There must be something down here to tell him which one. He located the dot matrix indicator hanging from the ceiling, impartially between the two trains. ‘Information currently unavailable. No smoking’.
“Of course it’s not available,” Ian muttered, wishing he was a smoker so he could show the thing what he thought of its orders.
At least one of his two minutes had ticked away while he was glaring at the dot matrix indicator, leaving him without enough time to dash back up the stairs to the concourse, check the boards there and dash down again.
“Fifty-fifty,” he told the dot matrix indicator.
He entered the train on his right. The carriage looked empty, which seemed promisingly likely in a train going to Basingstoke. And he could have the luxury of not only a double seat but a whole table to himself.
Perhaps his luck was in.
At the other end of the carriage, someone stood up from behind the row of seats. The carriage hadn’t been empty after all. The thought crossed Ian’s mind a split second before he registered that the figure was so tall that its Freddy Kruger mask brushed the ceiling and so wide that it filled the aisle it was now standing in with its leather jacket, jeans and DMs.
“Hi there,” said Ian. “Do you know if this train goes to Basingstoke?”
No answer. Ian found himself staring at the Freddy Kruger mask. It was only now that he was beginning to register that his mind ought to be at least as concerned about that mask as by whether he was on the right train or not.
“It’s not Halloween today, is it?” Ian asked the masked figure.
“No.” The figure lumbered down the aisle toward Ian.
Some instinct made Ian look behind him. A similarly masked and leathered figure was shambling down the aisle from the other end of the carriage.
A babble of bleeps announced that the doors were about to close.
“D’you know what?” asked Ian. “I think I’m on the wrong train. Silly me.”
He shot through the doors. A roar of laughter chased him on to the platform, drowning out the alarm. He turned back to see both the masked figures doubled over with mirth.
“Mental banter,” shouted one of them just before the doors rumbled shut.
Ian gave them the finger, which caused one of them to laugh so hard he fell over.
“Still fifty-fifty,” muttered Ian and got on the other train.
He looked down the carriage. No morons in masks, which was a good start. Just a woman sitting at one of the tables.
A rather beautiful woman, now he looked again, with high cheekbones and dark hair tumbling over the shoulders of her white blouse. She looked up, locking her hazel eyes on his.
Ian dropped his gaze. He started to turn to find a seat in the opposite direction but she waved. “Hi there.”
He looked back to her. She was beckoning him over.
“Look, I’m sorry to ask this, but could you help me?” Her Scottish accent matched her looks. “I’ve been handing out free samples of my brewery’s beer at a sales conference and I’ve come away with rather more than I expected.”
She raised a bottle to Ian.
Ian blinked. “You’re offering me a beer?”
“Sure. I’m sick of lumping it about and the more we drink, the less I’ll have to carry.”
Ian sat opposite her and took the beer. He took a sip. He took another. He looked up to see the woman smiling, which made her look even more beautiful.
“That’s incredible.” Ian wasn’t sure if he meant the beer or her smile.
“Plenty more where that came from,” said the woman.
“Well… thank you. Not to change the subject, but do you know if this train goes to Basingstoke?”
“Basingstoke? No, that’s the other side.” The woman waved to where the train Ian had tried first was gathering speed. “This one’s non-stop to Inverness.”
Ian took another sip, which tasted even better than the first two. He glanced at the woman’s left hand. No wedding ring.
“No. I’m quite sure I’m on the right train.”