Wednesday, 10th July 2013
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Dan stood in line at the passport control, in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. He was looking around at the people in the adjacent line: at their hand baggage, facial expressions, outfits, and their reactions to waiting to pass through the control point. There were two booths in operation, both operating efficiently to keep the incoming passengers moving forward.
A dark-haired man occupied the booth to the right. He was pale-skinned and wore a neatly-trimmed beard and moustache. His gaze at each approaching passenger was impassive, inscrutable, and to the wrong type of passenger; worrying. He looked as if he could see through the eyes into the soul.
Dan moved forward as his own line advanced two paces. He was looking forward to reaching the booth he was queuing for; so he could get a closer look at the young blonde official who was checking documentation. She smiled and greeted every passenger, and that was Dan’s favourite type of official.
As Dan handed over his passport, he kept his forefinger in position, keeping the pages open at the photograph. The blonde glanced at Dan’s face, looked down at the passport, and there was a slight twitch of her lips as she turned the document over, and scanned it.
With barely a glance at her monitor, she turned back to Dan and handed over his passport with a broad smile.
“Is your visit business, or pleasure, Mr. Galloway?”
“Pleasure,” Dan replied and a smile played over his lips.
“Welcome to Amsterdam,” she said, arching a shapely brow, “and enjoy your trip.”
“Thank you,” Dan said, wondering how many times the young woman was asked about her intentions when her shift ended.
Dan wasn’t on the lookout for a new woman in his life, but a pretty girl in the booth ignited a natural desire that the journalist tried to keep suppressed. He knew she probably had the same affect on almost every male passenger, and probably some of the females too.
As he walked away, Dan wondered absently how many passengers fantasised about the person checking their documents. He looked around, and decided that the passport control booths in Amsterdam Airport must number in three figures. The terminal was huge.
He made his way to the nearby board, to check which conveyer belt his baggage would arrive. A short while later, he was walking through a busy airport; his laptop case hanging from his left shoulder and his trolley suitcase rolling along; pulled by his right hand.
It always struck Dan that Amsterdam Schiphol was his favourite. He’d used airports in the UK, across Europe, the US, Central America, and the Middle East. Although Schiphol was large and busy, it had a friendly atmosphere.
At the line of ticket office windows, Dan purchased a ticket for the express train to the city centre. He was comfortable using the independent ticket machines, but there were few folk at the counters, and it was so much easier. He accepted his ticket and small change, thanked the young man, and turned away from the window.
Dan had already placed all his British currency in a small re-sealable plastic bag. It had become one of his travelling rituals after the first time he found himself with a mixture of two currencies in his pockets.
As he arranged the Euro banknotes in his wallet, he gazed along the line of windows at the few other customers. It was the quietest he could remember seeing the ticket office, and he wondered if the automated machines helped to relieve the pressure. He clearly overheard a female customer nearby requesting a one-way ticket for Amsterdam.
Two windows along, a dark-haired woman nodded to the assistant who’d served her. The passenger turned, gripped the handle of her suitcase, and set off in search of the train platforms. Dan saw the woman’s passport fall to the floor, but instead of calling after her, he quickly looked around, and strode across to pick it up.
“Crystal van de Velde,” Dan said quietly, as he looked at the official photograph. “Well,” he continued, still standing there, “aren’t you a pretty one?” Dan was always happy to recognise that passport photographs were not usually complimentary, but in his hand, he was holding a possible exception. He looked up, and saw the passport’s owner standing at the top of the descending conveyer.
She was studying the train schedule overhead, and although it was a straightforward board, anyone in a hurry could spoil their day if they took the wrong train. Her long dark hair hung in loose ringlets, lifting from around her shoulders as the breeze rose from the underground tunnel to her front.
She was wearing a lightweight navy blazer with brass buttons, over a pale blue blouse and a cream mini-skirt. The short, pleated skirt and shining black stilettos combined to compliment her shapely legs. The attractive woman tugged on her trolley case, and guided it through the barrier of small silver bollards to descend in the breeze, to the platforms.
Hot on the woman’s heels was Dan, pulling his case with his right hand, and clutching the stranger’s passport in his left. As Dan descended on the conveyor, he looked closer at the traveller a few steps below him.
She turned her head left and right, looking at the poster ads during the short trip down to the train platforms. It gave Dan the opportunity to confirm that her passport did not do her justice.
“Miss Van de Velde,” Dan said as he approached the stranger on the platform.
“How do you know my name?” the woman said as she turned, and fixed her dark eyes on the grinning man nearby. She glanced down as her passport was held out to her.
“I know it sounds corny,” Dan said, “but I’m pleased it was me who found it.”
Crystal van de Velde accepted the passport, glanced inside, and then flashed a smile at her saviour.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I’m glad too that it was you who found it; there are a lot of unscrupulous people travelling through airports.” She paused. “It wouldn’t have been the best way to start my visit.” She beamed a smile that warmed Dan’s heart, and then she took a few paces to the platform on the left.
Crystal glanced back over her shoulder, at the man who was still in the same spot gazing at her. He wasn’t bad looking. She smiled again then stepped between the other passengers waiting at Platform 1.
“Miss Van de Velde,” Dan whispered close to her ear, causing her to turn, alarmed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “was there something else?”
“Yes,” Dan said and treated her to his most gracious smile. “Unless you’re heading for Rotterdam … you might want to join me for the Amsterdam train … over there.” He nodded to the other platform.
