Hello, all! Right, first things first: I have a confession to make. I have done precisely no writing today, because I felt ill and therefore spent most of the afternoon trying to finish series one of Criminal Minds (nearly there).
That said, I promised you a short story – which I’m partly delivering on. I’m not going to lie, I’m posting what I’ve got, but I’m planning to follow it up with more parts on this blog in the future and/or a free eBook. I’m a bit in love with these characters, which is exactly what I didn’t want to do. Oops! I guess it proves the system works. So… here it is!
The Thing About Bowler Hats (Part One)
by Eleanor Musgrove
The clock in the office seemed to have stopped; it read 3:20, but Jamie knew it was five minutes to five.
“You understand what you’re supposed to be doing, then?” Jamie nodded. His boss always liked to check, even though Jamie had been working for him for over a year now.
“Absolutely. I won’t let you down.”
“Excellent. And how are you, lately, Jamie? Plans for the weekend?”
“Yes, actually. It’s been far too long since I last went clubbing.” His boss smiled at that.
“That’s the spirit. Just don’t overdo it.”
“No, sir.” With that, he made his exit from the building and headed home to pick out an outfit.
Angela came off stage feeling pretty good, for once. The audience had been very receptive tonight, and some of the newer material she hadn’t been sure about had gone down really well. All the same, she braced herself for heckling as a stranger waved at her from the bar.
“Hey, you were great. Can I get you a drink?” That might be worse than heckling, actually. She pasted on a smile.
“Sure, but I’m gonna tell you I’m taken right now, save awkwardness later.”
“Oh, that’s- I mean, that’s not what I’m after, lovely as you are. I actually just wanted a chat – I don’t really know anyone here.” That was a relief. Now she looked at him, she realised she’d seen him in the crowd before.
“Yeah, you’re kinda new, aren’t you? I’ve noticed you keep coming back, though. My jokes are that good?”
“They are. Your website kind of sucks, though – no offence.” He was smiling as he said it, which took some of the sting out of the criticism.
“Oh, god, I know. It’s hideous, isn’t it? I can’t afford to get it fixed up, and design isn’t my strong point… I got my ex to do it in the end, and I’m starting to suspect that someone was still sore about the breakup.” It hadn’t been her best idea – she’d known that even at the time – but she’d been desperate and her computer skills weren’t up to doing it herself.
“Would you be interested in having it redone? I don’t want to offend anyone, but…”
“Trust me, if I had the money, it’d be done by now.”
“What if I offered to do it? No charge, just… keep me company for a bit. And maybe you could tell me a bit about the guy in the bowler hat. He work here? I’ve seen him disappear behind the scenes.” That seemed like a suspiciously good deal, but it wasn’t as if Angela didn’t like new company, too, and when left alone after a show she tended to work herself into a bout of misery over it.
“You mean Miles, the venue manager? Sure. Why are you interested?” The guy shrugged awkwardly.
“I’ve just seen him around. Seems like a pretty together guy. Great hat.”
“Oh, I know. My girlfriend saw him at the pool, once, and he was wearing it with his trunks. The trunks even matched, apparently!”
“Wow, that’s… wow. So, let me get your website up and I can sketch out some designs while we chat, if you like. Oh, I’m Jamie, by the way.” He held out a hand, and she shook it firmly.
“Angela. Nice to meet you.” He handed her his phone, internet browser already open.
“Likewise. Stick your URL in there, for me, will you? Anyway, how did you meet Miles?”
“Hey, Miles. Can I hang out back here for a while?” Miles looked up from his desk to find Gina peering at him around the door of the little back office he called home.
“Sure, why not? Wait, isn’t Angie out there?” She slipped inside, blue eyes twinkling as she made herself at home in the spare chair.
“Yeah, she’s talking to some guy. I waved as I went past, but they seemed to be working on something so I didn’t stop.” Miles took a deep breath, forcing himself to keep moving his pen across the form he was filling in.
“Talking to some guy, eh? You OK?”
“Wha-? Oh, not like that.” She laughed, tossing her long hair back. “For one thing, she wouldn’t cheat, especially with a guy, especially here. For another thing, when I walked by all he seemed to be asking about was you.” Miles froze, looking up.
“Mhm. Think you might have an admirer. I’ve seen the guy out in the audience for Angie’s shows before, and he’s always got one eye on you.”
“Really?” He thought about it for a moment. “…Cute guy?”
“Hell, I would, and you know I prefer ladies. He’s a bit more feminine than your usual type, though, a bit on the androgynous side. Wearing a bit of makeup, a ‘he’ pronoun sticker – those were a great idea, by the way – and he’s got seriously good hair.” Miles could feel her eyes on him, knew she was watching for him to make a decision as she fiddled absent-mindedly with a pale strand that was hanging down in her eyes. His paperwork wasn’t that interesting; curiosity won out.
“Fancy a trip to the bar so I can have a peek?”
“Now you mention it, I am thirsty.” She grinned cheekily at him as he pulled on his suit jacket and readjusted the angle of his bowler hat before heading for the door.
“Fine, fine, this one’s on me.”
Gina wondered, for a few minutes, if she should try to be at least a little subtle to spare Miles’ blushes. Fortunately, by the time they’d made it through the crowd to within earshot of Angie and her new friend, she’d changed her mind.
“Angie! We’re going to the bar. Drinks for you two?” Angie just snorted, reached up for a kiss, and asked for her usual. Gina, ignoring the way Miles was resolutely pushing towards the bar, turned to the stranger. “And your handsome friend? Hi, I’m Gina. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“We haven’t,” the man told her, “I’m Jamie. I’ll have a lemonade, if you’re sure.”
“Dead certain. Let me go and catch my friend.” He – Jamie – followed her gaze towards the bar.
“He didn’t stop to say hi?”
“Oh, he’ll join us when we’ve got the drinks. I guess he just wants to get us to the front as soon as possible. The guy in the bowler hat.”
“…Doesn’t he own the bar?” She cursed; of course he’d know Miles worked here.
“No, just manages it. And I guess queue-jumping’s bad for business. Be right back.”
As she walked away, she heard Angie cackle behind her.
“Lemonade? Which are you, a cop or a recovering alcoholic?” Judging by Jamie’s stammering, he was neither, but she had no hope of deciphering his words over the noise of the club, so she tuned it out and focused on catching up with Miles.
“You disappeared.” Miles glared at her from under the brim of his bowler hat.
“We were supposed to be quietly, subtly checking him out, Gi. This is not that.”
“Well, now you can quietly, subtly check him out up close. And, bonus, you get to hand him his drink. You can thank me later. So, what do you make of him from a distance?” Miles pursed his lips, turning to casually lean against the bar so he could see back to the table.
“…Sure, he’s attractive,” he conceded, “which means he’s probably a nasty piece of work.”
“Plenty of people around who think you’re a nasty piece of work, just because you bar the odd person from the club. A few who think you’re Charlie Chaplin, too, ‘cos of the hat. You can’t judge people on their appearances, Miles.” Finally, they managed to get a bartender’s attention, complete with apologies for not realising who was waiting, and Gina placed their order before continuing. “Give him a chance.”
“You know if this gets back to my mum-”
“She won’t give a rat’s backside, Miles, because she loves you. But sure, we’ll keep it secret, if you want. It’s not like she’s gonna catch on because you talk to a guy.”
“A guy in makeup.”
“She’s not going to find out!” She grabbed her drink, and Angie’s, and flashed a grin at Miles. “Come on.” He was left with no choice but to trail behind and go with her to find out who this new guy really was.
Jamie hadn’t really been expecting to meet Miles Bradford tonight. Sure, he’d been watching him wander around the club for the last few weeks, and he’d heard plenty about him, but tonight’s plan was to meet a known associate of the guy his eye was on. The last thing he’d expected was for Angie – a lovely woman, and he was glad he’d met her – to have a girlfriend who’d bring Miles with her for drinks. Speaking of the devil, Gina was back, handing Angie a drink, but she seemed to have forgotten his lemonade. That was alright; he’d only asked for one to be polite-
An arm reached past to put a glass of lemonade in front of him, a silky voice sounding in his ear.
“Your drink. Hi. Miles Bradford.” He turned suddenly, and almost headbutted the poor man. As it was, they ended up awkwardly close, staring at each other.
“Er, hi. Thanks. Jamie.” Miles moved backwards, nodded, and grabbed the chair next to him.
“So, what brings you to my neck of the woods?” Jamie smiled nervously, trying to think of a good reason to be there, all of a sudden, out of the blue.
“Well, it’s a safe space, isn’t it?” Miles didn’t look entirely convinced, so he blundered on. “And, er… well, I was hoping someone in here might be able to help me with my eye make-up technique.” That seemed to startle a laugh out of Miles.
“I wouldn’t bother. It’s stunning. Honestly, in this place, you could give lessons.”
“I get first dibs, right?” Gina piped up, and Angie shushed her with a smile and another kiss.
“Back off, I found him. Besides, he’s very busy helping me with my website.”
“Ah, computer boffin, yeah? Well, if you ever fancy a sideline, it looks like Gina there will put the word out.” Miles was grinning encouragingly at him, and it was hard not to grin back.
“Have I told you yet how much that hat suits you?”
So there’s your teaser – let me know what you think in the comments if you feel so inclined. Hopefully, I’ll talk to you tomorrow!
Total written today: 0 words.
2015 total so far: 20336 words.