by John White
Harry had arrived at Waterloo Station in plenty of time for his umpteenth blind date, the fourteenth to be exact. First impressions meant a great deal to him, so he’d learned early on to position himself a short distance from the agreed meeting place and observe the person who was to be his possible companion for the next few hours. Possible, because on more than one occasion, as soon as he’d caught sight of his contract for the day, he’d decided she wasn’t for him and had made a hurried retreat. Harry was a coward in this respect and he knew it. This kind of ungentlemanly conduct had forced him to change dating agencies several times. Having his kind on their books was not good for any company image. Still, as a man of means, Harry could afford to be choosy. He would keep spending his money until the woman of his dreams came along. She had to be out there somewhere. He’d treated this latest venture in the same off-handed manner, until, that is, he saw her face.
His heart thumped so hard as he pushed his way through the sea of departing and arriving passengers, that he thought those nearest him must surely be able to hear it. He took a deep breath.
“Excuse me, are you Andrea?” he croaked. Oh no, I sound like a frog. She’ll think I’m an idiot.
“I am and you must be Harry.”
“I am? I mean I am,” he stuttered.
Her radiant, welcoming smile and near perfect dental work, seemed to light up an area several feet either side of them. His legs took on the consistency of a partially set jelly.
Get a grip of yourself, you fool, you’re acting like an adolescent. Quickly, think of something to say, something original.
“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Meeting a gentleman whose chat up line is as old as the hills, apparently.” Her answer was given with just the hint of a giggle.
Harry gave a nervous laugh. As they walked towards the exit, he offered his arm–she accepted.
“Oh good, there’s only a small queue,” he said on approaching the taxi rank.
“You haven’t brought your own car.” It was a statement of fact rather than a question and delivered from still-smiling, perfectly made-up, pink lips.
“Er, no. This is the best way to travel here in the city. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, no, whatever you’ve arranged will be fine.”
When it was their turn to board a taxi, she spent several seconds wiping her seat with a tissue, much to the scowling annoyance of the driver.
It had been agreed, through the agency, that the first meeting would be conducted on neutral territory. Harry had suggested lunch at a venue of Andrea’s choosing. She had replied that as she lived outside the city and was unfamiliar with places to lunch, she would be happy to leave the choice to him. Harry chose Charley’s Place, just off The Strand, the inside of which resembled the informal style of an American diner, only much larger. Charley himself welcomed them and showed them to their booth.
After a cursory glance at the menu, Andrea looked around her, taking in the surroundings. Charley’s Place had a good name as far as the nosh trade was concerned, but Harry got the distinct impression Andrea was more used to being taken somewhere all together more up-market. He felt a little uncomfortable. When she finally turned her attention back to him, her smile wasn’t quite as sparkling…