‘Inside the small booking office a solitary man stood behind a counter. A rather emaciated-looking article, in Harry’s opinion; one with such pale and narrow features as might befit any bookish type, even down to the sunken boniness of his cheeks and the receding head of wispy hair that seemed altogether at risk from any stiff ocean breeze. At the first indication of the door being opened the man visibly jumped, then with all the alacrity of a startled cockroach he scurried around his counter and somehow made it to the door just in time to be of some belated assistance in opening it the remaining two and one half inches. He then stood there with hands clasped together and with a kindly smile directed at this seemingly affluent couple…’
THE CALIFORNIA RUN
The Booking Agent is one of those numerous incidental characters that, as authors, we are obliged to create for the purpose of fulfilling a minor role in the story. Oftentimes, a very minor role.
As in this instance, this man’s one and only task was to sell a first class stateroom ticket aboard Achilles to Harry Jenkins. That’s all. Nothing more. Enter left, sell ticket, exit right. Then fade back into the obscurity from whence I drew him.
But apparently this fellow had other ideas. The moment he hit the page he took off running, immediately becoming the most shameless and toadying of sycophants: sucking up to the seemingly affluent and snobbishly passing harsh judgment upon all others who did not rise to his most exacting of standards.
And one brief scene in chapter one was clearly not enough for this man. He somehow managed to sneak his way back into the tail end of chapter three while I wasn’t looking, where we suddenly discover that he also prided himself on being ‘a shrewd judge of a foreign accent’, immediately following which we also learn that he was ‘a particular creature when it came to the correctness of grammatical composition’ (more so than myself, I’m ashamed to say, and I’m the one who created him! Go figure). And, bless him, he finally solves the conundrum that I had been wrestling with for weeks, as to how to persuade the mad Irishman to book a stateroom ticket aboard Sapphirein his fervent haste to catch up with Harry Jenkins.
Characters like The Booking Agent show up all too rarely, and when they do it can be a joy to behold as they take on a life of their own and run with it. My only regret is that I left this man back in New York. He would have made the perfect addition to Achilles’ passenger complement for the voyage to San Francisco.
But perhaps The Booking Agent will find some way to worm himself into the sequel. I hope he does. Because then I can actually give him a real name, which I think, after all he has done for me, is the very least I can do.