The Man With Time On His Hands.

by Philip J. Shiell © 1998

He stood outside the Hansa Hotel, an obviously prosperous man sporting only designer names upon his everyday apparel. He straightened his waistcoat and collected himself for what the day had in store for him He had driven into the city the previous evening. The traffic had been light, not the typical Ruhrgebiet he was used to, and in the fading daylight he was granted a twighlight view of Krefeld. It wasn't as squalid and slummy as he had been led to believe and he was sure the inhabitants would be suitable to his needs. He would endevour to entertain himself. For him the grindstone of the typical working day was quite far behind him, now a man of solitary pursuits, caught in the mid-life search for something more.

In recent weeks he had drifted despondently, trying not to give up hope of being in the right place at the right time, but today he felt a little different. After a good nights sleep in the hotel he felt fit, even sure there was a spring in his step as he mingled into the churning masses of people going about their daily work.

The catalyst had been the conversation he had had in the hotel's bar the previous evening. Undaunted, perhaps with a little bravado, he had entered the luxurious room, all the time reminding himself to try and be the listener. Times before, critical opportuinities had been tarnished by letting forth flippant memories of the man who had done it all, too often his charade had faulted and the curiousity of the other dwindled away. He had sat at the bar, relaxed, contemplating the thin glass of beer misted with condensation, when a rather plump gentleman pulled up a stool and proceeded to start a conversation about the state the country was in and a barrage of other typical things that seasoned travellers and buisnessmen found solace in when they met other residents, people who also had the outward appearance of needing time to get things off their chests.

"They dug up a skeleton last week, right here in the centre of the city. They say it was a vital clue to our heritage.

"Oh really. Why is it of particular interest to people ?" Koch sipped the last drops of his beer and turned to speaker. His curiousity aroused.

"The history of this city is extremely vague, I think every street corner has it's own account. One of the most typical is of a plague that ravaged this land over three hundred years ago. Crows and ravens in their thousands put waste to crops and people found it hard to survive The story tells of an old woman who brought the plague to an end, how she did it is still a mystery. If the researchers are right the skeleton could give us some clues to if this story has a shred of truth to it." The gentleman sat back and yawned and indicated that it had been a stressful day.

"Sorry I have just got one question before you retire. Do you know of an establishment a man can go to in order to aquaint himself with members of the other sex ?"

"A brothel ?"

"No, I mean a dating agency."

"Yes, one has just opened, it's near the town hall. It is close to here."

"That sounds suitable."

"Your not looking for a widows lonely heart and safe deposit box, are you ?" The man grinned.

"Do I really look like that sort of person ?" Koch dismissed the remark and grinned back.

Somewhere in the city a clock chimed eleven o'clock. Koch checked his watch, a little slow but time was on his side. The sun was nearly directly above as he entered the reception of the dating agency "Match Makers". It was neatly carpeted ans spacious. Three desks occupied the space before him, he chose the left one, which had a rather attractive red head behind it.

"Good morning. My name is Joseph Koch and I am hoping you can solve my problem."

"Would this problem have anything to do with meeting the right person ?" The woman smiled, more out of routine than honesty.

He listened to the typical introduction, warnings and guarantees and was finally led to a room were he was asked to sit at a computer and fill out his personnal details and describe his ideal partner. After a quick coffee the red head returned with a handful of videos of the likely canditdates. The third one he looked at held a very interesting lady. He appraised her features, her fair complexion, green eyes, thin lips and her dark hair swept over her shoulder in a pony tail, loose, but somehow complementing the whole picture. With desire starting to burn his ambition he returned to the red head and asked for the finer details.

Two days later, in a centrally situated restaurant, he waited. Candles, standing in delicate porcelin vases adorned the table, cast shimmering shadows over the lace cloth. He had told the situation to the waiter and the waiter had politly wished him look with the laison. At five minutes to eight, a little early, Miss Krämer came into the restaurant and spoke quickly to the waiter, who directed her to the table.

Koch rose to greet her, drying his hands from the perspiration that had come from anticipation.

They talked for hours. She exponed on her love for the antique world. Koch could hardly get a word in.

"So why are you thinking about moving into the city ?" She paused moving the conversation in his direction.

"Well I am discussing purchasing a house in the Huls district with my financial advisor, if the right offer comes along I may be moving during the next few weeks. There are a few loose ends to tie up, but they shouldn't take an eternity."

"So you have had enough of the same old routine of traveling in your job, now is the time to settle down." He poured another glass of wine, knowing that now was the time when he would have to use all of his experience. The mask of lies calculatingly thought out to lead the unweary into the trap. Draw her into the world of a man whose life had been a string of treachery, broken promises and falsehoods. He would wear the melancholic smile, pause to remember a tearful parting, twist the emotion around his finger to the point when a hand would come across the table to caress and reasure and enfold that of the trickster. The sheer poetry with which he read the situation was the mark of a master. He finished his short life history with a plain and open statement. "Who knows what I will do, if the right person comes along." She looked across at him and put her hands together.

"Yes I understand. My situation changed when I lost my husband. I was lost for a time, but time is a healer. Time is precious, people use it so unwisely and wonder where it has gone, then it is too late. You can't bring back what has gone."

Outside the restaurant the weather had become dreary and the first drops of rain fell on the window next to where they were sitting. Koch had parked his car close to the place and his final move would be to offer her a lift home. She did not decline, on the contrary, she smiled.

It was a short drive to her house. Set against a backdrop of pine trees, it was beautiful, more than he expected. He drove into the stoney driveway, let her out and waited to arrange the next date. To his surprise she asked him in for a nightcap.

