I saw an ad in the The New York Times, “$99 to London from New York, each way”. This is going back a few years and I don’t think anyone could find a deal like that today. Even in those days it was considered a deal and a half. I was 23 years old and I was a bit of a risk taker. I was looking for adventure, fun, romance and a few good laughs. I was living in Larchmont New York and I grew up in Yonkers which was on the other side of the county. Larchmont is where I found my first apartment. It was a quaint, charming little town nestled alongside the Long Island Sound. I worked as a chef at a French Bistro, hung out at the local pubs and met the finest sorts of people with amazing talents. but
It was about that same time that I saw the movie “The Razors Edge”. A classic Somerset Maugham story, about a guy named Larry Darrell, who signed up for war and served as an ambulance driver during World War I. Larry had more than his fair share of tragedy and when he returned home he decided he didn’t want to stay in Chicago but he wanted to find the meaning of life. He would be seeking beyond the limits of ordinary experience.
He went back to Europe and lived in Paris, then onto Tibet to see the Dali Lama. I was struck with his carefree notion of going to Paris, finding a job, getting an apartment and just living life, meeting all kinds of people, eating at cafe’s, drinking it up at saloons and dancing in the streets. But it was just a movie? Not really. It had my mind rolling with the same bohemian thoughts. I was inspired.
I made the decision, “I’m going to London!” At that very moment my dad called me. Turned out he saw the same ad and wanted to take my Mom, my sister and me. He told me we could fly to London, rent a car and drive into Wales and find our ancestry. Well, I thought, it was not quite the vision I had, but what the hell, it could be fun and later I would come up with another idea. “Let’s stay 2 weeks” he said, I told him I would think about it. I did have an idea and I came up with a plan. I gave it a little time and I called him back and said “I can’t take all that time off, I can only stay 10 days because of work. So this means while we are in Wales I will have to take a train back to London 2 days before my flight so I would have enough time to get on the plane.” The phone went silent. Then, “Hmmm”. He said okay and agreed. “Wow! Really? Okay?” I thought to myself. What this means is 2 days in London all to myself! This will definitely work!
So the day was here. We were standing in a large crowd anxiously waiting, suitcases in hand and suddenly a loud whistle blew followed by a boisterous voice “All aboard, next stop London!” Well, It didn’t go quite like that but we made it to the airport on time and boarded our flight. A six hour flight which seemed like a quick hop over the Atlantic. “Not bad” I thought when we arrived.
Driving into Wales was indeed a trip and I don’t mean the driving kind. Actually I do. I couldn’t get used to the drivers side of the car on the right and the left lane was for driving slow. That was too much hassle. We made it to the Western coast of Wales and it was spectacular. All of it. The mountain side all the way to the coast. The people were friendly and everyone knew Dylan Thomas the poet. Of course they did. He was from Wales. By the time we got to the coast, it was time for me say good bye to the folks and hop on the train to London. This was exciting and I almost couldn’t hold it in!
Arriving back in London, I had to find my way to Piccadilly Circus. I was staying at the Regent Palace Hotel right in the center of London. Great hotel and great location. I checked into my room which was about the size of a closet with a bed. I didn’t care as I had no plans of hanging out in the room. My adventure was about to begin.
I ventured into the center of London, big city with much to do. If i was to see it all i would have to do a lot of walking. I wanted to meet the local flavor. After an hour of a scenic urban walk I found my self back at the Regent Palace. But right across the street, on a side of a building, the pub “Fitzroy’s Tavern” was staring me in the face. “Okay, I’ll check it out” I said to myself.
I walked in. The place was full of the liveliest people drinking and cheering, laughing and singing. A large TV was on the wall and to my surprise folks were watching American Football. I sat down at the bar and shouted out to the bartender “I’ll take a dark ale!” A guy on a nearby stool yelled over to me,
“Hey! You’re American!”
“Indeed I am, from New York. The name’s Seaborn, Jon Seaborn.”
“Bloody cheers then Yank! Next lager is on me”
“Crawford ‘s my name. But friends call me Jack”
“Jack? Why Jack?”
“Cause that’s my name too, my first name, ha ha ha. What brings you to London?”
“I came with my family and spent the last 7 days driving through Wales looking for our lost ancestry. My great grandfather emigrated to America in the early 1900’s. He got on a ship in Ireland and when the ship was close to New York he jumped off.”
“Jump’d off? Why’d he do that?”
“He snuck in the the US. I think he stowed away on the boat. He had no paperwork. Yep, he was an illegal, Ha ha ha.”
