Blonde on Blonde

Blonde on Blonde by Chris Green

How many roads must a man walk down, Dylan Song wonders? 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. This is his fourth time around the shopping centre. His going round in circles. His search is going nowhere. He should not have left the car in the car park. Then he could have driven around slowly, keeping an eye out for the place. There seem to be a few streets without double-yellow lines and plenty of spaces at this time of year. He could have nipped in once he had found the place. To add to this, there is next to no Wi-Fi coverage here in Dalmouth.

Why does he always imagine things will be simple? 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? Who are the people he is working for?

The early morning November drizzle has now turned into a downpour. Fortunately he has had the foresight to wear his Drizabone overcoat to protect him from hard rain. He doesn’t need to shelter from the storm. But he can’t keep walking around hoping for the best. Maybe he took the name of the road down wrong. The thin man with the pillbox hat selling newspapers looks as if he might know the area.

Do you know where Fourth Street is?’ he asks.

Sorry, guv. Not heard of it,’ says the thin man. ‘Where is it you are looking for?’

The Tom Thumb Café,’ Dylan says.

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.’

Surely there is not a café called the Silver Saxophone. Does he mean Silver Kettle? He thinks he may have passed this earlier. But he doesn’t want a cup of tea. He wants information from someone called Frankie Lee.

He asks two rain-drenched women on the pavement outside Ramona’s and the man in the trench coat selling postcards. They have not heard of Fourth Street or the Tom Thumb Café. Dylan thinks he should try the library. He can log on to the internet there. But he finds that since the cuts, Dalmouth Public Library is only open on Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon, and it is Thursday. A poor service for a town of 12,000 people. It occurs to him, he may have even got the name of the town wrong. This might explain why he cannot find the café. It would be a simple mistake to make. He took down the details in a hurry, and there are several rivers coming down from the moors, each meeting the sea at a town ending in mouth. It might be Drymouth or Drainmouth he is looking for. Drainmouth is nearest, just fifteen miles along the coast.

Apart from being a favourite place for invasions in years gone by, Drainmouth is famous for its Jazz Festival, which takes place every November. 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. Saxophone Joe is playing, and at the weekend, Heaven’s Door are headlining.

His worry now is that when he finds the Tom Thumb, he will have missed the rendezvous. He was supposed to meet Frankie Lee at 11 and the midday news is now coming on the radio. As he drives across the road-bridge into Drainmouth, his phone springs into life. This is the first time he has had a signal today. He has visions of Johanna at Hertz telling him the area had the worst coverage in the entire country. At the time, he had laughed it off. Now, a dozen messages ping on his phone. He decides these can wait. He is still looking out for Fourth 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 met Mr Jones, yet his voice is familiar. It sounds so close, it might be his own.

I’ve had Lee on the phone,’ Mr Jones says. ‘I’ll overlook the breach in security for now, but where in God’s name were you?’

Mix up with the towns,’ Dylan Song says. ‘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 going on. Your mission is to find out what these are 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 Tom Thumb 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. Fourth 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 Tom Thumb Café. Her table is under a striped awning. She is drinking an Americano. Although they have not met, is able to identify Frankie straight away. He was told to look out for a blonde woman and this woman is blonde. Blonde on blonde. Frankie 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 some honky-tonk blues, and a few jazz CDs, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert.’

Jazz uses syncopation,’ Frankie continues. ‘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. ‘There are some odd things going on. For instance, you may not have noticed it yet, but all the clocks in the town have stopped. Now, this might have a simple explanation if they hadn’t all stopped at different times.’

You mean, the times, they aren’t a’changing?’

Exactly. 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. Quinn, the landlord at The Jack of Hearts, tells me it has been raining time. Minutes and seconds have been falling from the skies.’

But it is a pub,’ Dylan says. ‘They probably had a lock-in to sing sea shanties, and Quinn had one or two too many.’

That’s as maybe,’ Frankie says. ‘But something is definitely happening here, and we don’t know what it is.’

It is an odd place, isn’t it?’ says Dylan. But I’m guessing we need answers. Presumably this is why I’m here.’

The barista brings his banana pancake over. A familiar tune plays over the café speakers. In a strange time signature. Dylan Song can’t make out what it is, but 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 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 which Dylan uses a Salvation Army-style brass band is Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35 and the album is Blonde on Blonde.’

Correct, Mr Jones,’ says the grinning host. ‘Congratulations! You have got all the questions right on your specialist subject, The Songs of Bob Dylan. You have won the South-West Region Quizzer of the Year 2021.’

Copyright © Chris Green, 2021: All rights reserved

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