat down on the settee but he took a chair.

He surprised himself by coming right out with it. "Terrible. Those ingrates, they slammed me." But he had no desire to get specific with her. That would be like walking around the house with no shirt on, putting on display his unsightly midriff. She asked him to elaborate.

"Another time," 

"Whatever it is, I know you're not perfect but I expected better than this—from those people. Cripes!"

Her loyalty loosened him up and he reversed roles. "Could there be a kernel of truth to it?"

"Could be. But I have to admit there was good stuff too. Very good stuff, actually." Some of the gratified feeling paid him a return visit.

"Well deserved." It meant a lot to him she was on his side. "But it must hurt a lot after all you've done for those people." He choked up. Reluctant at first, he buried his face in the crook of her neck. As they sat down again, now next to each other on the settee, she asked, "So what did they say?"

"What's the knock on me?  Basically, I'm hardheaded." A little laugh escaped him.

"No big surprise, right?" she said, laughing along with him.

One of their kids called for her and, with a squeeze on his arm, off she went. But that was okay. In just a few minutes she had done him a world of good. She was also the person in his life best able to influence him. That is, if she put her foot down.

The previous spring, he'd gotten it into his head to buy a 48-foot sailboat with berths for the whole family—a Hinckley, naturally. He salivated over that boat like it was a sirloin hamburger or a Haagen-Dazs ice cream cone. Excited, he'd showed her striking photos of the boat. The expression on her face told him she didn't share his enthusiasm. He didn't press his case. He wanted the boat but he also wanted to stay in her good graces. It was a lot of money and how much would they use it anyway? Over coffee the next morning, he was gracious in defeat. "Not every idea is a good idea," he said. Actually, that was her line.

They had recently moved into their house, custom-built. The great room with its soaring ceiling featured a fieldstone fireplace. The stone work was meant to duplicate a retaining wall that had appeared in Architectural Digest. A photo of it was pinned to the contractor's bulletin board. Philip had returned from a trip to Asia to visit the bank's outposts there—Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo—to find the fireplace almost finished. First blush he was pleased—a fieldstone fireplace, how about that. But a moment later he realized it wasn't what he wanted, it wasn't what was spec'd. This one didn't have a mantel, the concrete between the stones was exposed. The intended version was meant to use ashlar masonry where the stones are cut and arrayed so that the upper ones appear to be supported by the lower ones; the concrete is hidden.

He called the contractor. There had been a mix-up. The mason they wanted wasn't available. He called Camille, who had seen the fireplace the day before. "It's got to come down," he said.

"Do you have to?" Rhetorical question.

People would later say about the desired fireplace, "work of art." Which always gave Philip a little shot of pleasure.

The Saturday following Philip's tumultous insight meeting he and Camille went for a walk. It had rained for days and they took advantage of a break in the weather, though the sky was still gray. Holding hands, they chatted about this and that. After a while she turned to him. "So, Philip, can we talk about the input you got this week—can you stand to?" She looked into his eyes, appealing to him. He wanted to be responsive to her and yet he had no stomach for the subject.

"This is so pleasant. Can't we keep it that way?"

"Believe me, I'd prefer that too."

They walked on in silence, still holding hands. He wanted to shut down any further conversation on that sore subject but he knew she meant well. If there was one person whose loyalty he could count on, it was her. As they rounded the big loop, he forced these words out of his mouth: "Okay, we can talk about it." She squeezed his hand.

Treading gingerly, she asked, "Has it been on your mind?" He nodded, looking pained. "Painful subject, I know," she said. It was his turn to squeeze her hand. Gestures were all he could produce. It began to drizzle but soon stopped.

"You've been a huge success." She looked at him. He met her gaze. "But this is a chance to be better." He didn't say anything and started walking again, without reaching for her hand.

She caught up with him, saying, "Here's a thought. Can I offer it?" He made himself say yes. "Talk with Elena. You trust her, right?" Elena, his whiz kid CFO who more than held her own with her older colleagues, was the one person on his staff he was truly at ease with. A lot of that was her. She was outgoing, genuine, comfortable with herself. She was close to their family, came over for dinner from time to time. Unattached at the time, she once even took care of the kids for the weekend so that Philip and Camille could get away.

"Okay, I'll do it," he said.

"You mean talk with Elena?" He did.

The next morning, Sunday, he came bouncing into the kitchen and gave Camille a big hug. "I've got an idea." They took their coffee to the conservatory; the kids weren't up yet. "We've got more money than we know what to do with, even with my extravagant tastes. Let's step up our giving." He believed strongly that when much is given much is expected. 

"Nice, Philip." She patted his hand. "Big Brothers Big Sisters: that's what I suggest. They do a lot of good for kids in need. You could join the board, made up of types like you." 

"Spare me the board seat. I've got no patience for that, a bunch of guys pontificating. Okay, Big Brothers Big Sisters. What else?" 

"There are plenty of worthy agencies out there."

"Nah, let's create our own agency—more control—and you run it. With the kids growing up you've been casting around for ways to fill the void. Am I right?"

"I like that idea."

"Good, it's settled.

"Just a sec. Where are you in this set-up?"

"I'd help."

"What if I don't want your help?"

"How could you not?" he said, acting like he was offended. "My help—you can take it or leave it. You know what you're doing."

"Put it in the by-laws."  

"You can't be serious." Their respective roles were spelled out to Camille's satisfaction in the documents Philip had drawn up and he had reason to feel good about himself.

*    *    *    *

Jake was surprised when Philip's assistant called to set up a meeting with not just Philip but Elena too. With Philip's okay, Jake called Elena before the three of them met. "This is very awkward for me," she said. "I can't speak for everyone." Jake reassured her.

They met in the same conference room where Philip heard he needed help. Jake went over to the window. "Fabulous view," he said. Philip turned to Jake for an opening comment.

"It's your show."

"Yeah, it was Camille's idea." He turned to her. "Elena, people on the team say I'm hard to influence. What do you think? Is it true?‎" He looked expectantly at her. ‎

"I can't speak for everyone. But based on what I've observed, there's some truth to that, yes."

"They're not piling on?"

"I haven't seen their comments, of course, but, no, I don't think so."

Philip was silent, glum.

Jake came in. "You've brought in great people, right? By definition, they have a lot to offer. That's the whole idea, right?"

"Right, that's the whole idea—they're very, very good at what they do."

"What do you think those star-quality people want?"‎

"Let Elena say."

She leaned forward. "They're dying to contribute‎—to do a good job in their area, naturally."

"Don't I let them do that?!"

"You do, certainly in my case and I don't think I'm alone."

"Isn't that enough!?" Philip said, getting hot.

"Can I refresh your drinks?," Jake asked. Elena handed him her half-empty glass. Philip helped himself to more coffee.

"Another question, Jake said. What else do talented people, highly motivated people, want?"

Philip had a ready answer. "To have challenging jobs, to get recognized for their good work, to be rewarded financially."

"Yes. Anything else?" Jake said.

"Hell if I know."

"Elena?" Jake said, turning to her. She shot him a thanks-a-lot! glance.

"Have you two planned this whole thing out?" Philip said.

"Are you kidding?" she said, insulted. Philip held up both hands conceding defeat.

"What else could people possibly want?" she said. "To chip in their two cents worth. Not to every decision you make, of course."‎

"I hadn't thought of that." Jake said to himself, look, he can listen.

The following week he and Philip held their planning meeting in the same room. "That Elena is something else." Philip said, his eyes bright. 

"Yes, she was a big help."

"Remind me," Philip said, "what's the purpose of this meeting?"

"You know, to get specific about the changes you'll make." Philip gave him a blank look. "Are you up for this?"

"Not really."

"But I thought—"

"Think what you want."

"Does that mean you've decided not to change?"

‎"That's what it amounts to. Why mess with a winning formula?"

"Would you mind writing that down?" Philip had brought his Moleskin journal. 

Too clever by half, he wrote, "I haven't decided not to change. But I am sure I've given you that impression." 

Amused but also duty-bound, Jake said. "Those were your people speaking. To do nothing is to thumb your nose at them. For your own self-preservation, you'd better do something."

"I take your point. It's appreciated."

"Shall we get down to brass tacks?"

"Not today."

He's got me coming and going, Jake thought, and decided to come at it from a different angle. "Philip, could fear be operating?"

"I suppose so."

"Where is it, then, the fear?"

"Behind me."

"Take a look?"


There you have it, Jake thought.

"I have a hunch. About what the fear is about. Do you want to hear?"

"Some other time." His voice was small and real as rain.

"You sidled up to it, that's good for now." Jake was not about to push through Philip's defenses. They were there for a reason.

*    *    *    *

A month later Philip acted like he hadn't learned a thing. The CEO had charged him with rolling out the Diversity and Inclusion initiative in IB. Since this was Martin's personal initiative, Philip went all out. Aggressive hiring targets. Two days of diversity-and-inclusiveness training for all IB managers. An evaluation of the senior team's "inclusive leadership" followed by a day of data-driven team building. And, separately, a two-hour feedback meeting for each team member. This was the plan.

When he unveiled it to his staff, he was greeted by stunned silence. His most senior person was the first to speak. "Look, Philip, we've all for this; we'll grab talent wherever we can find it." Nods all around. "But you've gone overboard." Nods to that too, and murmurs. Someone else chimed in, none too friendly: "You've got to scale this back, Philip, you've got to." A kind of emotional contagion set in.

"Now, wait a minute," he insisted, "this is important."

"No one questions that," said his most senior guy. "But, like I said, you've gone overboard" —and warming to his metaphor—"and sunk to the ocean floor." Chuckles all around. Philip's face turned red. He looked at Elena for support. She just shrugged her shoulders but a moment later spoke up: "Okay," she said to her peers, "if this is too ambitious, why don't we get specific on how to scale it back."

"Good idea." "Yes, let's."  A chorus of support for that idea broke out. But Philip had had it. "I'm getting nowhere," he announced, and left the room. 

What his team couldn't know is he came by his stance toward higher-ups honestly. "Growing up, I couldn't understand how others didn't do what their parents or other authorities wanted," Philip had told Jake. "My kids are the same way, thankfully. My oldest told me recently, 'I want to please you and Mom, your opinion means so much to me.'" But his staff didn't need the background. He was already seen as all too good at "managing up." When Jake heard about the meeting, his hopes came crashing down like a child who had fallen from a high branch. 

Six months later Philip was terminated. To the very end Martin, the CEO, was reluctant to part with him. It wasn't just IB's lush profits. He never stopped believing in, wanted to give Philip more time to come around with Jake's help. But his hand was forced and his own credibility was at stake. 

In his handling of Philip's exit, though, he was most considerate. There was no way that Philip would be ushered unceremoniously, ignominiously, out of the building, a not-uncommon if brutal practice in corporations. He was given ten weeks to find another job and allowed to keep his office. But that special treatment did Philip no favors.

Elena called Jake to let him know in case he hadn't heard—which he hadn't. His first thought was, Oh no, the disgrace, Philip's worst fear.

Elena had seen it coming but she was still very upset—for Philip, for the family and, frankly, for herself. Unlike her colleagues, she had seen another side to Philip, open to influence, hers at least, and even childlike in seeking her counsel.

Jake wrote Philip to say how sorry he was: "Let me know when you're ready to talk.' In the meantime Philip continued to come into the office, he continued to take his lunch in the executive dining room. He was determined to hold his head high. But his staff hardly acknowledged him, like he had turned into a leper. No one but Elena sat with him at lunch and not every day. She knew it was not a good idea to associate herself too closely with him.

In the fourth week he received a job offer, a good one, and he accepted. No surprise, he remained highly marketable. That Friday, his last day in the office, they had lunch. The whole time it had been "ghastly," she said. She didn't know how he could stand it. "Philip, it's like somebody died."

Twisting his mouth oddly, he said, "Murdered, more like."

She couldn't help it: "suicide" leapt to mind, and at that she felt disloyal. All the more so for beginning to think of herself: how much more of this can I take?

"I take that back," he said. "Truth is, it was self-inflicted."

The following week Philip called Jake. He was chipper. "I landed a plum job at a big London-based bank. It means a move, but Camille and I are satisfied that it comes at a good time in our kids' lives."

"Congratulations. But I'm sorry it came to this. I wish I could have done more."

"You did what you could. You put the ugly truth in front of me. I couldn't handle it."

"I give you a lot of credit for coming to see it that way."

"Late in the game. Oh, well."

"Do you think I spilled the beans?" Jake asked, who had decided to call the question. 

"For a moment that possibility went through my mind. But, no, they knew all along. That's why they brought in someone like you."

"That's a relief. Another thing: in your new job you'll have a clean slate." Jake couldn't stop wanting him to change.

"Yeah, we'll see if I've learned anything."

"I have faith in you." 

Silence. "Elena turned me down," Philip said, his voice cracking. Losing his job, Jake thought, that he took in stride, seemed to anyway. But in this, Elena, his loyal protégé, wouldn't follow him.

"That must really hurt." Philip nodded, emotion all over his face. "They say there's no knowledge without suffering—do you believe that?"

Philip took a deep breath. "Yes, I do."