A cold ham and cheese sandwich with a lukewarm Coke. Not exactly the breakfast Angie had in mind.
But there weren’t a lot of choices by the time she got to the food car on the Eurostar train.
The departure from Paris had been smooth. The Eurostar had airport-style security checkpoints, but the operation was quick and friendly. Ben and Angie easily made it to their assigned seats in Car #7. The high-speed Eurostar train would have them in London in a little over two hours.
After nearly an hour of French farmland speeding by their window, Angie made her way to the food car, two train cars away. A quarter of the car was taken up by an enclosed cooking area where a very friendly Eurostar employee served Panini sandwiches and wine, coffee or soft drinks. The rest of the car had no seats, only high-top tables. Dozens of travelers stood around the car, chatting and eating.
As Angie juggled two sandwiches and two drinks, she turned to make her way back to Car #7. Then, across the crowd, she saw a familiar face. Entering the car from the opposite door was Henri, the man who had approached her the night before. Back in Paris he appeared to be just an innocent flirt making casual conversation. But what are the odds he would be on the same train to London early the next morning?
She ducked through the crowd before he saw her, and she hurried back to her car.
“Remember the French Casanova?” she said, as she dropped into the seat next to Ben.
“The guy from last night?” said Ben.
“Yeah. He’s here.” She continued, “I knew there was something fishy about him.”
“Is this guitar such a big deal that someone would follow us from Paris?” Ben asked, although he already knew the answer.
“We need a plan,” said Angie.
Just then Ben’s phone buzzed. It was a text from John at Pittsburgh Guitars.
“How is the trip going?” it asked.
Ben replied, “On the Eurostar. Heading to London and then Liverpool.”
He quickly calculated that it was 3AM back in Pittsburgh. He figured that John was just coming home from a gig with his band.
“Any further advice?” Ben texted.
John replied, “When you get to Liverpool, I recommend the Adelphi Hotel. It’s only a block from the Lime Street train station. And it’s famous. Or, if you want to be touristy, go to the Hard Day’s Night Hotel on Matthew Street near The Cavern.”
Ben was vaguely familiar with The Cavern. It was the basement club where the Beatles got their start.
“Thanks!” he wrote back. “We’ll be in touch!”
He turned to Angie and continued their conversation. “I was pretty groggy last night, but if I remember, you told Henri where we were going, right? And then I told him we were taking this train?”
Embarrassed, Angie said, “Yes. But in our defense, we were exhausted…”
Shaking his head and glancing down at his phone, Ben said, “It’s not our fault. We’re not used to being international jet-setters. Now we just need to lose him. But, he knows we’re going to Liverpool, so we won’t be able to ditch him until we get there.”
As they chatted Ben barely noticed that the sunlight outside their windows had vanished. By the time he thought “We must be in a tunnel,” it was light again. Presuming they were still in France, he glanced out the window and noticed that the street signage was now in English. “Was that the English Channel??” he thought to himself. He had wondered if he’d be nervous as the train went under the water. But that part of the trip was so fast that he missed it.
Less than a half hour later the train arrived at the St. Pancras Station in London, and in a few minutes they were off the train and on the street.
A street vendor directed them to head west, and a quick three-block walk led them to the London Euston train station. The Euston station was huge. It was a hub, with trains leaving for destinations all around England. It was also a main subway stop. Surrounding the lobby were shops and restaurants. They settled in a pub on the second floor balcony, with a view of the entire lobby.
“We have twenty minutes before the train leaves for Liverpool,” Ben said. “Let’s keep an eye out for our mystery man.”
It wasn’t long before they saw him in the crowd.
As they watched, Henri looked up at the giant electronic train schedule board and checked his watch. Ben said to Angie, “I think we can rule out coincidence. He must be working for the Guitare Occasion shop in Paris. And he’s going to try to get to the guitar before we do.”
“Well, at least he doesn’t know that we know he’s here,” said Angie.
“Right,” said Ben. “And let’s keep it that way.”
There were a dozen tracks departing from the Euston Station. Shortly before boarding time, the electronic board indicated that the Liverpool train would be leaving from Track 14. Ben and Angie made their way down to the train and boarded. As they were walking toward the train, Ben turned to Angie.
“I have an idea,” he said. “Let Henri see us, but pretend you don’t see him. We’ll get him to follow us.”
They positioned themselves ten or twenty people in front of Henri, and they all boarded the train.
Once aboard, Ben and Angie settled into their seats for a trip that would actually take longer than the trip from Paris, albeit at a slower speed.
