Table of Contents
Chapter 19, part 3 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 20: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Carla, having little else to do, had decided to see Amsterdam for herself as well. So she would once again be with Toni every step of the way ...
* * *
He bought his ticket, and had time to pick up an English paperback and a street map of Amsterdam, as well as a sandwich and a can of beer, before boarding the train. After making some rough sightseeing plans, he passed the rest of the journey enjoying the first few chapters of his new Michael Cordy novel and then just gazing out of the window at the increasingly flat countryside ...
‘Still only Day 8 of my travels,’ he thought at one point, ‘and this will be my sixth new city!’
Fifteen minutes after filling up with passengers at Schiphol Airport, the train arrived at Amsterdam Centraal at 1539 precisely. Toni had not thought of Carla once during the whole trip.
* * *
The street plan had recommended a canal tour as a good way to get to know the city. And soon after Toni crossed the busy junction outside the station and began to walk up the Damrak towards the city centre, he spotted a one-hour waterbus trip due to depart at four o’clock. He seized the moment and went aboard with only minutes to spare.
The boat took him on a smooth, clockwise journey around the heart of the city. He loved the colour and variety of all the canal-side buildings, and the sensible, multilingual recorded commentary on their histories. He felt especially moved as they cruised respectfully past the Anne Frank House. Finally, as the trip drew to a close, he chuckled at the sight of the huge multi-level bicycle park beside the station.
Carla learned a great deal, too.
But it never occurred to Toni how much more romantic that canal tour could have been with a close friend by his side ...
Then, at five o’clock, he started walking towards the Old Church. He soon stopped again for a relaxing beer at Het Karbeel bar, then moved on to take in the church, and in the narrow streets opposite he discovered his very first red light district. He wasn’t sure quite which way to look, and whether to stop or to keep walking past the windows, and he quickly discovered the perils of returning the ladies’ smiles. Then he was happy to move on to the New Church and the Royal Palace on Dam Square, to stroll along and across several canals until he reached Rembrandt Square, and then to continue his walking canal tour towards the huge façade of the Rijksmuseum.
He arrived on the bridge at six twenty-five.
Mireille was already waiting for him. She had caught the 1450 train and walked single-mindedly direct from the station to meet her date for the night.
She gave him another more-than-friendly kiss, which turned out to be rather one-way, and then noticed what was in his plastic bag.
‘Nice roses, Toni!’
‘Yes, they’re gorgeous, aren’t they!’
She waited. Then she shrugged her shoulders, and they set off towards the theatre.
‘There are several restaurants nearby, Toni. Are you hungry?’
‘Are you kidding?’
She smiled with pleasure at Toni’s increasingly relaxed mood. They chose Peppino’s on Leidsekruisstraat, and they both enjoyed fine pizzas. By way of a civic apology for eating Italian on his first trip to Amsterdam, Toni selected a calzone, because they always reminded him of clogs.
* * *
They arrived at the Nieuwe de la Mar Theatre half an hour before show time, collected their prime-spot tickets, and chatted to a few people standing near them in the foyer. Toni wondered if any of his Dutch pals from the Message Board were now only feet away from him. But he wasn’t Evita, and he wasn’t about to try and find out in the way she probably would ...
Toni had not thought about Carla for several hours now. But when Janis Ian came on stage with her guitar, to rapturous applause and then a perfect silence ... when she gently struck the chord that lives between the lines, and began singing Watercolors ... and when Mireille took his hand in hers, he could not contain a broad and happy smile, and the memory of that day in Bilbao came flooding back, and he smiled more broadly still.
But Carla did not see these things. For she too was captivated by the presence of the singer and the songs ...
In the interval, Toni overheard mention of the Message Board. So he did, after all, connect with two of his regular board-buddies ... both women, both long-time fans, both renewed once more by the healing balm of their heroine’s music. They even offered him a tasty stroopwafel, which he devoured shamelessly. Mireille politely declined hers.
* * *
Before the concert ended, to sustained applause and successful demands for encores, Janis had reminded the audience that she would do her usual “meet and greet” after the show. She would stay until everyone who wanted to had met her and exchanged a few words. ‘You’re the people who support me and my work. I figure I owe you all. It’s the least I can do ...’
Toni had forgotten this would happen. But, of course, he and Mireille seized the opportunity, and waited happily near the front of the line, chatting to more like-minded neighbours once again ...
