I’m nearly 25,000 words into my new story, so I think I am about a third of the way through it. It is set in July 1954, and Mike, a reporter on the Easthope Bugle, a tiny provincial newspaper, is investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, Rosie. She and her friend were out together, Rosie said she was just going to ‘powder her nose’… and vanished, leaving her scarf and gloves behind. When she was last seen, Rosie was wearing a gentleman’s bowler hat… At a local village fête which Mike is reporting on, and judging the home-made wine making competition, he sees a young woman wearing what looks like an identical bowler!
Mike arranges to meet the woman in the bower, and they meet at the rather posh Beach Hotel:
“Nora, my name is Nora, and I have your bowler hat and I would like a cocktail, if Methuselah behind the bar knows how to make one, a Tom Collins, I fancy…”
She held out her hand and grasped his quite strongly and shook firmly.
“I shall enquire…”
“And I insist you join me… Tom Collins for you too?”
Good lord, it was years since he’d had cocktails… a sudden memory of a night in London, just after VE night, he had been with another lovely young woman…
“Well, if the old chap is up to it, I will have a Manhattan, but I warn you, this is the Beach Hotel in Easthope, he is probably more used to a sweet sherry for the lady and a whisky and soda for the gentleman!”
“Let us try, and I insist that I buy the drinks – don’t dare argue, Mr. Bugle, you wouldn’t like me to get cross… and I do get very cross!” she teased.
This whole thing was so extraordinary, this beautiful woman, yes she was beautiful , talking with him like this as if she wasn’t just meeting him to tell him about a second-hand bowler hat but as if… well, Mike didn’t know as if what. She was so out of his class, that he felt strangely relaxed and comfortable. And as for her buying him a drink… well, was this what women did in Canada? None of the Canadian women he had met before were remotely like her.
They sat in deep armchairs near the large fireplace and the elderly barman made his way over to them.
“Good evening, Mr. Scott, how are you sir?” the old man behind the counter greeted him politely, respectfully, but how he knew Mike’s name was a mystery – except that many people did… he had been interviewing them, reporting their births, christenings, marriages and deaths for the past six years. “And how is your father, Mr. Charles, sir?”
How did the old man know Dad?
“He has good days and not so good days, he prefers his own company, I’m afraid so I haven’t seen him much recently…” which was partly true – he didn’t mention his mother who had more to do with him not visiting than his father’s own wishes.
“A brave, brave man, your father, sir… Now your Manhattan, I’m sorry I have no rye whisky, what can I offer you instead?”
Mike told him to choose whatever he thought best, and the same with the vermouth; Nora asked for Gordon’s gin and the barman withdrew.
The woman took out her cigarette case and offered it to Mike, but he declined. His pipe was in his pocket but he left it there. This woman would notice if he just pretended to smoke, her quick eyes which he had noticed were an unusual stony green colour, seemed to see everything, and he guessed she would not hold back from making a teasing remark.
He glanced across to the barman who was squeezing a lemon, pouring the juice into a tall glass, then measuring a spoonful of sugar.
“Tell me about this bowler hat, which I have in my bag,” she said, letting the smoke trickle from her rather lovely lips…
Yes, definitely out of his class, and he felt surprisingly relaxed and at ease, he could be himself. The old waiter brought their drinks and a small dish of peanuts and having raised their glasses, Mike began to tell Nora about Rosie and Jenny and the mystery.
Her stony green eyes grew serious.
“Why don’t the police do something? This girl is missing no-one knows where she is, surely that’s cause for concern?”
Yes, indeed, Mike rather thought it was.
“The trouble is these days people come and go, we’re not so settled as we were in this country… men going away to war, girls going to work on the land and in factories – there were girls on the canal boats up at Castair… families and children were evacuated, foreign servicemen over here, we had a lot of Poles at the RAF station where the airport is now, there was an internment camp out beyond Westope and a POW camp up near Bethel. There were a lot of foreigners, people who’d escaped the Nazis, Americans from their airbase… People disappeared… killed in air raids, moving somewhere else to get away from things they couldn’t have escaped before… and after the war everything was different, and people could become different… I don’t think Rosie is as she says she is… Rosemary Squires, she’s a singer – easy to take her name.”
Nora sat for a while in silence, thinking about what he’d said…
© Lois Elsden 2018
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