At the station they push him towards a heavy iron-sheeted door and his saxophone, still slung around his neck, tilts forward and a bunch of daffodils, slipped into the bell by a young hippy girl during the march, slides out and falls to the ground. Smith stops abruptly, and the policemen who surround him come to a halt and watch, as slowly and deliberately he bends down, and collecting up the daffodils places them carefully back into the bell of his saxophone. He is just about to put the final touches to the arrangement, wondering how long he can spin it out, when he receives a violent push from behind. He is launched forward straight at the iron door and only just manages to get his hands up to save his face, but his saxophone, hanging loosely before him smacks into the unyielding door with a nasty crunching sound. The delicate shell-like bell crumples on impact. ‘Well, I suppose I asked for that,’ he thinks, and having conceded this, wonders if the gesture had been worth it, and then... ‘Probably not,’ he thinks. The police station is small and ill-lit and the desk-sergeant looks up as they enter, his nameplate, gold lettering against the varnished wood says: Sergeant Hillter. ‘Name?’ he barks and then... ‘Address?’ Smith gives him both and the Sergeant looks at him with narrowed eyes. ‘London,’ he says. ‘Come down here to stir up some trouble have you?’ Smith doesn’t answer; he no longer feels so bolshie. ‘Have you got any identification?’ asks the Sergeant next, but Smith has nothing of the kind about him, he knows no one in Oxford and cannot even provide a phone number to check on. ‘Then we shall just have to keep you till we find out who you are.’ says the Sergeant, handing a bunch of keys to one of the constables, and Smith is taken along a short corridor to a cell and locked up.
The cell has a small barred aperture through which he can watch the reception area; he doesn’t even want to think about his saxophone. A long boring hour has gone by when a sudden flurry of activity seems to electrify the dark-uniformed denizens in the reception and a swirl of bright colour lights up the gloom. Smith catches a flash of something at the front-desk and the Sergeant stiffens in his chair. It is Scipio Hawkins, his psychedelic camouflage amplifying the low-wattage bulbs of the room to mesmerise the Sergeant with its dazzle. ‘I think you’re holding a friend of mine here,’ he says. ‘A certain Mr Smith.’ His manner is confident and there is the suggestion of an edge to his voice. ‘We do have such a person here,’ says the Sergeant stiffly. ‘But he has no identification.’ ‘I can vouch for him,’ says Scipio. ‘Oh, yes,’ says the Sergeant. ‘And who might you be Sir?’ Scipio takes out his wallet and hands over his card.
The Sergeant takes it and reads:
The Sergeant frowns, he has never heard of the paper, but these are London people and the International sounds impressive. ‘There will be a report in tomorrow’s paper about today’s event,’ says Scipio, ‘I shall write it myself and it can come out one of two ways. We can thank the Oxfordshire Constabulary for their wise forbearance etc., since I don’t suppose anybody wants to be accused of Gestapo tactics. And,’ he goes on, placing a significant finger on the Sergeant’s nameplate. ‘Names might well be mentioned, and typographical errors are endemic in the newspaper world.’ The Sergeant makes no answer to this, Scipio’s psychedelics seems to have completely thrown him, after all, anyone with enough bottle to wear such a garment might well have a lot of clout and he wants no trouble. Getting to his feet he retires to an inner-office from where, after a brief conference with its occupant he returns with a bunch of keys. ‘We’re letting him go,’ he says, and his tone gives nothing away. Smith watches as the Sergeant comes to his cell and he hears the welcome sound of a key turning in the lock. Outside, evening is falling and the setting sun paints the old stones of the ancient city in a ruddy glow as Scipio and Smith walk back to a flat where their friends are gathered. ‘What happened to your saxophone?’ asks Scipio, noticing the smashed bell of the horn. ‘They ran me into a door,’ says Smith, regarding the ruined instrument. It is a bad omen. It looks as if, like it or not, he is being drawn in McCafferty’s direction and the thought is depressing. ‘There’s something about me the police don’t like,’ he thinks, and looking at his damaged horn he sees immediately what the finger of fate has so obviously pointed out: It is not he the police dislike. It is his saxophone. ‘It’s my saxophone!’ he bursts out. ‘I must be playing the wrong instrument.’ Not being party to Smith’s inner thought processes, Scipio has to take this at face value. ‘Yeah. Wow man,’ he says. But Smith has plunged once more into his latest revelation. The saxophone. The most bolshie instrument on the planet. Its associations with jazz making it decidedly hip, and hipness raises the hackles amongst the Philistine. The status-quo represents the fixed; while the hip is fluid and changeable, and change is anathema to the powers-that-be. Now Smith can almost hear the voice of the establishment raised to admonish. ‘If there’s any changes to be made around here, we’ll make them. All right? Then we’ll tell you about it.’ Smith is now at the edge of a major shift; his saxophonic days are over for sure. But what next? ‘Something you don’t have to put in your mouth,’ he thinks ‘The Banjo? No. Something more respectable like the violin. Then... That’s it; the violin of course.’ Having made this decision, the mere intention has given him an inner gravitas. As a violinist his credentials will be assured, already he feels the sense of dignity appropriate to such a respectable member of the musical community. ‘I’m going to take up the violin,’ he announces, and Scipio, a man who has rung many changes himself, takes it in his stride. ‘Wow man, yeah,’ he says.
Back at the flat Smith catches sight of Dick and Zen. ‘How did you know they were coming?’ he asks when he gets Dick alone. ‘I saw them reflected in my trombone,’ he says. ‘The bell is like a rear-view mirror and I saw them coming up from behind.’ ‘Why didn’t you warn me?’ asks Smith. ‘There wasn‘t time,’ answers Dick. ‘You had just started a burst and I wasn’t going to hang about counting up to five till you’d finished.’ But Smith is not mollified. ‘Well if you hadn’t put in so much elephant we might have got away with it.’ he says".
(©2010 Dave Tomlin - from the book "Tales from the Embassy" vol. 3)
no©2010 Luca Ferrari