Jazz 2 by Chris Green
I am out in the back, struggling over a spreadsheet, when I hear the bell ring. I cannot see the woman who has come into the shop, but it appears she can see me.
‘Have you got Soul Junction by Red Garland?’ she calls out.
‘If I have, it’ll be in the CD rack in the corner,’ I call back. ‘The one marked Bebop. They are all in alphabetical. I’ll be with you in a minute.’
‘I was hoping you might have it on vinyl,’ she says.
Mood Indigo doesn’t get many requests for Red Garland these days, let alone for his albums on vinyl. Sadly, Red has fallen out of favour. Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans tend to be the jazz pianists today’s jazz buffs choose. Yet arguably, Red was the most innovative of the three. It was he, along with George Shearing perhaps, who pioneered the block chord, so influential in jazz piano. Then there were his arrangements. He brought out the best in his players. Some of John Coltrane’s best work was with Red’s Quintet.
‘Soul Junction,’ she repeats with a smile as I approach the counter. She is a beauty. How can I best describe her without alienating female readers? She is in her prime. She is statuesque. She is dressed in a light-coloured, tight-fitting summer dress that accentuates her curves. She has big brown eyes and long dark hair. She …….
‘It’s for my husband, Sacha,’ she says. ‘It’s his ninetieth birthday next week. He saw the Red Garland Quintet play many times during their residency at The Paris Jazz Club, back in the nineteen-fifties.’
I’m not sure how to react to this revelation. It means there is a sixty-five-year age gap between them. Best not to draw attention to it, perhaps. Anything goes these days.
‘I can probably get a copy of Soul Junction for you on vinyl,’ I say, instead. ‘If you let me have your number, I’ll let you know when it is in.’
‘That would be fabulous,’ she says. ‘Thank you. I’m Gala by the way and here’s my card.’
After she has left, I look at the card. Gala Rose, Enigma. At a guess, not her married name, probably not her birth name. And why Enigma? Perhaps it doesn’t matter greatly. She is a sensual delight. I am smitten.
There are several mint condition copies of the album available on eBay for around £25, so I select the one from a trader I am familiar with. From experience, I am aware that mint condition does not mean very much on eBay these days. It is a loose description. The album arrives five days later, hopefully in time for her Gala’s husband’s birthday, so I give her a ring. I have to admit I am looking forward to seeing her again.
‘Hi, Gala. It’s Duke from Mood Indigo,’ I say. ‘I have your husband’s disc.’
‘Oh, hello Duke,’ she says. ‘I’m afraid Sacha passed away the day before yesterday. He had an abseiling accident.’
‘That’s terrible,’ I say, suppressing my puzzlement at why a ninety-year-old man would be abseiling. ‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘You’re very kind,’ she says. ‘No, I don’t think so. Once the funeral is over and the estate is settled, I’m going to go away for a while. South America, probably. It will be Spring there by then.’
I think about Gala now and then, but do not expect to see her again. I am surprised therefore when, six months later, she comes into the shop again.
‘Have you got Blue Train,’ she says?
‘One of my all-time favourites,’ I say. ‘I have it here on CD but I don’t have it in vinyl. I sold the last copy last week. But I can get it for you.’
‘That’s OK,’ Gala says. ‘Ramon doesn’t have a record deck yet so CD will be perfect.’
‘Ramon?’ I say.
‘Yes, I met Ramon at a Gaucho skills demonstration in Buenos Aires. He is a fine horseman. Gauchos have extraordinary riding skills. Nothing compares to watching them compete in the national sport of Pato. It is a fast and furious game, not for the faint-hearted. The most exciting part is when the Pato ball falls to the ground and the gaucho has to pick it up from this horse at a gallop. This is Ramon’s speciality. Of course, Ramon is younger than Sacha. He’s eighty-eight. Anyway, we got married last month. We are planning on opening an equestrian centre over here.’
‘Congratulations,’ I say. It is difficult not to remark on the strangeness of Gala’s life, in particular her curious attraction to older men. But as it is none of my business, I once again resist the temptation. Each to their own. Perhaps her life is only unusual when compared to my dull existence, a single thirty-something man managing a backstreet jazz record shop and trying to make ends meet.
‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘Ramon is a darling. I’m sure we will be very happy.’
‘I hope it works out for you this time,’ I say. ‘Anytime you or Ramon want more jazz records, or even just a chat about jazz, feel free to drop in.’
‘Of course,’ Gala says. ‘You’ve been very helpful.’
I don’t actually expect to see Gala anytime soon. When relative strangers say they will see you soon, they seldom mean it. But yet again, I am proved wrong. Less than a week later, she is back. While it would be wrong to say that her sparkle has gone altogether, she seems more subdued.
‘I don’t suppose you happen to have Requiem Para Un Malandra by Astor Piazzolla, Duke,’ she says. ‘I need to get hold of it for Ramon’s funeral. He died in a hang-gliding accident in that storm at the weekend.’
Oscar Wilde’s quote about carelessness comes to mind, but it is clearly not an appropriate response to this situation.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ is the best I can manage.
I’ve heard of Piazzola, of course. He is synonymous with tango music. I probably have one or two of his CDs in stock, although I can’t say for certain as I’ve given up on the stock spreadsheet. But I didn’t realise that Piazzola wrote requiems. My Spanish is not very good, but doesn’t malandra translate as crook? It certainly seems to be a dangerous twilight world that Gala inhabits.
‘I’m Inspector Bill and this is my colleague, D.C. Younger,’ the tall man in the detective coat says. They do not look as if they’ve come about a parking violation. ‘We’d like to talk to you about your friend, Ralph Monday who was found strangled at his home in Stable Hill last week.’
‘I don’t believe I know anyone of that name,’ I say.
‘No. I don’t think so. It’s an unusual name. I’m pretty sure I would remember.’
‘Then perhaps you might explain why this business card with your name and with your mobile number added in biro was found on his person,’ Inspector Bill says. ‘This is your handwriting, is it not?’
‘Any why the CD of Blue Train was in the player. As you will observe, the CD case has a Mood Indigo sticker on it,’ D.C. Younger says, showing me a photo on his phone.
‘I have absolutely no idea,’ I say. ‘I do not know anyone called Ralph Monday.’
‘It has also come to our attention that similar evidence was found at the scene of the as yet unsolved murder of one, Samuel Charles, a few months ago. In this case, it was a vinyl copy of Red Garland’s Soul Junction that had the Mood Indigo sticker on it. But the card we found there is identical to the other one with the same handwriting in biro,’ Bill says. ‘Samuel Charles too was strangled. Big coincidence, wouldn’t you say?’
Evidence? Surely they don’t think I murdered these people.
‘Oh, come on, guys!’ I say. ‘If I had, as you say, killed these two people, I would have hardly left such incriminating evidence. Besides, they are both strangers. What motive would I have?’
My mind meanwhile is working overtime. It dawns on me that there might be a connection to Gala Rose, Enigma. Enigma? Femme Fatale might be a better descriptor. I don’t like to think it, but there must be a connection. Even the names of the deceased seem like extrapolations of her two dead husbands’ names, albeit the circumstances behind their demise differ. But what would Gala’s motive be? Unless she was going to inherit, the gold-digger explanation would seem to carry little weight. And if she was the beneficiary, surely she would realise that this would show up somewhere in the records. Wouldn’t it? There is something underhand happening here. But how am I going to get to the bottom of it? I don’t even know her real name and I know the phone number she gave me no longer works because I tried it the day before yesterday. Even given proof of her involvement, I would be reluctant to feed her to the lions.
‘If you don’t come up with a convincing explanation in two minutes flat, it’s a trip downtown for you,’ Bill says. ‘And don’t expect to be leaving anytime soon.’
I take a moment to compose myself. Bill’s threat smacks of desperation. They are clutching at straws. They are hoping that I will incriminate myself. This is how they operate. It makes their job easier if, caught off guard, people say the wrong thing and put themselves in the frame. They have nothing that puts me at the scene of either of the crimes. And since I wasn’t, they are unlikely to be able to come up with any. They are a long way from the something you can rely on in court, handcuffs stage.
‘Why have you waited months to come to me with your evidence connecting me to the murder of your Samuel Charles?’ I say as an opener.
He moves on to the Ralph Monday case.
‘I don’t even know where Stable Hill is,’ I say.
They change tack and suggest that even if I am not responsible, I might be an accomplice. The jazz albums at the crime scenes are the common thread.
I tell them I sell dozens of Red Garland and John Coltrane albums, perhaps hundreds. They are popular artists. How and I supposed to remember who bought each one?
‘But you must keep a record of sales, Younger says.’
‘Not exactly,’ I say. ‘I am rubbish with computers.’
My incompetence on sales spreadsheets is matched by my incompetence on the free accounting software on the machine. Accounts have never been something I’ve been hung up on. I normally just get my accountant to make up some figures at the end of the year. After all, the raison d’être of jazz is its informality. Even so, they insist on taking the laptop away for examination by their techies.
‘We will be in touch,’ Bill says finally. ‘Don’t get any funny ideas about leaving the country.’
I still find it difficult to picture Gala as a cold-blooded killer. But whether they were her husbands or not, it now seems possible, even likely that she committed the two murders. Or arranged for them to be carried out. But why? Her marriage narratives seemed apocryphal when she related them to me. But because it would be too crazy to make up such wild stories, and the fact that she looked ravishing, I did not examine them closely. I accepted them. I took her at her word. She was married to two very old men. So what? Should I have asked the police if the victims were very old men? The ones Gala had described? They did not give a lot of detail about the victims, just that they were dead. Strangled.
If Gala was making it all up anyway, would it make any difference what she told me? It would not matter how old Sacha or Ramon supposedly were. But where on Earth do the jazz albums fit into the story? What purpose did they serve? Perhaps they were to make it look as if I may have had something to do with the murders. But if so, why? And where is Gala now?
The police return the laptop, dismayed at the level of my incompetence with its software. Nothing of any interest to anyone here. They tell me I have even managed to disable the operating system. They call around a couple more times with questions about my customers, but each time they seem less hopeful in getting a result. Why they have been able to get nowhere with other leads is a mystery. But apparently, nearly half of all murders in the UK are unsolved these days.
There is no further sign of Gala Rose. Even the police have uncovered no traces of her. I begin to question whether she was real. Perhaps I simply imagined her. In order to get on with my life, I decide this is the best way to look at it. There is no sense in beating myself up. I expect everyone experiences episodes that they are unable to find explanations for. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. It is very unlikely I will see Gala again, and I have my entire future ahead of me. I can join a dating agency. Renew my membership at Ronnie Scott’s. I might even enrol for a computer course to learn spreadsheets.
‘Do you have Something Else?’ she says.
I can see that this is not Gala, but even so, she is a stunner. How can I best describe her without alienating female readers? She is in her prime. She is statuesque. She is dressed in a light-coloured, tight-fitting summer dress that accentuates her curves. She has big brown eyes and long dark hair. She …….
‘You mean the hard bop album by Cannonball Adderley,’ I say.
‘Yes that’s the one,’ she says. ‘It’s for my husband. It will be his eighty-sixth birthday next week.’
What can I say? At least husbands are getting younger.
© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved