Table of Contents
Chapter 23 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 24: London, England
Toni checked out of his hotel soon after three, and took a taxi to the Gare du Nord. The Friday rush hour was building nicely, so Carla had un-made and was just tagging along behind. But they reached the station before three-thirty. He picked up his ticket, bought a baguette and a cola for later, exchanged a large handful of twenty-euro bills for ten-pound notes, and boarded the 1607 Eurostar departure for the three-hour trip to London Waterloo International.
He was still very unhappy, and he spent some time just staring out of the window and brooding: angry with Carla, but not able to justify his anger; annoyed with himself about many things, but again not able to put his finger on a single one ...
Carla joined him after a while, still un-made but keen to observe his behaviour following the previous evening’s tantrum. She whispered gently in his ear, asking him if he would like to find a less crowded carriage, so that she could re-make and sit and talk with him. But he took no notice of her and stayed where he was. She concluded there was little change in his state of mind, and Quo agreed that it was certainly not sensible to re-admit him to their schemes for some time to come.
A little later (and he was not sure why), Toni did get up to investigate farther along the train. He found a quiet section where Carla would be able to re-make in private if she chose to. He went back and collected his suitcase, and then settled into his new seat, assuming she would get the message, but not really caring if she did or did not choose to appear.
She did so, with a vengeance. Quo had decided on some shock therapy. So for the first time since they had met, Carla re-made before Toni’s very eyes. The effect was admirable.
‘Sshhhh, Toni!’ hissed Carla; then, quick as a flash, she continued, loud enough for everyone in the carriage to hear and understand, ‘Oh, you poor thing! You must have been having a really bad dream ...’
Normality settled all around them again, and Toni glared at her.
‘You nearly gave me a heart attack! You shouldn’t go re-making in front of people like that!’
‘I’m sorry. We didn’t think it would be that much of a surprise ...’
The conversation petered out. Carla’s conclusions on Toni’s instability remained unchanged. But she wanted to stay with him for a little longer, to see if he would mellow as the journey progressed. So, especially after his reaction to her recent arrival, she needed to give him a little word of warning right away.
‘Toni, you told me while you were packing that we’d be going into the Channel Tunnel about half-way through the trip ... and that it is very long, and is under the seabed ...’
‘Well ... there’s a good chance that I shall fade away when that happens ...’
‘That’s nothing new ...’
‘Toni! Behave! And listen to me! It’s not the same as un-making. It will be because I have lost a lot of signal energy. Quo told you about that possibility, back in Bilbao ... surely you remember?’
‘Yes, I think I do ...’
‘So, if it happens ... don’t panic! I should be able to track you and the train perfectly well, and see and hear everything, but I won’t have enough power to speak to you. If something goes wrong, and I don’t reappear when we come out of the Tunnel, please just wait for me at the exit from Waterloo Station. I can follow the tracks and work something out from our co-ordinates database, and then I can be there in a flash — well ahead of you. But I don’t know the location of your hotel yet. So just don’t move away from the exit, or get in a taxi, or we’ll lose you for ever!’
‘Would you really mind that, Carla ...?’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, Toni, when are you going to grow ..............?’
‘To grow what, Carla?’
But Carla’s voice, and then her image, had evanesced.
Toni spent the entire tunnel transit wondering just how many station exits there might actually be at Waterloo. Fortunately, Carla’s precautions had been wise but unnecessary; twenty seconds before they emerged from the tunnel at Folkestone, she reappeared in her seat. Toni was now, of course, all keyed-up for this potential occurrence, so Carla’s materialisation caused no new shock to his system, just a substantial sense of relief. But he was not going to admit to that, today of all days ... and he barely acknowledged her return.
‘Right,’ said Carla, her project manager’s hat firmly back in place, and the decision now taken not to waste any more effort looking for an early change in Toni’s mood. ‘I’ll be off again in a few moments, but I’ll follow you when we arrive, and see you at the taxi rank ... OK?’
‘Sure, Carla ... whatever you say ...’
* * *
They reached Waterloo exactly on time, and Toni had remembered the various reminders to set his watch back one hour ... to 1813 precisely.
He made his way to the taxis, got into the queue, and waited. Two minutes later, Carla strolled up, and he felt he could relax again at last. He wished he could understand why ...
They climbed into a spacious black cab, which burrowed quickly underneath the station complex and emerged close to Westminster Bridge. As they drove west and approached the River Thames, with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament rising proudly across to their left, the corridors of Whitehall power lurking more surreptitiously over to the right, and the great London parks awaiting them straight ahead, Toni enjoyed his first, glorious Waterloo Sunset.
But although it was a Friday night, he wasn’t Terry, and she wasn’t Julie, and they certainly weren’t in Paradise at that moment. So Carla never learned the song that was filling his thoughts.
Instead, he simply described the sights as they drove alongside St James’s Park, circled Buckingham Palace, skirted Green Park on their way up Constitution Hill, then rounded Hyde Park Corner and entered Park Lane.
‘You’ve been here before, haven’t you?’ observed Carla.
‘Yes, twice,’ said Toni vacuously. ‘The last time was only three years ago — on a school exchange visit. I like London ... it’s very big and very busy, but it’s got so many peaceful places in the heart of the city ...’
‘Well, Toni, you’ve got all day tomorrow to get to know it even better. I’ll be meeting Jeremy Farant on my own. I’m sure I can follow the signs to Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros ...’
Toni was still feeling rather angry, and was now even angrier.
