TRAIN IN VAIN By Paul D. Brazill

Seatown train station was certainly a lot better looking than I remembered it but it still smelled of puke. And shit, And sweat. Well, it did now that Smiffy was there. He’d spruced himself up a bit, slicked back his hair, put on a double-breasted pinstripe suit. But his rancid stench still oozed out. I hadn’t really seemed to notice it when we were boozing together in The Cobble Bar but out here in the fresh air it seemed overpowering.

A small group of football fans, watched by an equal sized group of bored policemen, snaked out of the station, through the streets and toward the town centre. They were quieter than I expected but then I’d never been much of a football fan, even as a child. I assumed supporting a football team was something you just grew out of although a few of the fans looked as if they’d grown a bit too much. Especially around the stomach area.

‘You know, I really can do this on my own,’ I said. ‘I have done this sort of thing before.’

Smiffy took a can of Special Brew from his pocket. He kep an eye on the police, took a furtive swig and returned it.

‘Let’s just say my presence will smooth the meeting over.  I’m one of the Chosen People,’ he said, chuckling. ‘We were all there back in the day. All of us.  Cronies, like. George, Benny, Robbo and me. We were there at Hope and Anchor in London when that live LP was recorded. We were at The Clash gig at Middlesbrough Town Hall when the doors were pulled off. We were at the Electric Circus in Manchester when …’

I zoned out again. It was getting to be a regular thing when I was around Smiffy. His musical knowledge was as exhausting as it was exhaustive.

The train was delayed and I was beginning to wish I’d followed Smiffy’s lead and brought a sneaky can of beer. But I really wanted be clear headed when I met George Morrison. George had been the main songwriter in The Blue Beats, Seatown’s number one beat combo and he’d been a bit of a recluse for years. I hoped to get an interview with him and re-start my flagging music career.  I was sure I was onto something big and maybe this could get me out of Seatown and back down London. Still, as my mother used to say, you know what thought did.

Smiffy yawned.

‘I stayed up watching the baseball last night,’ said Smiffy. ‘Did you see any of it?’

‘Naw, it’s of no interest to me. Just a Yankee version of rounders isn’t it? That’s a lasses game.’

‘You’re not far wrong but it’s easy of the brain. It was the World Series final.’

‘Who won?’ I said.

‘I can’t remember. Some American team,’ he said.

‘Isn’t it always an American team that wins the World Series?’

‘You know, I think you’re right.’

‘Must be a fix.’

‘Must be.’

*

‘Ey, I went into the pub last night and ordered a double entendre,’ said Smiffy, nudging me. ‘And the barman gave me one. I asked him for a beef burger and he said ‘With relish?’ and I said ‘I’d looove a beef burger.’ A few minutes later a centurion came into the pub and asked for a martinus. The barman said ‘Don’t you mean a martini?’ and the centurion said ‘No, just the one.’ And here’s another one …’

It wasn’t particularly comfortably being jammed next to Smiffy on a crowded train so I’d very quickly ditched my sobriety pledge and bought a price of overpriced beer from the buffet car.  I was starting to wish I’d bought another can but the journey from Seatown to Stockton was only half an hour. I decided to have a nap.

I awoke when the train pulled into the station and I felt good. Smiffy was nowhere to be seen which helped elevate my mood even more. I stood and walked down the aisle as the train stopped. Then I heard voices and banging. A ticket inspector was banging on the toilet door. An overly made up teenage girl jiggled around behind him.

‘What’s the problem?’ I said.

‘Some daft twat seems to have locked himself in there,’ said the inspector. ‘And some of the customers are dying for a slash.’

He nodded toward the teenage girl, who flushed with embarrassment.

He banged again and the toilet door opened. Inevitably, Smiffy staggered out, a can of lager in his hand. I tried to get off the train before anyone could see we were together. But no such luck.

‘Ey, up. Hold on there,’ shouted Smiffy, pulling up his fly. ‘Don’t go flyin off.’

I ignored Smiffy and rushed along the platform to the station entrance to wait for him to catch up.

‘Hang on a bit,’ said Smiffy, wheezing. ‘I need another trip to the tinkle palace.’

Smiffy went into the toilets and I waited for him on the pavement outside the train station.  A small group of people stood around a flower stall.

‘Bloody Nora,’ said a tall Indian woman who was selling flowers. ‘They’ve only gone and found a corpse in a shopping trolley at the end of the road.’

‘A dead one?’ said an old man with Celtic shirt.

‘Well, they usually are you daft bugger,’ said the Indian woman.

They all burst out laughing.

I turned around as Smiffy burst out of the station.

‘Have you heard about the dead body?’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Sort of.’

‘Well,’ said Smiffy. ‘You won’t believe it but they reckon it was George Morrison. ‘And he were murdered.’

‘Oh, bugger,’ I said.

‘Are you alright?’ said Smiffy. ‘You look pale.’

‘Yeah … I just … I think I need a drink.’

*

My third drink was usually the one that did the trick. The pint of no return. The one that knocked me over the precipice toward drunken oblivion. But I still felt sober after four pints of Stella. The pub was buzzing with people gossiping about the death of George Morrison.

‘Maybe I’ve read too many books and seen too much TV but it still sounds dodgy too me,’ I said.

‘They were a good band, Dodgy,’ said Smiffy. ‘Whatever happened to them?’

‘Er, can we get back on topic, please?’ I said. ‘Isn’t it just my luck that George Morrison, turns up dead just as I come to interview him.’

‘Life’s not just a bowl of cherries. Especially if you’ve got piles,’ said Smiffy.

I looked up at the clock on the wall.

‘Do you know when the next train back to Seatown is?’ I said.

‘I think we’ve just missed one. We could sort out a taxi, if you fancy but it’ll probably cost us an arm and a leg.’

I slumped in my chair.

‘Needs must,’ I said. ‘Needs must.’

*

‘Yeah, well what I heard,’ said Smiffy. ‘Was that time’s like a flat circle and everything comes around again and again and …’

We were sat in the back of a white stretch limo. The white leather seats were covered with party poppers, champagne corks, burst balloons and condoms.

Harjit the driver was wearing his chauffeur’s cap and listening to a radio phone in show about the multi-verse. Smiffy occasionally chipped in with a comment which Harjit ignored.

I checked my Smartphone and scrolled through the news reports about George Morrison’s death. The most recent was an unconfirmed report that the police were treating it as suspicious. An anonymous source had said that George was going to spill the beans to an unnamed writer about his criminal connections. My heart sank. Another missed opportunity.

I looked through the ice box to see if there was any booze but was out of luck.

As the car pulled into the centre of Seatown, Harjit turned off the radio.

‘Anywhere in particular you want me to drop you?’ he said. His West Country accent purred like a tractor.

‘Do you know The Cobble Bar?’ said Smiffy.

‘Oh, yes. Used to be my old stomping ground back in the day,’ said Harjit. ‘Has Jeff May still got it?’

‘Naw, he sold up years back,’ said Smiffy. ‘It’s a Polish woman has it now.’

‘Plus ca change,’ said Harjit with a chuckle.

‘Vive Le Difference,’ said Smiffy.

‘Le Petit Mort,’ I muttered.

*

‘Tamara! Tamara! I love you Tamara,’ sang Smiffy.

‘Yes, very droll. Except her name isn’t Tamara it’s Tamsin. And it still feels a bit weird,’ I said.

‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth,’ said Smiffy.

We were in The Cobble Bar leaning against the bar while Franny the barman looked around for a jar of pickled eggs to satisfy my sudden craving.

‘For sure, but I’m just a bit surprised,’ I said.

‘Look, you got a shag from the bird, she bought your drinks and paid for your services. That’s a hell of a result as far as I’m concerned.’

I looked down at my sweater.

‘I got some new clothes out of it too,’ I said. ‘These are her ex-husband’s.’

‘Snap,’ said Smiffy.

Which was when I realised that not only was Smiffy wearing new clothes he was also clean shaven and smelled very nicely indeed.

‘Where the frig where you last night, anyway?’ I said.

Smiffy winked.

‘You weren’t the only one to get a bit of nookie,’ he said. ‘There’s some bint I used to knock about with back in the day. She has an organic bakers shop on Merry Street. She’s widowed now, lucky for me.’

A dark thought started nagging at me but I decided to ignore it when Franny came back with the jar of pickled eggs.

‘Well done,’ I said.

‘The big task will be to open this fucker,’ said Franny.

‘Well get on with it,’ said Smiffy. He licked his lips. ‘I thought you liked a challenge.’

‘Hey, I meant to ask you, is the Jeff May that used to own this place the same one that was in The BlueBeats with George Morrison?’ I said.

‘The self-same,’ said Smiffy. ‘He bought the place in the nineties. He used to put indie bands on. Some decent ones too.’

I shook my head.

‘This is like ever decreasing circles, it really is,’ I said. ‘I’m beginning to feel as if Seatown is just one big village.’

‘The music scene certainly is,’ said Franny as he struggled to open the pickled onion jar. ‘A bloke was in here last night. Mark Hammonds. He went mental cos we didn’t have any of his songs on the jukebox. I told him it’s because nobody ever asks us for them and he marched out in a huff.  He left his coat behind too.’

He nodded toward a long leather thing that hung from a coat rack.

‘Ey, that looks well tasty that,’ said Smiffy. He took the coat and tried it on.

It was a decent fit.

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ said Smiffy.

‘Roll with it.’ I said.

‘So, what are your plans now? An expose about the Seatown music scene? A best-selling novel?’ said Smiffy.

A cape of gloom enfolded me. I shrugged.

‘Naw,’ I said. ‘For now, I’ll just settle for a pickled egg.’

© Paul D. Brazill

*

Bio: Paul D. Brazill’s books include A Case Of NoirGuns Of Brixton, Too Many CrooksThe Last Laugh, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.

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