Before too long I shall be returning properly to my Mike Scott story, set in the 1950’s and about a reporter on a provincial newspaper. He usually deals with the most mundane and parochial news stories but becomes involved with trying to find a young woman who seems to have vanished. She was last seen wearing a bowler hat, she’s gone but the bowler hat has reappeared, on the head of an attractive Canadian woman called Nora.
Press Button A
Mike propped his bike against the street sign.
“You can’t park your bike there!” an old woman in a gabardine and wellingtons gestured fiercely as if she was shooing him away.
Mike swallowed the immediate response which rose to his lips.
“And why not, Madame?” he replied, managing to keep on the testy side of rude.
“It’s not allowed!” rain was dripping off her rain-hood, and Mike wished he had a rain-hood rather than the sodden fedora. He’d tried to take it off earlier when he’d stopped by the bus shelter but somehow the rain, the Brylcreem and the cheap fabric the hat was made from, had welded it to his head.
His sister had laughed more than a lot when she saw him wearing it; he’d thought he looked rather rakish, very Sam Spade, she hadn’t been able to say who she thought he looked like because she was hysterical after he’d mentioned Bogart.
He was sure Bogart’s hat would be waterproof, this sodden mess wasn’t, and goodness knows what it looked like now, its brim hanging like wet washing down his forehead.
“You can’t park your bike there!” the woman repeated. Rather than argue he approached the phone box. “I’m next, get in the queue!” she said waving a furled umbrella at him.
Should he cycle off and find another telephone box, should he just say sod it and cycle back to his bedsit in Station Road, or should he wait in the invisible queue?
He had to telephone home. He’d been about to curse the driver of the Riley which had swooshed past drenching him further, when the car stopped so suddenly that he’d almost run into the back of it. It was Sheila. She didn’t bother getting out of the car but wound down the window and shouted at him through the rain. Father had been taken to hospital.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” Mike had asked.
“Ring you mother and ask her,” was his sister’s reply as if his parents were not the same as hers.
Now here he was in this ludicrous fedora waiting in the rain outside the telephone box near the harbour.
The door opened and a very fat man squeezed out. He was trying to put up an umbrella as he exited which caused some delay and the old lady in the gabardine advanced on him as if she intended assault him out. Mike readied himself to interfere until it became apparent that the old girl was helping the man, heaving him out of the phone box.
“Come along Jim, tripe and onions for tea!” she exclaimed and they tottered off. So much for her being in the queue, awkward old biddy!
The phone box reeked, a mixture of old cigarettes, old cats and old fish. Mike burrowed into his pocket to find change and sorted through the shekels. He fed in the pennies and waited for his mother to answer, holding down his anxiety. To his relief he was able to press button A and Nancy answered and to his further relief nothing serious had happened. His father had had a fall and seemed to have hurt his arm, probably not broken but he was in pain. Cheryl’s boyfriend had taken the parents to Strand Royal and would wait with them until they had seen a doctor and then bring mother or both home.
Mike thanked her for the news and rang off, pleased it didn’t seem too serious, but annoyed that Sheila had panicked him. How could his three sisters be so different?
He was about to emerge from the stink of the phone box when the phone rang.
“Well hello Mr Scott,” a soft Canadian voice greeted him.
“Good grief! Norma! How on earth did you know I’d be here?” he was astounded.
“Magic, Mr Scott, just magic, and it’s Nora not Norma.”
He spun round, wrapping the short cord round himself but could see nothing through the misted squares of glass. He heard her laughing and then she told him her apartment was just above the phone box and she’d seen him go in. She knew the number because she’d used it before she had a telephone connected.
“Maybe you’d like to step up for a cup of tea, Mr Scott,” she said.
He was cold and wet and he accepted her invitation before remembering his hat, stuck to his head, and that he probably smelt as bad as the phone box now. But she’d given him her ‘apartment’ number and rung off.
She had something to tell him, she’d said… some news on the bowler hat, maybe…