Suddenly, it was their turn. Mireille was clearly very nervous — which he found really surprising — and she simply murmured something bland to Janis about how great the show had been. And when Toni tried to say something, he too found himself desperately tongue-tied — but Janis smiled encouragingly, and finally he leaned forward, kissed her on the cheek, and managed to blurt out ‘My name’s Toni ... and I’ve just loved your music for years and years ...’
His heroine smiled another grateful smile. ‘Thank you, Toni. That’s why I keep doing what I do! Do you have anything you’d like me to sign for you?’
Toni remembered the Between the Lines CD that was still in his jacket pocket. He handed it over, and the writer wrote:
He was speechless as he took back the CD. Then he remembered the roses, pulled them from their bag, and thrust them into the singer’s arms. ‘It’s the spring time still, Janis!’ And then (he could not later recall these last moments) he and Mireille must have mumbled their thankyous and their goodbyes to the artist and her jovial assistants, and, with many more people still waiting in the queue behind them, made their way back to the foyer ...
* * *
By eleven o’clock they were strolling towards the station, drunk on the heady wine of the music and the meeting, and happily exchanging their own favourite memories of the wonderful evening. Then, for once, Toni had a practical thought.
‘What time’s the next train, Mireille?’
‘Oh, there’s not long to wait now,’ she whispered, wrapping her arm around his waist. And when they were still several minutes’ walk from the station, she stopped outside one of the many hotels on the Damrak.
‘We have a double room booked here for the night, Toni.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Mireille ...’
Cosmopolitan girl studied him carefully.
‘This will be your first time, won’t it?’
He said nothing, half ashamed, half bursting with anticipation.
‘Don’t worry, Toni. Tonight’s the night!’
He wondered again about arguing, but quickly abandoned the idea.
So Toni and Mireille checked in to the hotel. Carla the observer did not need to. Then their virtual eternal triangle climbed the stairs together to the first floor room ...
* * *
The happy couple had eventually remembered to set their individual alarms for a quarter to six ... she needed to be back at work in Brussels by nine-thirty at the very latest, and he had a rendezvous at ten (and Carla was closely watching him and definitely expecting him not to be late!)
They dressed in silence; but they both perked up when the fresh air hit them as they walked the short distance to the station, and they managed some light conversation. But no mention was made of the events of the previous night.
They each bought something to eat at the station café, and their train departed at 0623.
In the absence of any further conversational offerings from Toni, Mireille stared out of the window for the whole journey. Toni was happy to allow himself to drift back to sleep, and only woke when she nudged him gently as they approached Brussels. Carla, as usual, observed their journey from a measured distance.
Mireille had to rush.
‘I’d like to see you again, Toni ... where are you staying?’ ... ‘OK ... and here’s my mobile number ... will you call me again soon, before you leave Brussels ...?’
Toni didn’t know what to say. So he just said ‘Yes.’
* * *
But he would not call her.
Mireille would however try to contact him at his hotel that evening. But she would be told that nobody with a first name of Toni or Antonio had stayed there over the past two days. She would begin to describe him, but the receptionist, knowing when it was time to stop being helpful and time to start protecting the privacy of her clients, would make no reference at all to that nice young Sr. Rafael Barola who fitted the description perfectly (and who, she thought, really might have paid her a bit more attention). And she would politely terminate the call ...
* * *
Toni walked the short distance from Brussels Central to the hotel. Carla followed. He lay down on his bed and waited for her to appear from the bathroom, and at ten o’clock she did exactly that.
‘How reliable you are, Carla,’ he smiled.
‘Yes, Toni,’ said Carla, unusually unsmiling herself.
‘You don’t seem as bright as usual. Wrong kinds of ray today?’
‘Not really, Toni. Not really.’
Her voice sounded a little sulky, he thought.
‘Let us get on, Toni. We must prepare to engage again with our other new Ray ...’
‘Ha, ha, ha! Your sense of humour really is improving, Carla!’
‘If you say so, Toni. Now, we need to meet up with Mr Graves at half past twelve. So please find out the times of trains over to Mons. If he has done his job as we hope, we shall then have no further immediate contact with him. We shall be able to turn our attention to our other new channel, in the French government.
‘Then pack your suitcase and check out. As soon as we have finished with Raymond, we can move straight on to Paris ...’
To be continued ...