Crystal laughed aloud, attracting the attention of those passengers nearest to her. She looked up at the clock and information board, and shook her head in disbelief.
“The return of my passport threw me,” she said and rolled her eyes.
“I’m travelling alone,” Dan said, “and I’d be delighted to share the short journey to the city with you. That is if you didn’t mind my company.”
“In the circumstances, I think that might be a good idea,” Crystal said.
“Even such a short journey with you would be my pleasure,” Dan said, stepping back to allow his new acquaintance to pass him on her way to Platform 2. He knew he sounded like a character from The Three Musketeers, but he didn’t care. Miss Van de Velde wasn’t pretty; she was gorgeous. The 20-minute train ride would not be long enough.
A few minutes later, the pair sat opposite each other on the upper deck of the two-tier train to Amsterdam Centraal. Dan was pleased that there were no other passengers in the adjacent seats because he felt the lovely woman he’d just met, might feel less inhibited in conversation.
Dan outstretched his right hand, smiled, and inclined his head.
“My name is Dan Galloway,”
“Crystal,” she said and gave a girlish laugh. “Do you always look into a stranger’s eyes with such intensity? You’re making me feel like a movie star.”
“I can’t see a problem with that,” Dan said. “You look like one.”
Crystal burst into laughter, which in turn made Dan laugh.
Crystal calmed, and said: “If you’re doing a one-man show tonight, I want a ticket.”
You’ve got it; Dan thought, and they looked into each other’s eyes for a moment.
Instead of allowing an embarrassing silence, they fell into an easy-going conversation about the glorious weather, and about travelling alone. A few minutes passed, before they got around to talking about what they did for a living.
Dan told her he was a freelance journalist and writer, but didn’t give any details. He explained that he was taking a short break, but didn’t specify for how long.
“It’s a sort of open-ended arrangement,” he said.
For her part, Crystal told Dan that she worked for a fashion house in the US. They were both friendly, but protective of their own privacy.
Dan said: “Have you ever travelled to Europe before?”
“No, it’s my first time, but I’ve wanted to come here for many years.” A smile played over her sensuous lips. “May I take it that you’re a regular visitor to Amsterdam?”
“I’ve been here a few times, but I never tire of it.” He glanced out at the levelled countryside with its crisscrossing canals and dykes. “When cycling out here in the countryside, it’s peaceful, and when in the city, it may be busy, but it’s friendly.”
Crystal watched Dan’s expression as he spoke of the place, in an affectionate and positive way.
She said: “Do I detect a fondness for Amsterdam, or Holland in general?”
“I like Amsterdam very much,” he said, “and something to keep in mind, is that a lot of people name the country Holland, but it’s The Netherlands. Holland is a region within The Netherlands.”
“Thank you,” Crystal said. “That would have been an embarrassing mistake with a local person.”
“It’s a mistake that many tourists make,” he said and laughed, “but the country is generally referred to as Holland.”
Crystal said: “Would you mind if I asked your advice on something?”
“If it’s within my power, you’ll have an answer,” he said.
“Is there a particular hotel you would recommend for a first-time visitor?”
“Ah, now,” he said, “that is within my power.” He looked deep into her beautiful brown eyes. “I’m booked into a hotel which is directly opposite the station we’ll be arriving into.”
“In the US, I would normally have such things booked in advance, but I was trying to be spontaneous, you know, by waiting until I arrived here. Now that I’m almost at the city, it feels a bit different. I feel a bit apprehensive.”
Dan’s mind was working overtime as he lifted his mobile phone from an inside pocket of his jacket. He glanced from the device to Crystal, then back again. He scrolled through to the screens and then handed the phone to Crystal.
He said: “If you’d like to trust my judgement, press the call button when you’re ready.” He stood up. “I’ll give you some privacy.”
Crystal first looked at the hotel’s name on the screen. Royal Quay Hotel. She glanced up at her charming new acquaintance. He was standing near a window a few paces away, watching the countryside zipping by, and giving her privacy, just as he said he would.
He stood there: his thumbs hooked into the front pockets of his faded jeans, his Levi jacket hanging open. His tousled, brown hair and blue eyes gave him a boyish appeal, but there was a man’s body inside those clothes. Crystal had dealt with enough models to notice when a tight-fitting T-shirt covered a good physique. Crystal pressed the call button.
Callum McGregor was sitting at a table on the Piazza Navona. He sipped his chilled beer and watched the hundreds of tourists, all suffering the oppressive heat to have their picture taken beside one of the three fountains. A favourite pastime for McGregor on such occasions was to award points out of ten mentally, to the passing females.
As he watched the folk sauntering around or relaxing at the fountains, it served to remind him that there would be very few locals of any substance. Any modern Roman who was able to afford it went somewhere else in the height of summer; to avoid the intense heat.
His mobile phone rang twice, and the call ended. One minute later, it rang again. He swiped the screen and held the device to his ear. The call was being redirected via two relays to disguise the locations of both callers, but McGregor was cautious in the extreme.
“Speak,” was all he said. He listened intently while the distant caller explained there was a need for the removal service.
“Location?” he queried in his usual abrupt manner. He listened.
“It’s booked,” McGregor said and ended the call without another word. A brief response was confirmation that he would, or would not accept the job, besides; he hadn’t been to Amsterdam for a couple of years. He ordered another cold beer and went back to his talent-spotting as he lit a cigarette.