Rainy Day Women by Chris Green
How many roads must a man walk down, Dylan Song wonders? He feels he has been trudging around the streets of Dalmouth for ages, yet he still can’t find the café where he is due to meet Frankie Lee. He seems to be going round in circles and getting nowhere. He should not have left the car in the car park, then he would have been able to drive around slowly, keeping an eye out for the place. There seem to be a few streets without double yellow lines and at this time of year, plenty of spaces. He could have nipped in once he had found the place. Or better still, he should have bought a map. To add to this, there is next to no wi-fi coverage here in Dalmouth. Why does he always imagine things will be simple when they never turn out to be? Given the nature of his quest, he could not use his phone to call anyone, even if he could get a signal. Who is the Frankie Lee he has to meet, he wonders, and why on earth are they meeting in the small coastal town of Dalmouth, anyway? Who are the people he is working for?
The early morning February drizzle has now turned to rain. At least Dylan Song had the foresight to wear his Drizabone overcoat. This will protect him against hard rain, torrential rain even. But he can’t keep walking around hoping for the best. Maybe he took the name of the road down wrong or something. The thin man with the pillbox hat selling newspapers outside the Tesco Metro looks as if he might be familiar with the area.
‘Do you know where Grand Street is,’ he asks?
‘Sorry, guv. Not heard of it,’ says the thin man. ‘Where is it you are looking for?’
‘The Bean Me Up Café,’ Dylan says.
‘No. That’s a new one on me,’ says the thin man. ‘You sure you got the right name?’
Dylan shows him the piece of paper that it is written on, along with the name of the street.
‘Don’t know it, I’m afraid, guv, but if you want a good cup of tea, you could try the Silver Saxophone Café on Fourth Street.’
Surely there is not a café called the Silver Saxophone, he thinks. Does he mean the Silver Kettle? Anyway, he doesn’t want a cup of tea. He wants information from someone called Frankie Lee.
He asks two rain-drenched women waiting in the queue for the Number 2 bus and the man in the trench coat selling The Big Issue outside of Peacocks. None of them has heard of Grand Street or the Bean Me Up Café. Dylan thinks it would be a good idea to try the library. He can log on to a computer there to find what he is looking for. But he finds that since the cuts, Dalmouth Public Library is only open on Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon, and it is Thursday. A pretty poor service, he thinks, for a town of 12,000 people. It suddenly occurs to him he may have even got the name of the town wrong. This might explain why he cannot find The Bean Me Up Café. As he recalls, he took down the details in a hurry. It would be a simple mistake to make. There are several rivers coming down from the moors, each meeting the sea at a town ending in mouth. Might it be Drainmouth he is looking for? On the Drain estuary, Drainmouth is fifteen miles along the coast, just past the historic village of Touchwood.
Apart from being a favourite place for invasions in years gone by, Drainmouth is mainly famous for its annual Jazz Festival, which takes place each February. Out of character, perhaps for the otherwise sleepy town, the festival attracts some big names in international jazz. As Dylan drives along the coastal road he sees advertising for the festival everywhere, banners, posters and road signs. The local radio station is broadcasting live from the event. Today is the first day. The headliner is Belgian saxophonist, Toussaint Thibault and at the weekend, The Milton Chance Quintet is playing.
His worry now is that when he finds Bean Me Up, he is going to have missed the rendezvous. He was supposed to be meeting Frankie Lee at 11 and the midday news is now coming on the radio. As he drives across the road-bridge over the estuary into Drainmouth, his phone springs into life. This is the first time he has had a signal today. The area has the worst coverage in the entire country, the chatty traffic control officer told him when he picked up his car. One after another, a dozen messages ping. He decides these can wait. He is still looking out for Grand Street when a call comes in. It is not a number from his phone contacts, but he takes the call.
‘Jones here,’ says the voice. He cannot recall having heard Mr Jones’ voice before, yet somehow it is familiar. It sounds muted, as if it is coming from far away. But it seems very close. ‘I’ve just had Lee on the phone. I’ll overlook the breach in security for now, but where in God’s name were you?’
‘Mix up with the towns,’ says Dylan Song. ‘I am in Drainmouth now, on my way to the café.’
‘Well, Song! Let’s get down to it then. Time is of the essence. We know that there is a jazz festival taking place in Drainmouth, but some other strange things are also going on. Your mission is to find out what these are, how they might be connected and who or what is behind them. Lee has the details. She will assist in any way she can.’
She? Did Mr Jones say, she? He had assumed that Frankie Lee was a man.
‘You’ve got that,’ says Mr Jones. ‘You’re on to it.’
‘Yes, I think so. Something is happening and you don’t know what it is,’ Dylan Song says. ‘Do you, Mr Jones?’
‘Exactly!’ says Mr Jones. ‘Now I’ve told Lee she has to wait at The Bean Me Up Café until you get there, so get your arse down there PDQ. And no more slip-ups.’
He parks the car and looks at the street plan in the car park. Grand Street is close by and fortunately, the rain has stopped. Although it is still early in the day, there is a bustle about the place as animated groups of colourfully dressed people file through Drainmouth’s higgledy-piggledy streets.
Dylan Song finds Frankie Lee at a table outside the Bean Me Up Café. Her table is under a striped awning and sheltered from the rain. She is drinking a posh coffee, a doppio ristretto or something. Although they have not met, he realises who Frankie is straight away. He was told to look out for a blonde and this woman is blonde. But she also has that mystifying blend of charisma and aloofness that you sometimes find with people working in covert operations. That unexplainable curiosity and otherness that makes for a successful psi investigator. In a word, she seems like someone who can find things out. Dylan Song orders a banana pancake, sits himself down, and introduces himself.
‘So, what’s it all about,’ he says?
‘You are familiar with jazz and its characteristics, I take it,’ Frankie Lee says.
‘I have a few Bill Evans CDs,’ he says. ‘And the odd tune by Miles Davis, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert.’
‘Jazz is, of course, a broad church, but basically, it uses syncopation,’ Frankie continues. ‘Rhythmic stresses are placed in the music where they wouldn’t normally occur. Improvisation and deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre make the music unpredictable. Jerky and smooth at the same time, if you like. This is hard to get your head around, but it looks as if jazz might be spilling over into real life here in Drainmouth.’
‘I couldn’t help but notice a little merriment and frolicking on the streets,’ Dylan says. ‘Look at those guys over there. They are really going for it.’
‘That’s not quite what I mean,’ Frankie says. ‘According to the regulars at The Jack of Hearts, the tide didn’t come in at all last night.’
‘But it is a pub,’ Dylan says. ‘They probably had a lock-in to sing sea shanties or whatever it is they do round here and had one or two too many.’
‘That’s as maybe,’ Frankie says. ‘But the landlord tells me the tide is coming in like a freight train this morning.’
‘He’s mad as a hatter.’
‘Maybe. But there are other odd things going on. You may not have noticed it yet, but all the clocks in the town have stopped. Now, this in itself might have a simple explanation if they hadn’t all stopped at different times. Take a look at your wristwatch.’
‘It has stopped. Five to twelve. That’s about the time I arrived here.’
‘Mine says 11:11.’
‘And look! The one in the café says, 3 o’clock.’
‘12:35 on that one. That’s about right, isn’t it?’
‘How long do you think we have?’
‘I don’t know. The traders at the market say it has been raining ……… time. Minutes and seconds falling from the skies, they are saying. Something is definitely wrong here.’
‘It is an odd place, isn’t it?’ says Dylan. ‘There are one or two mysteries for us to solve.’
‘But connected, wouldn’t you say?’
The barista brings Dylan Song’s banana pancake over. A familiar tune is playing inside the Bean Me Up Café. In a strange time signature. Dylan Song racks his brain, but he can’t make out what it is, and he feels it would be helpful to know.
‘You’d better be quick with that pancake,’ Frankie Lee says. ‘It’s time to go.’
As they leave to make their way through the town, they are sucked up into the carnival atmosphere. Jazz is playing everywhere. Dylan is overwhelmed by the confusion of tunes on offer. It is hard to separate one from another. He can even hear a Salvation Army band playing a Dixie tune. That’s the band, he thinks. Trombone, tuba, piano, bass, percussion. That’s the one.
‘Time’s up, Mr Jones,’ says a familiar voice. ‘Please, can you answer the question?’
The answer comes to him. ‘Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,’ he says. ‘The track on the album, Blonde on Blonde where Dylan uses a Salvation Army-style brass band is Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35.’
‘Correct, Mr Jones,’ says the smiling host. ‘Congratulations! You have got all the questions right on your specialist subject, The Songs of Bob Dylan. You have won the South-West Quizzer of the Year 2017.’
Copyright © Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved