TRANS–ATLANTIC, Part 5: What Happened in the Dining Car

“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 V. What Happened in the Dining Car

By the time I was on my way with Brett to the compartment of one Terry–with–a–T Ferguson, I had almost forgotten about the three clowns who’d been threatening to break my legs. But once my brain kicked back into gear, the faces of the three characters who had accosted me came back to me as clear as day.

They must have known a ticket had been issued for Terry Ferguson but it was obvious they didn’t know what their man actually looked like. Handy for him.

So I, Jerry Ferguson with a J, met Terry Ferguson with a T. He worked for Meridian Horizons, which sounded like the perfect name for a retirement village but it was of course another company banking everything on the resurgence of commercial air travel. Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation but he checked his ticket and, sure enough, he had mine.

With little smiles, we exchanged our tickets and Brett didn’t try to fine Terry, arrest him or say a single bureaucratic thing about it. Amazing really.

However, the exchange of tickets didn’t solve my problem with the Alliance Airways goons. I could hardly drag Terry over to them and say, “Here’s the guy you’re really looking for!” But there was an easy way to avoid any more problems. All I had to do was just stay in the dining car until we got to New York and I’d have nothing to worry about.

It worked too. The goons poked their heads in a few times to see if I was showing any sign of leaving but after three or four hours of this, they took to watching me in shifts. One goon would sit somewhere in the dining car for an hour, scowling at the back of my head. Then an hour later, another goon would relieve him. But I didn’t worry about them anymore. I just sipped drinks and snacked on munchies. Actually, I quite enjoyed myself.

And so I was on the dining car when it happened.

First, there was a very noticeable shift in what had been until that point, a background hum. And there was a screeching noise of applied brakes and the train came to a stop.

Then an announcement came over the speakers. “Attention passengers. This is your driver. There is an unexpected delay as the track has been blocked off. I will contact the maintenance board to sort out the problem. Thank you for your patience.”

Then there was another announcement in a different voice. A very short announcement.

“Don’t bother.”

In the silence that fell over the dining car, the voice carried on. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no maintenance work taking place here. This is not a safety barrier my colleagues and I have put up. We are stopping this train. And we will move this block when I have spoken with the CEO of Trans–Atlantic, Mark Henderson. I am coming aboard the dining car between carriages thirteen and fourteen now. If the driver of this train is listening to this, open the doors and get me the CEO on the main screen.”

There was a click and everyone in the dining car exchanged glances.

“That’s us, isn’t it?” I asked the bartender.

The bartender nodded. “Yeah.”

“You don’t look very surprised,” I observed.

“I’m only surprised this hasn’t happened sooner,” he replied.

I then watched the doors at either end of the room. It wasn’t long before one opened and a thin man in greasy overalls and a hard hat stepped inside. He was also carrying a portable radio. He walked past the patrons, speaking into it. “I don’t see the CEO yet, driver.”

“He’s coming up,” a harangued voice replied over the loudspeaker. “Hang on.”

The sports game on the TV screen dissolved and a middle–aged man in an expensive suit appeared.

The tunnel worker took off his hard hat and looked at the man on the screen with an expression of weariness and sadness.

The man on the screen for his part glared. “What the hell is this?” he demanded. “My time is immensely valuable, I’ll have you know. And I do not have time for childish games with people who –”

“Mark Henderson,” the tunnel worker cut him off. “Without people like myself, you don’t have a company. No tunnels. No–one to maintain those tunnels. No one to build your precious trains. No–one to maintain them. No–one to drive them. No–one to clean them. So shut up about how damn important you think your time is.”

“What do you want?” Mr. Henderson snarled.

“Right now in our contracts,” the worker said, “the maximum length of time we can be posted in the tunnels is three months. That’s three months away from family and loved ones. Three months in a closed cramp environment. Three months without seeing daylight. Three months worrying that at any moment, a crack could open in one of these tunnels that could bring the whole damn ocean crashing down on us. And we always get posted out here for three month stints. All I’m asking is for the clause to be changed. A maximum of one month instead of three.

“Now, we have exhausted every channel of communication trying to get this request through. The managers above us turn it down. The managers above them reprimand us for trying to bring the matter over their subordinates’ heads. Your secretaries laugh at us over the phone. They don’t know what it’s like to miss the birth of a child. To not be there for the annual family holiday. They don’t know, Mr. Henderson. They don’t care. So now I’m asking you to show a shred of decency and make the lives of the many workers who keep your tunnels safe just a little more bearable.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the silence.

Mr. Henderson looked at this worker, a man on the verge of a breakdown. A man in need of any form of compassion. Just a token of sympathy. However, Mr. Henderson could only inflict more pain, a cruelty that was worse for the fact that it was so casual.

“I’m afraid it’s just not economically viable,” he said.

The worker was crestfallen. “What do you mean, not viable? You and your friends take home billions of dollars in benefits and you can’t even make a few more trains run so we can change shifts a little more often? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Well,” Mr. Henderson replied, “if you don’t want to work in the tunnels, there are plenty of people who’d be happy to take your place.”

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