( A Classic 1940s Hollywood Noir pastiche)
The tannoy boomed out;
” Attention please! Will passenger Mr.John Smith please report to the Station Manager’s office,that’s the Station Manager’s office on the main concourse,thank you”.
Anyone in the vicinity on hearing that would perhaps have noticed a dapper business guy,in his late forties, carrying a regular attache case suddenly spin on his heels and stride purposefully back the way he just came.
The station had great signage,on entering the cathedral-like domed rail terminus,John Smith saw that to his left were platforms 1 to 9 for all northbound destinations and on his right platforms 10-18 for all the southbound.He’d arrived with plenty of time to spare before his scheduled departure from platform 13.
Though even as he smartly about-faced he couldn’t for the life of him imagine who’d be requiring his presence so urgently.
The Station Manager’s office was a typically State-run affair; far too hot for the time of the year,yellowy-brown wallpaper and furnishings and a large oak desk behind which sat an indetereminate figure subsumed in a fug of pipe smoke.
“Can I help you at all?””Yeah,sure,you just put out a call for me over the p.a”Now he was stroking his chin whilst keeping a firm grip of the pipe stem as it continued to stream its pervasive odour like a badly maintained car exhaust.
“You Mr.John Smith?””What is it you want to see me about,I’ve got a train in ten minutes”.”That right?well you got some i.d.that tells me you’re John Smith”.
He deftly flashed a business card from his wallet with exemplary ledgerdemain and saw it land on the desk blotter.”Great,thanks Mr.Smith. a lady called just a couple of minutes ago,asked for us to put out a message,which you heard and asked to pass on a number you could phone her back on”.
The Manager eased the telephone handset across the desk toward Smith and handed him the slip he’d taken the number down on.Glancing at his watch,he continued “May I?” pointing at the phone.”All part of the service to passengers”grinned the smoke enshrouded manager.
“Hello?”A breathless kind of eerie female voice responded,making John Smith raise his eyebrows.”Listen and just shut up,I haven’t got much time.I was hoping to catch you before you got the train here”.”Sorry but I’m having a problem..” She interrupted him, “This is John Smith I’m speaking to right?”What?of course I’m John Smith,you left a message for me remember, and the Station Manager whose office phone I’m using asked me for proof of i.d.so its your move next lady”.”Forgive me John,won’t you,like always? Only you must not get on that train.Do not go to the rendezvous as arranged”.
The increasingly cryptic tone of the conversation had taken him somewhat by surprise ,”So what are telling me ,my meeting’s off,is that what this is about?”
The female voice at the other end gasped,perhaps part in resignation and partly with exasperation.”Always so punctillious John,so ,so correct.But we’ve run out of time or at least I have; but you can still get out of it that’s why I phoned the Station,I knew you’d be there on time.”.
Smith turned to the Manager and mimed his own vexation at this call.”Who has called the meeting off and why didn’t they bother to let me know via my office? ” he glanced at his watch,again.
“All I know is the meeting as you describe it is off and you’re not to go there.They told me they’ll contact you directly in a couple of days to let you know how things stand”. He detected the beginnings of a sob as she hung up on him.
Smith handed the telephone back over across the Manager’s desk and muttering some indistinct thanks exited the office.His train was due to leave in five minutes.
Back outside the cathedral-domed edifice an unexpected traffic snarl up was causing a long backup of vehicles.All eager, all impatient, none more so than dozens of passengers in dozens of taxis all with their meters still running and the likes of John Smith beginning to wander whether they’d be better off getting out here and walking the remaining 200 yards or so to the station.
He looked at his watch.Damn!
He pressed a twenty note into the cabbie’s eager fingers as he hastened onto the heaving pavenent.
Tall,gaunt wth distinctively ascetic facial characteristics and no mean athlete even at 35,Johann Schmidt -or John Smith as it had been anglicised after the War, jogged easily into the station main concourse.To his right the signage indicated all northbound platforms and on the left,southbound.Being the perfectionist on organsational detail he pondered for a brief moment double checking the mission security protocol.He looked at his watch,nip and tuck,but could do it which meant he should,which in turn meant..
“Excuse me are you the Station Manager? The room gave Schmidt the indelible impression that it had been smoked in quite heavily.A thin pallid man in collar and tie squinted nervously at the question.”Erm,no,I’m just the Chief Operations Clerk minding the store as it were till he gets back,he’s just popped out for a moment”.
“Oh I see would you be able to tell me if someone had phoned here in the last few minutes asking to put out a call for me?”
The pallid clerk stared blankly thro his thick lenses at this impertinence by a member of the general travelling public.
He told him that a call log is kept.And Schmidt told him his (legally) anglicised moniker.
“John Smith you say?” parried the Clerk.”Yes,that’s right, here’s my business card”Schmidt tossed the item onto the desk with all the nonchalant ease of a casino gambler winning at vingt et un. At that instance,the office door swung open and the pipe smoking Manager was back.
“Can I help you at all?””It’s okay Sir,I’m already dealing with this gentleman’s enquiry””Really? and what might that be?” – the broken exhaust pipe fumes gathered about him.
“Just checking if we put out a call for him before he got here”.
Schmidt smiled non commitally and hoped reassuringly at the Manager.
“What’s your name?””Mr.John Smith, I’ve left my business card on the desk”.””Look it’s here Sir in the log,why not ten minutes ago ,John Smith”The Manager got behind his desk “This your business card here?”Schmidt nodded.”Here,take it and leave and don’t come back until you come up with some plausible story”.The bemused Schmidt asked”What’s wrong,who called?”
“You see buddy,we don’t give out confidential information but in any event and just to satisfy your curiousity;sure some person called for a Mr.John Smith as it happens and Mr.John Smith already got his message..so why dont you..”
The Manager pointed at the door and told Smith/Schmidt to go catch a train.
( To be continued..)