“Sounds like somthin’ a Welshman would do. A crazy Welshman. He’d probably been runnin’ from the law”
“Ha! you’re probably right. We couldn’t find anything about him while I was in Wales but I left my family there and they’re still lookin’. ”
There was a guy sitting next to Jack that was intently listening to our conversation and at that moment he raised his beer, looked at me and loudly yelled out,
“My name is Victor and I am from Spain. I am the lead player in a Mariachi band on the biggest ship in all the world, the Queen Isabella de Norta!”
I looked at Jack and he looked at me and a moment of silence prevailed and then the entire crowd stood up and applauded. Victor stood up and bowed. Ten seconds of fame of which he savored.
I watched the pub door slowly open. A woman walked in wheeling in a small travel bag. I watched her as she cased the place looking for a seat. I took notice of her sexy stance, she was wearing a blue floral dress. She was a looker with a cute hourglass shape with long dark hair. She noticed a seat at the corner of the bar next to the corner I was sitting at. She walked over and sat down. I couldn’t keep my eyes off this girl. She picked up a menu and started to read. I looked at Jack and we gave each other that look “yeah, she is cute!”. I took a chug of my ale and began spurting out some words,
“Hi there, are you arriving or just leaving?”
“I just got in from Spain. I was there 3 days doing a model shoot and I’m hungry. You sound American.”
“I am American, from New York. You’re a model?”
“Oh a New Yorker. Cheers. I’ve never been but it’s on my list of places to go. And yes, I’m a model.”
“So what are you drinking?”
“I’ll have a light ale and that’s kind of you, thank you.”
The small talk led to conversation. She was a model but more of an entrepreneur. She didn’t work for an agency. She managed her own bookings and engagements and spoke more of it as a business, not glamour. Her Name is Sophia. She is very cute with dark hair and gorgeous blue eyes and full lips. She was intrigued that I was a chef and inquisitive about New York. We ordered lunch on her recommendation and continued to talk as we ate. When she was finished she said she enjoyed lunch and she had to get going. I told her that her recommendation was superb and that I would pick up lunch. She accepted graciously and thanked me. She got up to leave and I said goodbye and watched her walk away towards the door.
As she opened the door she looked back and we caught each others eyes. I felt a connection and my heart started to race. In that moment I realized I have to say hello or goodbye again. I threw down a few pounds on the bar, told the bartender to keep the change and ran out the door after her. “Hey Sophia! Wait!” She stopped, turned around and gave me a smile.
“Do you need me to hail you a cab?”
“No, I am going to walk home, it’s not too far. Where are you staying by the way?”
“I’m staying right there, at the Regent Palace Hotel.”
“That’s a nice hotel, well lucky you.”
“It is a nice hotel, but my room, it’s the size of a closet. Can I walk you home?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
We walked about a mile chatting and laughing along the way. She grew up in Wales and had left two years ago to come to London pursuing her dream as a model, an entrepreneur and she was making it well. We arrived at her brownstone flat and we stood there for a moment and looked at each other. I was about to say something, anything, at a loss for words, and she spoke first and said to me,
“I have a bottle of vintage wine in by bag that I bought while I was in Spain. Would you like to come in and have a glass with me?”
“Vintage wine? I’d love a glass.”
Sophia’s apartment was pleasantly quaint and comfortable. She brought me in her kitchenette and brought out two fine wine glasses. She pulled out the wine from her bag and was having a little trouble with the cork.
“Let me help you with that.”
“Oh, your such a gentleman. That cork screw has been around here for a while”
“I think you’re right. It might be time for a new one. I got it, i think i got it, i got it, I GOT IT, done. Opened. Ha ha.”
I poured a glass for each of us. We both sipped. I noticed she spilled a few drops as she sipped. One slid down her cheek and onto her neck and shoulder. Then another sip and I spilled a drop down my cheek. She told me and got a towel and started to gently wipe the side of my face. I looked her in the eye and moved closer. She moved at the same pace until we met and kissed. I took her glass and mine and placed them on the counter. I kissed her again, I embraced her as she embraced me. another long kiss and i felt the back of her dress and slowly unzipped her dress. I looked at her and she had a beautiful glow, her deep blue eyes slightly heavy, her lips ready, Her hair long and flowing. I slid the dress off her shoulders and it slipped right to the floor. I found my glass and took another drink then held her. I swooped her up and carried her off.
I woke to the sound of a ringing phone. it seemed that time was passing slow. Was it just an hour ago? Sophia answered the phone. It was the next morning. I was a little achy from tossing and turning the night before but I felt a warmth laying next to Sophia. I smiled. I eased dropped a little and heard something about a trip to Paris. That was my que. I got up started to get dressed. She got off the phone.
“I have to go to Paris”
“Okay. Last night was fun. I’m just gonna wash up a little before I go”
“do you have your passport?”
“Uh, yeah I do. It’s back at the hotel. Why?”
“I have to go to Paris. Will you come with me?”
