Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Strange Meeting

by Jo Dearden

 café latte 

 Jenny drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. She watched the rain sluicing down the windscreen, the wipers rhythmically sweeping back and forth. Traffic was at a standstill. She was going to be late. Up ahead, she could see people getting out of their cars, craning their necks.
A siren blared in the distance. An ambulance roared past at an alarming speed.  Eventually the traffic started to move. About a mile down the road, she could see a police car with a flashing blue light. The ambulance next to a car upside down in the ditch. It didn’t look good.
She arrived at the station car park as her train was leaving. She looked at the train timetable. The next train to London was in half an hour. She went into the station café and ordered a large latte. She took the paper cup of steaming coffee to a table at the far end, having noticed a dark-haired man, about her age, sitting by himself at the other end. She glanced at him, but he didn’t look up.
She got her phone out of her handbag. No new messages. She texted Will her boss to tell him what had happened, and she would be late. He responded with a curt reply:
‘Set your alarm earlier if you want to keep this job.’
Katie sighed as she put the phone down on the table. She had been late a few times with various excuses and although this was genuine, she doubted it would be make any difference. Her phone started to ring loudly. In her hurry to pick it up, her right elbow knocked over the almost full cup of coffee. Brown liquid shot across the table puddling on to the floor. She scraped her chair back and went over to the counter. The attendant was nowhere to be seen.
‘Here, let me help you,’ she heard a male voice. She turned round to see the man she had noticed, armed with paper napkins striding over to her table.
‘Would you like another?’ he said smiling. He patted his pockets.
‘Sorry, I seem to have spent my last change.’
‘Oh, let me buy you one. You’ve been so kind. So clumsy of me. I’m late for work and my boss isn’t too happy.’
The bar attendant came back. Jenny ordered two coffees.
‘Don’t suppose I could have a bacon sandwich too?’ he said.
‘Um, sure.’ She looked at him quizzically.
‘I’ll pay you back.’
‘Ok, great. I’ll have one too.’
‘What do you do?’ he asked her as they sat down with the coffees and sandwiches.
‘I work in an advertising agency. PA to the guy who runs it, but probably not for much longer.’
Jenny sipped her coffee.
‘How about you?’
‘Oh, this and that,’ he said vaguely. ‘Been away for a while, so like you might be looking for something else soon.’
They started to eat their sandwiches. Neither of them seemed to know what to say next.
The loudspeaker on the platform crackled. The next train to London would be arriving at Platform 2 in the next few minutes.
‘Well, thanks. Really kind of you,’ he said.
He picked up his rucksack and swung it over one shoulder and sauntered out of the café door onto the platform.
Jenny went over to the news stand beside the café counter. As she paid for the paper she had chosen, she heard the train arriving. She rushed on to the platform. The man seemed to have disappeared.
She stepped into the nearest carriage and found a seat. Still no sign of him. As the train pulled out of the station she looked out of the window and thought she saw him walking towards the exit. She opened her newspaper. On the inside page there was a photo of a man that looked like the man in the cafe. Above was a headline:
Man escapes from Belmarsh Prison.
In smaller type underneath: Police warn not approach him as he may be armed.


About the author

Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently a member of a creative writing group, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.

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