‘Do you really think that’s wise? You do seem to get yourself into scrapes when I’m not around, even for a few minutes! Look what happened at the jazz club in Prague! Then there was J-C’s apartment ...’
‘Toni, it is not up for discussion. I suggest we meet again after I have finished with Mr Farant. Let’s make it one o’clock, also beneath Eros (I assume you’ll be able to find it too!), and then we’ll discuss what needs to be done next.’
Toni shook his head in dismay and incredulity, but Carla knew that he would be there as instructed.
‘By the way, Toni ... who is Eros?’
‘Eros?’ sighed Toni. ‘Eros, Carla, is the god of Love.’
* * *
They arrived at an elegant-looking hotel on the Bayswater Road (Toni had insisted on something rather better than what he had accepted in Paris), and Carla quickly reminded him once again of their standard fallback plan. He held his tongue.
‘OK, Toni. Give me five minutes before you leave the lobby to go upstairs.’
He opened the cab door. She slid out and walked off to the next corner, rounded it, found a quiet alcove and un-made, then returned to the front entrance and sailed though the un-revolving door. She whispered her presence to Toni as he was checking in, then followed him up to his room, logged its position, and gratefully handed over the watch to one of her juniors ...
It was still only seven o’clock, and Toni had slept late that morning, so he had plenty of energy left to take on Soho on a warm Friday night. He just needed to forget about Carla for a while, and then he could start to enjoy himself. And he very quickly managed to do both.
He took the Underground straight to Tottenham Court Road, then strolled down Charing Cross Road and into the little streets and squares of Chinatown. He meandered around that colourful neighbourhood for over an hour, absorbing the exciting variety of sights and sounds. He found himself ghoulishly fascinated by the rich displays of yet-to-be-cooked meats, poultry and seafood in the front windows of the countless restaurants. Eventually, one of those tableaux proved irresistible, and he dined lavishly at the grand, convincingly named “China China”.
Remembering Carla’s shopping instructions, as he paid the bill with his bank card to keep his cash intact, he sought out a large music store and bought a recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer, performed in 1966 by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. Then he wandered off towards Covent Garden: not to the Royal Opera House, but to the now reincarnated site of the old fruit and vegetable market; he knew it was always good for some live entertainment. He was not disappointed. Jugglers, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, streetlife serenaders, mime and statue artists — he saw them all. And on his way around and about the happy city scene, which made him momentarily think again of the Moulin de la Galette, he dropped into two separate pubs, just to keep his spirits up.
But when his legs had once more had enough, he took the easy option and grabbed a taxi back to his hotel.
* * *
After a hearty English breakfast, he picked up his CD player, swapped out Strauss in favour of Janis Ian (he wanted some reliable, friendly company this morning) and at nine o’clock put his best sightseeing foot forward once again.
‘Day 12 of my travels,’ he thought for no particular reason, as he crossed over into Hyde Park.
He spent the next three hours on a very pleasant walk, with a gentle music accompaniment, through many of the tranquil London places of which he had such fond memories.
He covered the full length of Hyde Park and the Serpentine Lake, and almost decided to hire a rowing boat for himself ... but something told him he didn’t have the time to spare. And as he left through one of the exit gates at the southern end of Park Lane, he noticed a colourful advertisement for an open-air rock concert, in that very park, the following afternoon.
‘What a great idea that would be ...’ he thought, rather loosely.
He crossed Park Lane and strolled through the quiet streets of Shepherd Market, emerging on Piccadilly and stopping at Henry’s for an early beer. He ambled through Green Park, and took a much better look at Buckingham Palace than he had been able to grab from his twilight taxi ride. Then, as he walked off down the Mall, he realised he was timing things nicely to be at Piccadilly Circus just before twelve noon. So he finally admitted to himself that he was once again planning to watch over Carla’s next involvement.
He approached Eros with several minutes to spare, and hovered around near one of the Underground subway exits, desperate to avoid being noticed by Carla, and at the same time passionately intent on spotting either her or the English gentleman in the green fishing hat who was expecting to meet a Spaniard wearing a pink carnation.
* * *
Carla was the first to appear. Her plan of action had been formulated in detail, half an hour earlier, after she had successfully found her way to Eros with the help of a friendly London bobbie. She had even managed to conjure up a carnation.
She stood in clear public view at the foot of the statue, taking great care, for several good reasons, not to smile too directly at any passers-by. But when the fishing hat and its owner emerged from the southern section of Regent Street, gazed around in search of Estebán, and registered with mild surprise that today was a very good day for pink carnations, she put on her most captivating smile, and The Hon. Jeremy James Farant, proud holder of several trophies from his exclusive angling club, was himself well and truly hooked.
Carla had decided to play this big old fish in the way she had initially handled the smaller but very cute one in Bilbao, at the start of her mission. Hopefully they would encounter no hidden obstacles on this occasion. So she moved off quickly towards Haymarket, keeping Farant on a long tight line.
Toni, in his turn, stealthily pursued her catch like a hungry pike with the sniff of an easy meal ...
She crossed Haymarket and penetrated a quiet, much smaller street linking it with Leicester Square. She walked up three steps and along a short passage, then stopped at the front door of an office building that was obviously closed for the weekend. Then, out of view of everyone but the few people passing by, none of whom would in any case be looking her way, she hauled her capture in.
Toni, who was by now only yards behind Farant, was dismayed to see his quarry stride up the steps and disappear into the dim passage. He was forced to come to a halt just short of it, not daring to peep around the corner, and having to be satisfied with just listening intently ...