It took Gareth until 12:30 to finish his work in Utrecht.
At this rate he would never get to Paris on time. And his Dutch e-ticket gave no dates or times for the trains. It was his first open ticket in years.
“I understand that there’s an 8:47 train for Brussels tomorrow morning?” he asked at the station.
“Yes. There is also a 7:47.”
“No, the 8:47 will do. Thanks. It’s a direct train, right?”
“No. It arrives in Rotterdam at 9:25, and the next train departs for Brussels at 9:55.”
Gareth visited the Speelklok Museum, had a simple dinner of pankoeken and went to bed at 22:30, but was awakened at 23:45, 2:13, and 3:20 by the rowdy Dutch.
The next day he strolled into the station to have breakfast at Starbuck’s, but found that it opened at 8:00. He ate quickly at a small stand, found €5.45 a reasonable price, and discovered that he was in time to catch the 7:47. He looked at the departure board, but saw no 7:47. He found a 7:42, and ran to catch it.
In the train he asked when the next connecting train went from Rotterdam to Brussels.
“8:58, platform 3,” said the conductor.
What a help, Gareth thought.
But when he arrived on platform 3 he saw the words “reservering verplichtend” on the monitor and became suspicious. He found the ticket office and took a slip of paper from a small electric dispenser. It was marked “H703”.
But as the numbers came up over the ticket stands, only A’s appeared. Gareth stepped in between customers.
“Pardon me, but when are you going to call numbers beginning with H?”
“Those numbers are for the international trains – those stands over there – and they open at 9:00.”
“But the train leaves at 8:58!”
“What is your question?” the ticket agent asked.
Gareth presented his ticket. “I was planning on taking that train, but if I’ve understood correctly, I need a seat reservation.”
“But how do I get one?”
“You can do that at the arrival of the train. If you stand on the platform at the level of car 15, you will be able to buy a seat from the train manager.”
“Many thanks,” Gareth said, sighed, and ran back out to the platform, where he found uniformed personnel. One of them told him that he was in the right spot on the platform.
Once the train arrived, a uniformed woman stepped out of car 15. She sent him into car 14, where there were empty seats, to wait. It wasn’t until she had come and taken €18 to sell him seat 23 in car 14 on train 9318 to Brussels that Gareth breathed out.
The Brussels job took him until mid-afternoon. He had the devil of a time finding on his paper map the #81 tram which he had seen on the web. He gave up and examined other routes. The #71 bus was actually more suited to his movements than the #81 tram. He shot out the hotel door to catch it.
Gareth got the job done, returned to the center, visited the museum of musical instruments and ate a simple dinner. He had a blissful sleep and an early rise at 5:00, an anxious wait for the unfamiliar #4 tram, and a coffee at Bruxelles Midi before the Thalys took him to Paris.
In Paris the change of stations was easy, but the understocked Bercy station snack shop would have no sandwiches until 10:00. Gareth travelled to Dijon, found a sandwich shop in the station, bought a quick lunch and walked to a small park nearby to eat.
Gareth took a room in a hotel on the north side of the park; on the east side was one of Dijon’s main squares. He consulted the map at the bus stop. He discovered that both the #3 bus and the #6 went through that square and on to the Auditorium. He chose the #3.
Soon he came to the huge modern flatiron of the Auditorium. He walked along a long beige wall and crossed the street that ran along the wide end of the iron. In the middle of that wall was the artist’s entrance. Across from it was a little parklet with three saplings, a green version of a comic strip desert island.
Gareth walked into a small backstreet and found an alley between two apartment buildings. Four gray bins stood scattered at different angles. He placed his briefcase on one, opened it silently, and took his cherished 0001.
Yes, he knew it was called a Hellcat, but he preferred to whisper its product code: dear IOPI0001, sweet 0001. The percussive “oh-oh-oh-one” made him think of the delicious gasp that she made when he fired her through his carefully-crafted silencer. He patted the squat .380 and slid it into his inside jacket pocket.
Gareth hid the briefcase behind the bin, returned to the parklet, and leaned against a sapling.
Soon the artist’s entrance door swung open. A slight man with neat white hair, slanted eyes, and a calm smile came out. The white-haired man crossed the parklet and continued walking into the backstreet. Gareth followed him.
The man walked at a leisurely pace. As they came to the alley, Gareth surged forward, pushed the man into it, and let his pretty 0001 whisper in his ear.
Gareth walked back up the street to the bus stop and took the #6 bus back into the center.
He strolled in the streets and quietly exulted, swinging his briefcase and sensing the slight shift of his baby in it. He had done it. Three contracts. Three days. Three countries. The unusually warm March day gave that much more spring to his step.
published 18 August 2011