O Sole Mio by Chris Green
Sophie and I wonder why, at around the same time every Saturday evening, the ice-cream van makes its way up the Close. At about seven-thirty, we hear twenty seconds of O Sole Mio as the van comes around the corner. The initial chime is followed by another ten-second burst of the Neapolitan classic as it nears the top of the Close. Each time, the van stops outside the last house. Back in the summer, the visits did not need an explanation. Clearly, people were going to buy ice-cream on a hot day. But on a cold wet November evening, why Bocelli’s Ices would even come out, let alone make a detour up this quiet cul-de-sac is puzzling. No-one is going to want ice-cream on a night like this.
‘He’s probably selling drugs, don’t you think?’ Sophie says.
‘If he is selling drugs, he is hardly going to advertise the fact with a chiming ice-cream van, is he?’ I say.
‘The ice-cream van would be perfect cover,’ Sophie says.
‘In July, possibly,’ I say. ‘But look at it out there. It’s like the end of the world.’
‘I disagree,’ Sophie says. ‘It’s exactly the opposite. July would be more difficult. But only those who know about his drop are likely to come out to the van on a night like this.’
‘I suppose doing deals this way would save all the time spent sitting around inspecting the goods and sampling,’ I say. ‘There would be no chit-chat. It would just be a straightforward exchange of money and drugs.’
‘My point exactly, Ben,’ Sophie says. ‘Mr Bocelli is probably able to fit in three times the number of drops.’
‘So, how would it work in July, when all the families in the Close want ice-creams?’
‘I suppose the ones in the know would say something like, can I have an extra flake with that. Or perhaps they hang back until the others have bought their ice-creams.’
‘I wonder who lives at the end house,’ I say ‘We’ve had no reason to go up there, have we?’
‘We could ask Annie,’ Sophie says. ‘She’s bound to know. She knows everything that goes on around here.’
‘Who is Annie?’ I say. I haven’t spent as much time getting to know the neighbours as Sophie.
‘She’s the one with the cats who sits in her front garden all day.’
‘The numbers go up one side of the Close and down the other so that you must mean number 27,’ Annie says. ‘The one with the big brown truck on the drive.’
‘Yes, that’s the one,’ Sophie says. We have been curious about the truck since we moved in back in the summer. It somehow doesn’t fit in with the floribundas, the manicured lawns and picket fences.
‘That’ll be the Morrisons.’ Annie says. ‘Jimmy and Pam. To be honest, I don’t know much about them. Although I’m often outside in the garden, I never see them. They keep themselves to themselves. You’ve probably noticed that the old truck doesn’t move. Why don’t you take a wander up there and have a scout around? See what you can find out.’
The place is pretty much as Annie suggested. There are no signs of habitation. The curtains are drawn, top and bottom. The space at the front is laid to paving with mature weeds poking through. The truck is a left-hand drive American Ford F100 pickup, in other hands probably a classic, but this one doesn’t look cared for or even roadworthy. There is a tall fence around the side of the house which blocks out the space to the back. Perhaps, after all, there is no-one in residence. Perhaps the ice-cream van calls around for the benefit of a family at one of the other houses at the top of the road.
Sophie and I decide to think no more about it. It isn’t as if an ice-cream van coming along our road on a winter’s evening, whether bringing drugs or not, is a matter of life and death. If we choose to, we can take a peek out of the window to see what is going on when it calls next Saturday. Until then there are more important things to think about like when my winter socks, the new battery for the smoke alarm and my book on modern philosophers from eBay will be delivered. And Sophie is expecting her quarterly watercolour magazine and a new sports bra from Etsy.
But, when on Wednesday morning at 2 am, we are woken by the strains of O Sole Mio as the Bocelli’s Ices van turns the corner, our curiosity is raised once more. It is difficult to come up with a plausible explanation.
‘I thought I was dreaming,’ Sophie says. ‘But I’m not, am I? You heard it too.’
We go over to the window. The ice-cream van is all lit up, waiting at the end of the Close, outside number 27.
‘Let’s go and get one,’ I say.
‘What?’ Sophie says.
‘But I’m not dressed.’
‘You can sling a coat on and some loafers. Come on! If he’s not selling ice-creams, we can call his bluff.’
We make our way up to the van. The engine is idling and when we arrive, Mr Bocelli is playing with his phone. He doesn’t seem surprised to see us and makes no remark on how we are kitted out.
‘Can we have a double rum and raisin and a double mint choc chip, please?’ I say.
‘Flake or no flake?’ Mr Bocelli says.
Sophie casts a knowing glance in my direction. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps this is how it’s done.
‘Oh, go on then!’ I say. ‘I’ll have a flake with mine.’
‘Why not?’ Sophie says.
With his back to us, it is difficult for us to see exactly what Mr Bocelli is doing but when he has finished, he hands us two splendid looking ice-creams.
‘That will be ninety-six pounds,’ he says. ‘Cash or card?’
© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved