Rainy Day Women

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Rainy Day Women by Chris Green

How many roads must a man walk down, wonders Dylan Song? 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. Perhaps 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, so he could have easily 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 that things will be simple when they never turn out to be? Due to the nature of his quest, he could not use his phone to call anyone even if he were able to get a signal because of the security implications. 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? For that matter, who are the people he is working for? So many questions.

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 pill box 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, perhaps? 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 but none of them have 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 that 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 did take down the details in a hurry. It would be an easy 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 just 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 of the bigger names in international jazz. As Dylan drives along the coastal road he sees advertising for the festival everywhere, banners, posters and roadsigns. 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 are 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 whole country, the chatty traffic control officer told him when he picked up his car. One after another, a dozen or so 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 at the same time, 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 very 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 anyway she can.’

She? Did Mr Jones say, she? He had assumed that Frankie Lee was a man.

‘You’ve got that, then,’ says Mr Jones. ‘You’re on to it.’

‘Yes, I think so. Something is happening and you don’t know what it is,’ says Dylan Song. ‘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 takes a look 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 find sometimes 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 kind of 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 probably 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.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

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You Never Can Tell

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You Never Can Tell by Chris Green

Annie and I are sitting in a café called Lemon Jelli sipping peppermint tea. The space it is laid out to look like a continental bar with comfortable seating and 1930s French travel posters on the wall. We have come to Newton Abbot for the market. Annie is shopping for shoes. The flimsy ones she bought last week have not lasted well.

How old do you think I am?’ says a swarthy stranger sitting on the table next to us. ‘Go on! have a guess!’

We have not registered his presence up now. We exchange glances. We assume by the tone of the question that he is probably older than he thinks he looks. In truth, with his hair greased back like a fifties icon and his short-sleeved plaid checked shirt, he looks about seventy four.

Sixty?’ Annie says, diplomatically.

No,’ he says, smiling. ‘I’m seventy four. I don’t look it, do I?’

No, you don’t. You must live a healthy life,’ I say, turning away and hoping to end the conversation.

It transpires that he lives in Torquay, but he comes from Somerset, Taunton to be precise. Taunton is about sixty miles north of Torquay. He used to be married but is not anymore. He says he doesn’t want to talk about this. He has an eighteen year old daughter, but he doesn’t see her very often except on birthdays and Christmas. She lives in Somerset somewhere, but he doesn’t specify where. He used to be an electrical engineer with a company that makes microwave ovens, but he retired early at sixty four after his triple heart by-pass.

What’s Torquay like?’ Annie asks, before I can stop her. ‘We were thinking of going there, one day while we’re down here.’

Torquay is great,’ he says. ‘I like living in Torquay. A lot of people say bad things about it, but really its very nice. I know there are lots of druggies, hanging around the streets, but you get that everywhere now, don’t you? I don’t take drugs. I never have, well, only prescription drugs for my heart condition. I’m on twelve different sorts. That’s why I don’t drive anymore. I nearly crashed the car and thought, sod this for a game of soldiers, so I sold the car. That was nine years ago. I’ve got my bus pass of course. I can get around with my bus pass. That’s how I got here today. On the bus. It’s a good service from Torquay to Newton Abbot. And I can get to Exeter and Teignmouth. I can even get back to Taunton, but I don’t like to that often. You can’t live in the past, can you? You’ve got to move on.’

I start to realise the conversation is going to be a more of a monologue.

Torquay Man doesn’t like gambling either.

It’s another addiction, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘You can bet on anything, these days, can’t you?’

Anything,’ I agree. ‘The Christmas number one, the Christmas number two, the discovery of life on Mars, the Pope to break a leg skiing, The Finnish Wife Carrying Championship…..’

My humour is lost on him. He is not listening. He begins to talk over me.

I still bet on horses,’ he says. ‘But I don’t stay in the bookies anymore, I put my bet on and then leave. If I stayed and the horse won, I would probably put the money on another horse and it would probably lose. Sometimes I come here to go to the races. I do like to see the horses running around the track and Newton Abbot is one of the best summer jumps courses.’

I didn’t know there was a racecourse,’ Annie says.

It’s just up the road. Are you staying around here?’

Teignmouth,’ I say, giving Annie a conspiratorial wink. We are actually staying in Dawlish, a few miles north of Teignmouth, but do not want Swarthy Stranger to get wind of this, just in case he finds out where we are and decides to call in.

Ah Teignmouth!’ he says. ‘I lived in Teignmouth for a while. In the 1980s. It was a nice place back then. Clean white beaches. Trips around the bay. But now it’s all street drinkers. In the bus shelters. On the prom. On the pier. Everywhere, they are. It’s all right to have a drink, but some people don’t know when to stop, do they? My Uncle Albert was one who liked a drink. I would say to him when he’d had a few, like, Albert, I’d say, I can’t understand a bloody word you’re saying. ……. I used to drink too, mind you, back in the day, when I came back from Aden. Saw some terrible things out there, I did. Make your hair curl. I was a Scammel driver in the Sappers, you know. You don’t hear them called Sappers anymore do you? You wouldn’t believe it now, would you? But all those years ago I was in the Royal Engineers.’