"You must have time to join me after such a wonderful meal, it is the least I can do."

"Alright, but just a small one. I'm not one for drinking too much." He locked his car, smiling at the speed at which the situation was developing, his luck was certainly on his side this night.

She let him into a huge living room. No expense had been spared in furnishing the place. Each corner of the room held an exquisite surprise for his astonished eyes. The hammer fell when he spied a grandfather clock next to mahogony writing desk. Never had he seen such an example of this work, so new, yet so ancient. It look like it had been aquired yesterday, but only an expert could tell you this was more than two hundred and fifty years old and about as rare as you could imagine. "My grandfather called it the Master of Time. It never loses a minute, an impossible piece of machinery, don't you think?"

"I'm sorry, I can only see a work of pure beauty, it's a masterpiece. They are nearly impossible to find. I don't think in all my experience I have seen one in such fantastic working order."

"Oh, it's just a clock. Come on I promised you a drink, didn't I.?" On entering the study, where she had her drinks cabinet, Koch saw two old man in wheel chairs sat near the vast window.

"Good evening gentlemen, I do hope we are not disturbing you?"

"Oh you won't get a word out of them, there are my uncles and they are both suffering from the same dreadful nerve disorder. I don't think they have spoken for six years and they have been residence of a special home for about ten years."

She had no idea of the clocks worth, he new people who would give him an usually large amount of money for such a piece. As he took the whisky, which she elegantly poured, he knew he had to have it. It had possessed him, it had a glamour all of its own.

"Oh it is a pity that my uncles cannot talk, they both would be able to tell us their fascinating lives. Mr. Wickert and Mr. Jansen were like you in their day. They travelled the world looking for precious things and romancing young ladies." Koch found it rather strange the way she talked about them, he thought he could sense a little condemnation in her tongue.

They both sat down in the leather arm chairs nestled next to the cabinet and continued their conversation.

The time had come when he would have to leave. He got up slowly and thanked her for the pleasure of her company.

"I've got a spare room upstairs. Look the weather is bad and you've drunk quite a lot and I think I can trust you."

"That is very nice of you, but I really don't want to put you to any trouble."

"Nonsense, it's no trouble at all. I certainly haven't got anything planned for tommorow, have you? I thought I could show you around the city and some of the interesting places we have here."

"Well, my next appointment is on Friday so I accept just as long as it won't put a burden on you."

"They are going soon."

He lay in the spare room bed, wide awake. He wanted the clock, he wanted to go downstairs. He would have to be very quiet. He looked at his watch, she would be asleep now and he would be in Holland before she had eaten breakfast. The thoughts were so appetising that he lifted the bed sheets slowly away and put on his clothes. He felt like a little boy preparing to sneak downstairs to plunder his Christmas presents. After carefully negotiating the stairs he entered the room with the clock. He crossed the room which was brillantly lit by moonlight pouring through the bay window. He was about to go to the clock when he noticed one of the old men sat next to the cabinet. Great, they play watchdog for her, he thought. The old man powered his wheel chair towards him and stopped in front of him. Koch prepared to ask for the direction to the toilet when he noticed the old man was holding something for him, a piece of paper. He took it and turned it into the moonlight to read it. It was difficult to read, the old man's writing was a scrawl, but he managed to decipher it. It told him not to touch the clock, after that the old man's strength must have given up because it was illegible. Koch looked down at the old man.

"I'll be gone quicker then you can raise any kind of alarm."

The old man's lips quivered as if he was using all his power to put something into words.

"Save your strength."

He closed the door so the old man couldn't escape to telephone and then went to the window to check for an alarm. Nothing. He carefully opened the window, letting the cold air in, he couln't feel the cold for the excitement in his veins.

"Time to help my very good friend the keeper of time into the boot of my car so he can enjoy his little journey in comfort, we can't let his delicate wood get damaged, can we?"

He strided across to the clock and stood in front of it. The pendulum swung slowly, every time it passed through the moonlight he saw the intricate brass detail. Each motion was followed by a deep resonant tone as it marked the time. He raised his hands and touched both sides of the tall clock. The mahogony was cold. It was then when the clock made a peculiar noise and the pendulum stopped swinging. His breathing frosted the glass between him and the brass appendage. Deep inside the heart of the clock other noises were being produced, they were not normal and strangely alien to this piece. The thought of an alarm system shot through his mind. No one would tamper with the bowels of such perfection.

He moved and attempted to remove his hands from the clock. They were stuck, no matter how hard he tried he could not free them. A feeling of giddiness and nausea swept over him and he became weak. His power started to leave him. He shook his head to rid the feeling but that only caused his world to spin. The arms of the clock started to move anti-clockwise. The speed at which they moved seemed to increase as his energy was slowly drifting away.

He felt a movement behind him, and with the last of his energy looked behind him. The old man stared up at him, his arm pointing to the cabinet. Koch looked across and saw two pieces of paper in the moonlight. One was from the agency 'Match Makers'. He could clearly read the information on it. The name Jansen was printed at the top with a photograph. It was one of the uncles but he looked to be 40 years younger. Under the photograph was his date of birth 1946, that would make him the same age as Koch. The sheet was dated last week. Koch looked into the pendulum glass with what was left of his strength. The wrinkles formed before his eyes and then a cloud passed over the moon. The room was dark.

Upstairs there was movement and the landing light came on. Miss Krämer hummed to herself as she slowly walked down the stairs feeling younger with every step.

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