“Paris? How far is that?”
“it’s a two hour train ride from Calais. We will be there in three hours”
“I have my flight back to New York the day after tomorrow.”
“You have plenty of time. You will love it. Do come with me?”
I was game. Paris. Wow. This seemed like an adventure. So I said yes.
“okay. Let’s go! I have to stop at my hotel and get my passport”
We grabbed my passport and bag from the hotel and a taxi to Dover to catch a ferry to France. From Calais we caught a train to Paris. A modern train system in France and this ride was traveling quick. People moved about freely. Our conductor arrived to check our passports. A peculiar gentleman I thought. He was unshaven with bloodshot eyes. He wore a checkered shirt and a wrinkled bow tie. His shirt looked as though he spilled his morning coffee and a pony tail slipped out of his cap. “Guten Morgen. Passports Please!” He sounded German and he smelled of whiskey. I handed him my passport.
“Ahh, an American? huh!”
“Yes I am.”
“I think you should check-in at the American Embassy when you arrive in Paris” As he smashed my passport with his stamp.
“Why? Is there something wrong?”
The train made a quick jolt forward and the conductor stumbled, his ink and stamp jumped out of his hand, his cap flew into Sophia’s lap and when he landed into an adjacent seat he took a bite of his own lip. Sophia handed him his cap and then he proceeded to find his stamp. Sophia asked if he was okay and he said “I’m fine, I’m fine!” He stood up and proceeded back to my question and now he was annoyed.
“Why would you think there is something wrong!!? It is customary to recommend the American Embassy to American’s. I wouldn’t recommend The Russian Embassy! Would I? You see?! Is there something wrong? With you? Maybe!”
“No, no, no! I’m good. I will visit the embassy when I get to Paris. Thank you!”
The conductor took a look at Sophia and smiled.
“You are good. I don’t need to see your passport. Have a pleasant holiday in Paris.”
I followed the conductor with my eyes down the aisle. I heard Sophia giggle.
“That conductor had something against Americans, you think?”
“I think he had a little too much of a morning punch.”
I needed a pinch. I was walking a dream. I was on my way to Paris in a flash of a moment with a gorgeous girl that I met the day before.
All the traveling and the wine last night wore me out. I noticed Sophia had fallen asleep and I dozed off for a minute and before I knew it the two hour trip was at a close, we had arrived in Paris. At the moment when we arrived I realized I had no idea why we were in Paris. I got caught up in the excitement with the mere fact that I was going to Paris that I never asked. I just let Sophia lead the way.
“Ah Paris, we have arrived! Where is the photo shoot today?”
“Well Jon I am not having a photo-shoot. We are here for a side job, an easy side job. We have to go to Le Victor Hugo bistro near the Arc De Triumph. Then I have a quaint chalet that we can relax. Lets go eat. To the Victor Hugo!”
“To the Victor Hugo!”
We walked to the bistro. Beautiful and fun cobble streets walking through the city. Vendors parked selling fruits, vegetables and cheese, baguettes, little Eiffel Towers, all kinds of vendors. We arrived to the Bistro. The Arc De Triumph across the street and a large roundabout around its perimeter with traffic flowing, honking, turning and whizzing by. The Victor Hugo was a bistro but more like a sandwich shop with beer and wine, and pastries.
I ordered a beer and baked brie on a baguette. Sophia kept looking at the specials and the menu and finally she asked the waiter,
“How is the crab prepared in the crab de canard?”
“The crab is very dry today from lack of natural water due to the drought here in Paris”
“I will skip the crab and have the duck fois gras and a glass of Merlot.”
“Very well madame. I will have it to you shortly”
Sophia was racing up the spiral staircase. At the Top Jon yelled “Sophia watch out, get down!” Jack Crawford was at the bottom of the stairs pointing his gun at Sophia, a shot fired. Sophia ducked just in time. Jon tipped a bookcase at the curve in the stairs, it dropped down and hit Jack dead center. Jon grabbed Sophia and ran through the door into a room with a window. They opened the window and climbed down the fire escape into an alley and ran until they reached the busy market place.
Jon’s first day in Paris and he and Sophia are being shot at. What was in the package he thought.
“Are you alight, Sophia?
“Yes, I’m fine, a little shaken, but okay. You saved my life, thank you Jon Seaborn.”
“What’s in that package?” Jon asked.
“I don’t know. My job was just to pick it up. We need to get to the chalet and stay low for a while.”
“What’s the story with Jack Crawford? I met him at the pub in London the day I met you. He must have followed you, me, us. He must have been following you! Do you know who he is?”
Sophia stopped, turned and looked at Jon. “I don’t know who he is. I don’t know what happened here.”
Jon embraced Sophia and they walked to the Chalet.