As Ben intently pulled up different web sites on his cell phone, Angie said, “Are you going to lead him astray?”
“That’s my plan,” said Ben. “And after this search is over, I’m going to work on you.”
She laughed and said, “Well, that will be an interesting trip.”
Ben was busy on the internet for much of the train ride to Liverpool. Angie could see his mind racing, so she didn’t interrupt. When they arrived at the Lime Street Station in Liverpool, Ben said, “We’re going to get a cab. Make sure that he’s still following us.”
Next to the Lime Street Station was a line of traditional British black taxi cabs. They walked slowly toward the cabs, giving Henri time to seemingly secretly trail them.
Entering the cab, Ben said, “The Hard Day’s Night Hotel, please.”
Angie looked at him. “So, we’re taking the tourist route?”
"So it would seem," Ben said, intently.
Ten minutes later they were entering the newly designed Hard Day’s Night Hotel.
The hotel lobby featured floor to ceiling pictures of The Beatles as well as a juke box constantly playing their songs. Off to the right was the check-in desk, and to the left, the hotel bar. Ben handed their bags to Angie and said, “You wait in the bar and keep an eye out. I’m going to look at the juke box until Henri shows up. Text me when you see him.”
Angie positioned herself in the bar so that she could see the front of the hotel. Moments later a taxi arrived with Henri. As Ben felt the vibration of Angie’s text in his pocket, he walked to the check-in desk and requested a room.
Angie could see him not only signing for the room, but also discussing something else with the check-in girl. She saw her reach for a nearby newspaper and flip through its pages. Ben then made another request and Angie saw the check-in girl make some notes.
Wrapping up the interaction, Ben took the room keys, turned and walked straight to the bar to join Angie. “Let’s order a drink,” he said.
“I couldn’t help myself,” she smiled, “Two Bloody Marys are already on the way.”
They sipped their drinks and tried to act nonchalant, all the while keeping an eye on the Frenchman wandering around the lobby.
Eventually Henri made his way to the check-in desk. He, too, had a long-winded conversation with the check-in girl.
A few minutes later they saw Henri take the elevator up to his room. Pushing the half-finished drinks away, Ben grabbed their bags. “Let’s go,” he said, motioning to the bar’s side door, leading to the street. Angie nodded, with a fake serious look on her face. Inside she was enjoying the subterfuge.
In moments they were back out on Matthew Street. Ben held up his arm to flag down a cab and Angie followed silently. Climbing into the back of the large black taxi, Ben said, “The Adlephi Hotel, please.”
Once they were safely in the back of the car, Angie laughed and said, “Pretty smooth! I feel like a secret agent. What exactly happened?”
“Well,” Ben explained, “Jean-Claude at Oldies Guitares told us that the guitar ended up with Conor Kelly in the band The Stormers. But the guys across the street at Guitar Occasion only knew the purchaser, Mrs. Beauchamp, and, thanks to us, the fact that it’s in Liverpool. So, to Henri the guitar could be with any band in this town. He’d have to follow us to find it.
“On the train I searched the internet for 1960’s bands that were still actively performing. Then I checked all of their schedules to see if any of them were out of town tonight. And I found one. The Merseybeats. They’re playing in Manchester this evening. That’s an hour-and-a-half away, northeast from here.
“When I checked into the hotel I told the girl behind the counter that we came to town just to see The Merseybeats, and could she tell me where they were performing. She looked them up in a local music magazine and told me that they’d be in Manchester tonight. I then told her that it was very important that we see them, and I asked her to book train tickets for us to Manchester.
“My guess was that Henri would think of some way to figure out where we were going. Maybe he would say he was a friend of ours, or something. If he was able to track us down in Paris, he’d be able to track our next steps as well. And as we watched from the bar, I could tell that she made train reservations for him, too.
“If all goes according to plan, in an hour he’ll be on a train to Manchester. It will take him most of the afternoon to ride to Manchester, track down the band, realize that they don’t have the guitar, and then take the train back. Hopefully that will buy us enough time to find Conor Kelly.
“And I’m moving us to The Adelphi to say out of Henri’s way.”
“Nice work, 007!” said Angie.
“Hey, I’ve learned a few things in the cut-throat insurance biz,” he said smiling. “Well, from that, and all of the spy movies I’ve watched!”
“Ah… I see…” she laughed. “You’ve got that goin’ for ya!’
A few minutes later they were pulling up in front of the Adelphi Hotel.
“Time to get to work,” Ben said, as he helped Angie out of the taxi.