The light rain that had begun when he got off the train at Bradford on Avon had now turned into a steady drizzle and to judge by the lowering clouds coming in from the west could be set to last for some hours. Reg decided that there was little point in hanging about outside Tanner’s shop getting soaked and headed back down Silver Street towards the centre of the town. He passed The Bear Inn and made a mental note to drop in there later. Unfortunately the pubs wouldn’t be open until 6 o’clock so he had to find somewhere to kick his heels for a couple of hours – and preferably in the dry. Heading through the Shambles and past the shops which although open had very few customers tempted to come out on such an afternoon. Coming out on to the Market Square Reg saw that the large and imposing gothic building facing him sported cinema posters fixed to the outside and curved around the entrance the name “The Alexander” * in red lettering fixed precariously to a white board that was in serious need of a fresh coat of paint. Streaks of grime and soot had darkened the once light yellow local stone facade and high on the front the now redundant clock had lost its hands. A light shone out from the foyer door indicating that with luck the cinema was open. Crossing the road Reg took a look at the poster encased in the glass box just by the entrance which, he assumed, was the film on offer that day.
“Cosh Boys” had a lurid red background with a couple of coppers feeling the collars of a teddy boy. A prominent sweater girl figure in the foreground looked seductively out at the viewer. He noticed that it had an “X” rating – the first he had ever come across – and on checking the film times realised he could catch the 4.30 show and be out just after the pubs opened. With the rain soaking through the shoulders of his gaberdine mac he decided that this was better than nothing, went up the steps and through the swing doors of the cinema.
The red carpet in the foyer had definitely seen better days with the tread of countless cinemagoers having worn the once plush red pile down to threadbare netting in parts. Directly in front of him was the small ticket office sitting snugly between the two sweeping staircases that led, he presumed, to the upper circle. Behind the glass sat a young blonde woman idly scuffing her nails with an emery board. She looked up as the foyer door closed noisily behind Reg.
“ Hello. Come for the first showing? It hasn’t started yet. Just the Pathe news stuff on at the moment. Upstairs or downstairs. 9 pence up, 6 pence down.” The litany was obviously well rehearsed. Reg ran his eye over the well shaped bust and wondered what lucky fellow was likely to get his hands on that tonight.
“Upstairs? Downstairs?” The girl repeated with a little show of impatience.
“Downstairs will be fine. Thank you.” Reg fumbled in his pocket for the change and found a sixpence. “Here you go. A tanner.”
The girl pressed a lever on the front of her desk and a ticket shot up from the opening on the top. She pulled it off and pushed it under the screen without saying anything. Reg took it and made to turn away but then hesitated.
“Talking of tanners; I don’t suppose you know of a George Tanner do you?” The girl’s indifference disappeared as if she had been slapped across the face.
“Who wants to know?” She looked more intently at the man on the other side of the glass.
“Just an old army mate of mine who I’d heard had set up shop here in the town. Haven’t seen him in years and thought I’d look him up.”
Reg didn’t feel the need to explain too much about his connections with George or how much he knew of the murder of George’s wife. To judge by this young woman’s tone of defensiveness and incipient aggression he reckoned there was more to be found out before he finally tackled George face to face. The blonde hesitated tapping her manicured fingernails on the metal top of her desk. Reg had come across her type many times before. ‘All front and no knickers’ he’d describe her sort, a kind of pretence of being offended while relishing the chance to spill the gossip. Reg pulled out a packet from his inside pocket and flicked out a couple of cigarettes.
“Smoke?” The invite was deliberately nonchalant. He put one in his mouth, lit it and proffered the other to the girl. “Sorry, didn’t catch your name.” It was a crass line, he knew, but he didn’t have time or the inclination for long explanations.
“Didn’t give it.” A sulky response but she still reached out for the cigarette. “Can’t smoke it now but I’ll save it for my break after the film starts. Thanks.” She smiled weakly. “The name’s Doreen”.
“OK. Doreen, that’s fine.” Reg squinted as the smoke curled up over his eyes from the cigarette in his mouth. “George Tanner. Know where I might find him these days?”
“Well, the shop, you know, Tanners – up on Silver Street,” she nodded her head towards the foyer doors “it’s mostly shut these days but I hear he can be found in The Bear most evenings. So my boss, Mr Watson, says.” She hesitated for a moment before carrying on. “He’s a friend you know. Mr Watson that is. Friends with Mr Tanner. Not me.” She giggled. It was like watching a cork pop out of a cheap bottle of champagne Reg thought.
“OK. Thanks for that, Doreen. Guess I’ll try The Bear later this evening.” He turned away from the box office. “Now, which way to the flicks? Through those doors down here?” He pointed down a short corridor.
“Yes, Through them doors. You can choose whatever seat you like. There’s only a couple of others in this afternoon. Funny that. I thought there’d be more to come along to the first ‘X’ film we’ve had here. Maybe more later. Oh, who should I say was asking after George Tanner if Mr Watson asks?”
Reg was already halfway down the corridor and felt it was best if he pretended not to hear. No point in letting everyone know his business and he reckoned Doreen was the type to yap to the high hills if oiled with a couple of drinks. He opened the door to the auditorium and scanned the seating by the light of the flickering screen which by fortune was just showing the certification card for “Cosh Boys”.
Reg settled himself down into a seat a few rows from the screen and waited to be entertained.
*There was a cinema called The Alexander in Bradford on Avon but it had moved from what was The Town Hall building (shown above) a long time before the scene described here. I’m a novelist I can make things up or twist history – just a little – for effect.
© Roger Ackroyd 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file