Charlie was in high spirits and decided to knock off work an hour early. He twisted earbuds into each ear, tapped the play button on his iPod touch and headed into the bustling street. The playlist picked up with “The time of my life” and in his head Charlie was grooving towards Jennifer Grey, followed by a crew who mirrored his every move as he braced himself for the lift. Passing the hat shop on the corner, Charlie hesitated. What the hell. He killed the music and ducked inside.
The fedora made him look more JR Ewing than Indiana Jones, but Charlie settled on a Baker Boy cap that shouted Robert Redford in The Sting. Tilting the cap to a jaunty angle, he skipped out of the shop. Outside a teenager in a hoodie and low-slung jeans shuffled past, looking Charlie up and down. “Twat,” said the youth, and shuffled on by.
She’d seen him only once, about a year ago, but thought of him often; every time she walked that way, in fact. Today was much the same as that day; same six o’clock sun casting long shadows onto the pathway strewn with pine cones. She enjoyed the alternating cool of the shadows and warmth of the direct sun on her bare arms as she approached the fork where she’d seen him. So unexpected, so breathtaking. If he showed up today she’d be prepared, tapped her back pocket twice. Grabbing a stick she made like Zorro before brushing some leaves to one side, then broke the stick trying to flip a stone. Stupid, said her head; he’ll be here, said her heart. Picturing his liquorice skin, his strong legs and markings as bright as the midday sun, she pulled her ultra-slim CyberShot from her back pocket, poised and ready to capture her elusive fire salamander.
The brakes screeched like fingernails across a blackboard and Professor Griffin, bringing to mind the awakening of Frankenstein’s monster, opened his eyes. Squinting at his pocketwatch, he was baffled by the delay. He cursed British Rail for his missed connection and himself for giving his publisher, Teddy, another excuse to read him the riot act.
“Oh, hell,” said Griffin when the train pulled in; the station sign welcomed him not to Peterborough but instead to London Kings Cross.
Griffin bought a ticket for the last northbound train and dashed to a payphone. “Looking forward to the manuscript,” said Teddy, “though I do wish you’d trade in your HB for something more twentieth century.”
Griffin tapped his hip, then dropped the receiver. He began trembling like a California quake, clutched his chest and, hearing the muffled sound of a station announcement, collapsed in a gasping heap. His satchel, along with eleven years of blood, sweat and worn-down pencils, was gone.