TRANS-ATLANTIC, Part 4: A Vexing Problem

“Trans-Atlantic” by Hamish Spiers continues. We’ll be running a new installment each week through summer so be sure to pop back each week.

By Hamish Spiers

Part IV. A Vexing Problem

So I had just run into the Alliance Airways goons, I’d met Bob, I’d run into the goons again and now I was, in effect, in the custody of a Trans–Atlantic rail guard.

I followed the guard into a room at the front of the carriage with a fold–out bench, a computer and a coffee machine. I eyed the coffee machine longingly, as right then I could have really gone with one. However, I thought it’d be better to hang onto my remaining loose change in case I got another fine.

“All right,” the guard said. “I’m going to call Amsterdam. But you are not allowed to leave this room until I say so.”

“Fine,” I replied. “By the way, who are you anyway? Just in case I want to file a complaint.”

“I’m Brett,” the guard replied in a hurt tone.

“Great. Now stop being a jerk, Brett, and sort this mess out.”

“You can’t talk to me like that,” Brett said. “It’s against regulations.” He pulled out a familiar booklet of paper and reached for a pen.

I yanked the booklet from his hand before he got any further. “And stop writing out fines.” Then I ripped the booklet in half and threw what was left on the bench beside him. “What are you, some kind of robot?”

“This is bullying!” Brett protested again. “You’re not allowed to talk to me like that.”

“No, this is intervention,” I told him. “You need help. However, right now, I need more help. Now, call Amsterdam and sort out this nonsense with the tickets or else I’ll think of something nasty to tell your supervisor.”

I then waited, resigned to the boredom, as Brett explained the problem to a stuffy sounding lady he reached in Amsterdam.

“I have a passenger here with the wrong ticket,” Brett said.

“Well…” the lady replied. “Regulation 593–7 is perfectly clear on the requirements in such a case.”

Brett sighed. “Yes, I’m aware of regulation 593–7 but apparently, he has paid for a ticket in his name.”

“Then why doesn’t he have it?”

“It was issued to a passenger with a similar name by mistake and that passenger’s ticket was issued to him,” Brett said.

“Well…” The lady liked this word far too much. “They’re clearly both in violation of regulations 593–7 and 129 through to 146. Why didn’t they report the discrepancy?”

Brett looked at a loss so I helped him out. “We didn’t notice the discrepancy,” I told him.

“They didn’t notice it,” he repeated for the benefit of the lady in Amsterdam.

“Well…” Now the lady sounded quite flustered. “I don’t know what to tell you. We have two passengers with the wrong tickets…”

I then decided to interrupt, sitting myself beside Brett. “Look, Ma’am. Both myself and the other passenger are on the same train. I’m Jerry Ferguson with a ‘J’ and the other passenger is Terry Ferguson with a ‘T’. I was given Terry’s ticket by mistake and he was given mine.”

“Who is this?” the woman demanded.

I thought I had already covered that. “Um, Jerry Ferguson? Jerry with a J?”

“Well, Mr. Ferguson, this system is for the sole use of Trans–Atlantic employees. And if you do not hang up this instant, then I am going to have to lodge a formal complaint with both the central security branch and the communications division.”

“What if I put the guard back on?” I suggested.

“Um, this is Brett,” the guard said, taking over. “I apologize for the interruption. I have asked Mr. Ferguson if he would kindly refrain from using the communication equipment and he has agreed to restrain himself.”

“Well, make sure he does,” the woman said.

I tell you, that innocent word has never been more abused.

“I take it he is one of the passengers?” she asked.

“He is,” Brett said.

“Are they both supposed to be on that train?”

“I assume so. I was rather hoping you could double–check.”

“One moment,” the woman replied. There was a short pause. “According to my records, Jerry Ferguson boarded the train and was issued a ticket in his name. Terry Ferguson also boarded the train and was issued a ticket in his name. I’m sorry but I don’t see what the problem is.”

“It seems,” Brett told her, “that while according to the computer system each man was issued with the correct ticket, that’s not the case. Jerry has Terry’s ticket and Terry has Jerry’s.”

“Well, this is a serious problem,” the woman said. “We’ll have to notify records and inform them of the error. Then I’ll have to contact our telecommunication staff and have them phone New York. Perhaps the station staff there can issue replacement tickets and we can put a flag in the system. That way, when your train reaches New York, we can have staff on the platform ready with the tickets when these passengers disembark. Now, you’ll have to inform the drivers and make sure that when the passengers disembark that it’s all controlled and orderly. The two Ferguson passengers need to exit the train well before any other passengers do so. If they do not –”

“Can I make a suggestion, Brett?” I murmured.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ferguson,” the guard replied. “But I’m trying to listen to the lady.”

“I’m trying not to,” I told him. “Listen, you don’t have to do any of that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Terry Ferguson and I can just swap our tickets.”

There was a long pause but at the end of it, Brett found a fragment of an epiphany.

“I suppose that would work.”

Meanwhile, the woman was still outlining her intricate procedure. “… full cooperation of passport control. Now, according to the regulations pertaining to the –”

“Um, can I interrupt for just a moment?” Brett asked with some trepidation, as if he expected the woman to break his neck for his sheer impudence.

“Yes?” she snapped. “Yes?”

“Um… couldn’t the two passengers just swap their tickets?”

There was another long pause, during which I died a little inside.

However, at last, the woman gave in. “I suppose that would work.”

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