Crossed Lines

I was ushered into the security office at the train station and offered a seat at a cheap pine office desk, opposite an attractive woman who looked as awkward as I did. She glanced at me but with no emotion.  Maybe she was with them.

Me, her and two railway officials, preparing themselves.

The office is medium sized and beige.  There’s a Monet print and the collection of umbrellas suggests it doubles up as Lost Property.  I can smell tea and there must be a toilet behind one of these doors.  There are out of date computers and an array of brand-spanking-new CCTV screens showing views of the platforms and arrivals hall.  It’s mostly dark and empty.  We have the place to ourselves.

“Please allow me to explain why you’re here,” said one of the officials.  He is unremarkably grey, 55ish, filling out his uniform, and trying to be my friend.  The other, lurking behind, looks almost identical but a few years younger. 

A fluorescent tube light blinked and flickered for a second, like lightning in a Dracula movie; a gulp-inducing omen of doom.

“I’m going to call you Tom,” he pointed at me, “and you Rebecca,” he said, pointing at her. 

Rebecca and I looked at each other -

(it was gone before I could say it flashed)  –

recognising we were in it together, whatever it was we were in.

“I’m Ernie and this is Eric.  They sound like made up names but they’re not.”

He paused for comic effect.


I’ve heard it said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile but they’re lying. 

“Okay, if that’s the way you want it, let’s get down to business. 
We have you both on camera.  We’re going to show you what we’ve got and then we’re going to come to a solution.”

Eric came into his own at this point, sorting out screens and playback.

“Tom first,” he said, casually.

“****.” I said, out loud, without meaning to.  My ears flushed red, clogged with rushing blood, pressure building, and I cringed with anticipation, already knowing what was going to happen next.  ****.  What shall I do?  Can I get out of here?   Yes.  Get out.

I pushed back my chair but Ernie moved towards me, just a little.  I refused to catch his eye but something - something stubborn and recalcitrant - got a grip of me, and against all my best intentions I decided to brazen it out.  So I sat, front and centre, and watched the recording of the darkening platform emptying of passengers…

Then of train spotters…

Leaving just me.

Train spotters!   Weird habits.  I’ll grant you I had the timetables and a notebook with numbers, and gauges clogging up the pages; but though I stand hidden and disguised among them, I’m not one.  They all leave after the 11.10 from Birmingham New Street has departed.  But I always found the 11.10 unsatisfying.

[Here, I’m going to use a movie technique, misty lens reflection giving some backstory.] 

Look! there’s me, as a 15 year old boy in my bedroom at home.  I’ve got a bowl-shaped hair-cut, lank and greasy, some spots, and I’m fidgeting under my Jaws quilt cover.  Secreted about my person is a sliver or two of toilet tissue and a playing card – the 3 of Spades – featuring a slim, blonde, tanned and shiny beauty, on a craggy rock face, undressed in a pink-white cotton top, loosely, showing just a tuft of pubic hair. 

My intentions are clear.

However…  we lived in a cardboard house with barely a sheer silk screen separating my tentative indecency from my mum and dad; who would be sitting side-by-side in bed, him reading the Daily Mail, her, a knitting pattern, whilst listening intently for any noise of sexual awakening from their boys. 

Thankfully, our house had one redeeming feature: It was the last house on the edge of town; over the fence, at the bottom of the garden, was a floodplain and then a railway line - so I used to wait, trembling, for when the trains went past, and do what teenage boys do.

Often the 11.10 from New Street would flash by too quickly and I’d have to wait, tensely, for the next one; some kind of freight that would trundle slowly into earshot as it passed into the open fields outside Chapel Brampton.  The vibrations were first, trembling in my thighs, and then the static charged my nerves as it clunked, clanged and grumbled across the fields, getting closer and closer.

The sirens singing in the rails,
the swishing of wires,
the thunder in the ground.
If I timed it right I could do it as the sound changed tone – like with relativity, the split second a moving body is here, then gone; a double beat,  and the gradual fade out would give me the chance to clean up my mess, catch a shuddering breath, and let my heart slow to a normal rate.  No one was any the wiser.

I hoped.

But here I was, 30 years later, in a neutrally coloured office, with that flush of shame and embarrassment washing through me: Watching myself on screen, standing alone on the platform, expectant.  There wasn’t really much to see as all the action was inside a long coat, behind a clipboard; but it wasn’t as subtle and secret as I’d imagined, and the lack of sound seemed only to emphasize the spasm, the pathos, the ugliness.  

Eric stopped the film.

In Rebecca’s film she was sitting, shivering, on the bench furthest away up the platform, and it was early in the morning.  People were milling in front of the cameras, shuffling to keep warm.   It was noticeable, as the train approached, that her cold quivering became more rhythmic, and then, stopped abruptly as if the train doors swooshing open had bathed her in warm air.  How did they ever spot that? I thought, impressed; she showed more restraint than me; no one would ever have known.  Then she shook it off, got up, walked across the platform and stepped in to the carriage. 
Eric turned it off.

There was an awkward silence, which suited Ernie.  He was about to tell us off.  I knew the look on his face, the righteous indignation of a Jesuit priest faced with hellbound sinners.

“The pair of you should be ashamed.

This is a public place.  It’s a place of work, travel, and engineering excellence.  As employees it’s our duty to maintain the standards described in our working protocols.

Eric and I spend a lot of time here, in Castle Station.  We’re proud to call it our Second Home, aren’t we Eric?”  He turns and shares this with a nodding Eric.  “In fact, some days, my wife says it’s my first home but she means it in a different way.

Now, in just the last operational quarter we had three suicides here at Castle.  The company frowned, on us, and when that happens we’re required to up our game.  There’s no fundamental reason why Castle Station should become a Mecca for the suicidal.  It’s not a bad town, as far as towns go, and the station is kept impeccably.  The parking has been improved, and trains run on time.  Managers, understandably, have asked questions about our alertness to the issue and we have been trained in Suicide Prevention techniques, to remedy the perceived deficit in our core competencies. 

But that’s the company line.”  Again, he looks around at Eric with mock brotherhood.  “In truth, Eric and I were shocked, as humans, by the loss.  The mess is profound and disturbing.  Both of us have sought compensation from the company because we’re prone to nightmares and hyper-vigilance.  I can’t speak for Eric but I can say the experience has precipitated an existential crisis in me.

In short, the station has become tainted.

Eric isn’t afraid to think outside the box.  He has a friend called Crystal, who senses things.  She visited and was intimidated by the amount of negative energy.

So we’ve been watching people, closely.  People who seem odd, who hang about when trains have left the station, or who seem to be deciding.  Anxious looking people. 

What else was there Eric?  I’m missing something, I’m sure.”

“An aura of despair.” Eric added, dreamily.

Ernie gave the impression that this wasn’t the answer he was expecting, so changed tack, as if released from pulpit reverie… “Anyhow.  We watched a lot of footage from the cameras, and we found you two.  We thought you were likely candidates so we watched you some more.  And you’ve seen what we found when we looked.

We know you’re not paedos, and that you don’t go out of your way to attract attention, but we don’t want you doing this kind of thing at our station! 

We looked ‘Fetishes’ up on the internet.  Experts say that if the disorder isn’t nipped in the bud it’ll only get worse.  One of you will eventually do something embarrassing. 

Tom,” he looked at me, “we’ve got you on tape several times, going back months.  You’ve got sloppier, more obvious.

He turned slightly.

“Rebecca, we caught you because someone complained.  You were making noises.  Someone thought you were crying.

This can’t be allowed to go unchallenged.

Do either of you find Tom Cruise obnoxious?”

Rebecca and I paid no heed to this question, both of us considering our plight.  I was scared even though it was absurd, expecting them to call The Gimp out from a side-office.  Although impassive, Rebecca had falcon eyes and her jaw was like pitbull.

“I only ask because he’s an acquired taste.  Some people can’t bear the man, but Eric is a fan.  He’s a bit of a film buff, actually, and had this film, ‘Risky Business’, on DVD.”  He waved it at us, from nowhere.  “Tom Cruise is in it.  I’ve not seen it.  Never even heard of it.  Personally he makes my flesh creep, but Eric says there’s a train bit towards the end you might like.

We’d like you to have it.

And this bottle of wine.

Additionally we’ve booked you a night at a nearby hotel, in a room with a view of the Station.  It was cheaper because of the train noise.  The lady said it disturbs most people.

But you’re not most people.

We printed off a map.”

Smackprangcrashrattle.  Rebecca thumped the table.

Ikea shook to its foundations.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more startled.

“How ******* dare you?!” she snarled.  “You *******…evil, cruel…bastards." 

And she was up, backing away towards the door. 

“Two sadists and a…pervert.  You ******* bring me here, humiliate me, offer me presents and think everything’s going to be alright?!  You’re ******* deranged, all of you.  My Dad used to creep in when the trains went past, thinking my mother and sister wouldn’t hear what he did to me.  Okay, I’m ****** up, sick, yes.  But this?  I don’t deserve this.   I just can’t ******* believe this is happening.  I want to get out of here.

You disgust me.”

There was a frantic scrabbling and rattling as she tried to open the locked door, then a soft sobbing as she bowed her head and stood back from it, waiting for someone to do the decent thing.  But without hope of it.

“And the hotel booking details.”  Added Ernie, as if he’d crashed his car mid-sentence.

I picked up the wine, the DVD, and the paperwork; got up and stood with Rebecca at the locked door - keeping a safe distance - while Eric edged around the wall, fumbling with his keys.

CrookedMan CrookedMan
Nov 27, 2012