I don’t think it can be anything we say, because Annie and I aren’t been given the opportunity to say very much, but something seems to darken his narrative. A free-floating malice creeps into the monologue. What we took as the friendly banter of a lonely old man becomes a platform for his intolerance and bigotry. The idle youths that hang around the shopping centre ought to be rounded up and sent to boot camps in the Bristol Channel. Benefits scroungers should be put to work cleaning out the sewers, and immigrants should be turned back at Dover or shipped to concentration camps in the Channel. Prisoners should all be put on treadmills and the treadmills linked to the National Grid. It is if he has just read a year’s worth of Daily Mail headlines.

I am now hurrying to finish my peppermint tea and Annie is putting on a few of her scarves and cardigans. Torquay Man can see we are getting ready to leave.

Just one more story before you go,’ he says. ‘You’ll want to hear this one.’

Another time,’ I say, and with this we are out of the door and walking along Queen Street in the direction of the car.

What an awful man!’ I say to Annie. ‘You didn’t have to encourage him so much.’

I thought, at first, he just needed someone to talk to,’ Annie says. ‘It’s not easy being old and lonely with nothing to look forward to and time slipping away.’

But he didn’t even seem to have time for his family,’ I say. ‘Anyway, let’s get out of here.’

We are parked in the multi-storey car park, a few streets away. We normally avoid these, but when we arrived in Newton Abbot this morning we found ourselves corralled into it. We cannot get near it now. The streets on the approach to the car park are cordoned off. Ahead of us, there is a carnival of flashing blue lights, as police cars, fire engines and ambulances line the streets. People meander this way and that in confusion. No one seems able to tell us what is going on. Rumours are circulating about a there being a bomb and some local residents have been evacuated.

The first I knew about it was these two men in flak jackets in my back yard,’ the lady in the unseasonable raincoat with the black and white cat on her shoulder says. ‘They said I had to leave right away. I asked them what was going on and all they could tell me was that they had their orders.’

East Street and Tudor Road are closed off, bloody pigs everywhere.’ the man in the orange boiler suit and the Jesus beard says.

They’re shutting down the market,’ the man with the Sticky Fingers t-shirt and the battery of nasal jewellery says. ‘Can you imagine. The market never shuts. This is Newton Abbot.’

We can’t get anywhere near the multi-storey,’ I say.

There’ll be a few hundred cars in there at a guess,’ the corpulent traffic warden with the limp says. ‘God help us if that goes up.’

Probably another suicide bomber, like the one in Plymouth last week,’ the thick-set man with the bull terrier says.

I didn’t hear an explosion,’ Unseasonable Raincoat says.

You don’t always hear them these days,’ Jesus Beard says. ‘They have silent bombs.’

A new task force in army fatigues arrives to move us back further.

Could you tell us what’s going on, please?’ I say.

What about my market stall?’ Sticky Fingers says. ‘I didn’t lock it up. I got thousands of pounds worth of rare albums there.’

I think I may have left the iron on,’ Unseasonable Raincoat says.

All comments are greeted with a taciturn silence from the surly militia. Methodically they kettle us like protesters at an anti-capitalist rally.

Get your hands off me,’ Jesus Beard yells.

He is forced into a doorway and handcuffed.

This provides the incentive for rest of us move back behind the barricades. These guys are serious about security.

You might imagine that emergency situations like would be tense, but in reality very little happens. Soon, because they can do nothing about it, people accept the situation and start drifting away. Dog Walking Man is probably miles away with his bull terrier and Sticky Fingers Man has probably found a welcoming pub, somewhere where he can tell his tales of the glory days with the blues band that never quite made it.

I expect Lemon Jelli is full up now,’ I say to Annie. ‘They’re probably all going there.’

Do you want to go back?’ Annie asks.

We take a look at each other and decide to give it a miss. We listen to the busker making his way through the Paul Simon songbook instead.

Shame about the shoes,’ I say.

‘We can get some in Exeter tomorrow,’ Annie says.

Eventually, without any explanation, we are given the all clear. It takes half an hour or so to get out of the car park and then we find ourselves in a formidable queue of traffic. Everybody is trying to get out of Newton Abbot. Annie is on her iPhone, trawling the news sites to find information about the incident.

It says here that explosives experts were called to two suspect packages found in the town centre,’ she reads from the Exeter Express and Echo website. ‘This prompted a large area to be evacuated. Both devices were detonated safely in controlled explosions. Police are looking for an elderly man with a swarthy complexion and slicked-back hair who was seen acting suspiciously near in the vicinity earlier today. There are reports of a man fitting this description at both of the crime scenes. More details will follow as the information comes in.’

You think it was him?’ Annie says.

It does sound like it, doesn’t it?’ I say.

Shouldn’t we let the police know?’

Let them know what? That we had a conversation with a seventy four year old man from Torquay. Besides, he’s not still going to be at Lemon Jelli now, is he,’ I say. ‘He’s long gone.’

Do you think that this was the one more story that he was going to tell us?’ Annie asks.

You mean like he might have wanted us to turn him in?’ I say. ‘I guess we’ll never know.’

Who would have thought?’ Annie says. ‘He’s not what you think of when you think of terrorists.’

It goes to show that you never can tell,’ I say. ‘Terrorists don’t all have big beards and unpronounceable names.’

He never did say his name, did he?’

But he was definitely clean shaven.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved