Jason Day stretched out his legs as he sipped his third, small latte. He was sat at his favourite table, in the window, with a perfect view of the doors to the bank on the opposite side of the narrow pedestrian lane. He studied the bank’s customers, marking those coming and going as ‘possibles’ and ‘probables’. The well dressed, the expensive handbags, the exclusive jewellery. He would be patient as always, searching for the perfect client. He preferred to call them clients. It was less cutting, more upmarket than victim. These were people that, in Jason’s opinion, could afford his very particular services. They were also the ones that promised the fattest pickings. At the moment he was waiting for a very promising, ‘probable’ to emerge. A man, Jason guessed around sixty, in an ankle length dark blue coat. A very expensive dark blue coat. He had the look of a man that had entered the bank with purpose. A man making a withdrawl, and such a man would not trifle with small amounts of cash. And, yes from Jason’s long years of study, this was a man who would trust in the feel of notes in his fingers, rather than resort to a debit or credit card. Also, if anything did go wrong he was a man that was hardly likely to run after him.
The man emerged some ten minutes after he’d entered. He stopped in the doorway and glanced both ways along the lane. He patted the left side pocket with a satisfied smile. This was a man that would pleasure in the knowledge that he was carrying an amount of money that most people could only dream of. The man ambled up the street, touching the pocket again for reassurance, hesitating to glance in shop windows. A man in no hurry. This was Jason’s cue. The other advantage of his favourite table was that it was next to the door. He looked at his watch, muttered an expletive under his breath and left the cafe, pulling on his jacket as he did so. He dashed past the man who had stopped outside the bespoke jewellers. The one where you had to ring the bell and the assistant would give you an appraising glance, before deciding to let you in. At the top of the lane Jason slowed, then stopped, turning to mark the progress of his client. There he was, taking his time. The same smile, the hand making that subconscious move, caressing the pocket.
Jason wandered back ten yards or so, stopping to examine the shoes in a window, aware of the man out of the corner of his eye. It was a well practiced routine. As the man drew level Jason pulled away from the window. An accidental coming together.
‘So sorry,’ Jason mumbled, head down so as not to make eye contact or give the man a good view of his face.
‘Not to worry,’ the man said. ‘No harm done.’ Then as Jason backed away the man added, ‘yet.’ Jason was so surprised, as much by the amused tone as the word itself, he glanced back at the man, who was smiling. Jason couldn’t be sure, but he thought the man winked. That all happened in a second. He dismissed it from his mind as he strode off down the lane blending with crowd. Behind him there were no raised voices, no sounds of commotion.
Back in his flat Jason removed the large, blue wallet from his own coat pocket. It was monogrammed in one corner with ‘AA’ and a set of wings. Perhaps the man was a pilot for American Airlines, Jason thought. Though he didn’t look much like a pilot. An executive perhaps, yes that was more like it. In his hands the wallet seemed much thinner than when he had acquired it. He opened it. Inside there was no money, just a booklet the size of a cheque book. But they weren’t cheques, they were tickets, blue with gold lettering. The first one had ‘Exclusive’ in large, bold, italic type across the top, then, ‘The holder of this ticket is entitled to travel as detailed below’. The detail below read, ‘destination: Anywhere, departure: Anytime. Underneath that, ‘Onetime only offer; No redemption without ticket. ‘ Jason flicked through the rest of the tickets but apart from the word exclusive they were all blank. On the back was further explanation that this was a limited period offer, although no dates were given. There was also an address of an agent near Waterloo station.
Jason flung the booklet down on the sofa and went into the kitchen area to make himself a coffee. Just his luck, he’d spent all that time picking the perfect client, only to find he wasn’t. Just some sodding tickets. He glanced back at the sofa. A shaft of sunlight fell across the cover of the booklet highlighting the gold ‘AA’ and the wings. They seemed to shimmer and float as if dancing in a spotlight. Then the sun went behind a cloud and they were simply gold lettering on a blue background.
The next morning the tickets were still lying on the sofa where he’d left them. He picked them up and flicked the booklet in his fingers. Perhaps there was some value to them. After all an open ticket like that, anywhere, anytime, couldn’t come cheap. And there was no name on them, it was the holder of the ticket that was entitled to travel. It was worth a try. Jason stuffed the tickets in his pocket and grabbed his jacket. On the thirty minute journey into Waterloo Jason mused on what the tickets might be worth. Perhaps he could even take up the offer, travel himself. He also decided he’d better have some sort of back-up story on how he got hold of them, in case they asked. A recently dead uncle perhaps, or a rich relative. Then he decided on a perversion of the truth, he‘d simply been given them. That was it, given them by someone who was no longer in a position to use them. After all there was no name on them.
The address was easy to find. As it turned out it wasn’t ‘American Airlines’, but a company called ‘Angel Air’. He’d never heard of them. He presumed they must be a travel agent. Inside it was all very white. Behind the white desk with a single white computer terminal was a blond woman in a white dress. All rather obvious Jason thought, all she needed was the wings. As he entered she smiled and he handed her the ticket.
‘Er, it’s about this ticket,’ Jason said.
‘Ah, yes,’ the woman said. ‘Our Exclusive offer. We’ve been expecting you.’ Jason was about to ask what she meant by ‘expecting you’, when she continued. ‘If you’d like to go through there,’ she said. ‘Mr Michael will see you now.’
‘Mr Michael?’ Jason repeated. This was not how he’d imagined it going when he’d rehearsed it on the train.
‘Yes, through there,’ the woman in white said, pointing at the door to her left. She smiled in a way that suggested he wasn’t going to get anymore information from her.
Through the door was a large office. Sitting behind a desk was a man, thankfully not dressed in white, just an ordinary grey suit. His face was hidden behind a large screen. He seemed to be tutting.
‘Hello,’ Jason said. ‘Listen, I have this ticket that we can’t use and wondered if I could get a refund. The lady out there said you could help me.’
‘No,’ the grey suit replied. ‘The lady out there said we’d been expecting you. Not the same thing.’ The man stood. To Jason’s surprise, then shock, the man was Jason’s ‘client’ from the day before.
‘Look,’ Jason said. He didn’t know what he’d been about to say next, but the man saved him the trouble.
The man held up a hand. ‘Jason, Jason, Jason,’ he said as he walked round the desk.
‘You know my name?’ Jason said.
‘Since I’ve just used it three times that would be a safe assumption,’ the main said, putting an arm around Jason’s shoulders. ‘You see Jason, we’ve been watching you for some time.’
Jason registered a slight pressure and warmth from Mr Michael’s hand. He felt like sinking to his knees. Things had gone from shocking to frightening. ‘Listen, why don’t I give you back the tickets and I’ll just leave.’
Mr Michael shook his head. ‘No, Jason, that’d never do. It’s your ticket. You’re the holder. And returning it is not an option.’ Mr Michael flipped open the booklet in Jason’s hand and pointed with a well manicured finger. Next to destination ‘anywhere’ it now read ‘one way only.’ He then turned Jason to face the way he had entered. There was only unbroken, unforgiving white wall. ‘As it says, Jason. It’s a one way ticket.’ Jason shook his head. Mr Michael continued. ‘And the answer to your next question, Jason, is no.’
‘No, this is not a dream.’
‘So what now?,’ Jason said.
‘Well, Jason, the clue once again is on the ticket.’ Mr Michael raised an eyebrow as he waited.
Jason looked back down at the ticket still held in his shaking fingers. ‘One time only offer.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Mr Michael raised both eyebrows in a gesture that suggested ‘and’.
‘No redemption without ticket.’
‘So with a ticket?’ Mr Michael let the words hang.
‘Redemption?’ Jason said.
‘Hallelujah,’ Mr Michael said. ‘Yes, Jason I have a boss that believes in second chances.’ He turned Jason round again. This time there were three doors on the wall behind the desk. ‘Shall we? It is a travel ticket after all.’
‘Which one?’ Jason asked.
Jason hesitated. Then, taking a deep breath, he chose the middle door. Stepping through they were on a three foot wide platform, which must have been tens of thousands of feet above the ground. There was no barrier, no rail, nothing to hang on to. Wispy clouds were scudding along beneath them. Above them was, well, sky. The wind whipped at Mr Michael’s jacket, his long greying hair sailed out behind him. Jason’s stayed where it was, plenty of wax.
Mr Michael took a deep breath. ‘Bracing isn’t it?’
Jason glanced behind him, anywhere but down. The door was still there, so were two others.
‘Ah, yes,’ Mr Michael said. ‘A bit theatrical I know. But I do feel we have to put on a show.’
‘What is this?’ Jason asked, looking straight ahead. ‘Some sort of judgement?’
Mr Michael put his arm round Jason’s shoulders again. Jason flinched. ‘Careful, we wouldn’t want you to fall. It’s a bit of a long way down.’ Jason looked at the smiling face, which was staring up as if in rapture. Jason waited, he didn’t know what to say. Eventually Mr Michael took a long, deep breath and turned a serious face to Jason. ‘I never tire of this view, you know.’ He paused. ‘ No Jason, this is not judgement. That’s already been made. This is recruitment.’
Three months later Jason Day stepped out of Carphone Warehouse, the one near the bank, opposite the coffee shop. He stopped in the doorway and glanced both ways along the lane. Smiling, he slid the new iphone into its leather case and pushed it into the pocket of his leather jacket. He patted the pocket with a contented smile. As he set off up the lane a young man bumped into him.
‘So sorry,’ the young man mumbled, head down so as not to make eye contact or give Jason a good view of his face.
‘Not to worry,’ Jason said. ‘No harm done.’ He paused then added, ‘yet.’