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I’m cheating a little here. The Mouse Organ gang were created for one of those projects I got distracted and walked away from. When I realised I needed at least one more thread for Another Summer of Hate, I remembered them and dug out the file. In the final chronology, this bit is going to slot in earlier, whilst I’m establishing all the characters. But that’s for future drafts.
All the crockery behind the coffee bar rattled as the train passed overhead. Jon scanned the four clocks behind the bar, then poked his phone until it woke up and told him the time. The train had been late, but the clock for New York was running slow as well.
It was almost time for the last, small, rush of customers. The Mouse Organ lived in a tall and deep railway arch under the viaduct between Salford Central and Manchester Victoria stations. Down the hill and across the river from Manchester’s Crown and Civil courts, they had regulars from all the solicitors’ offices who dropped in on their way home from work, to grab a coffee and unwind. Most of them were single, and home was a one bed flat and whatever Netflix suggested today. Romances had started because of the early evening mingles, including his own.
Will was on coffee duty, and had just returned with last minute milk. As he busied himself with lining up mugs for the regulars, Jon went back to his job. Sat at the work bench opposite the coffee bar, he was using loops of wire to hang 35mm film slides off a metal ring to make a light shade.
The last slide of the fourth row clipped into place. Jon held the lamp shade out and waved it over the far edge of the tool shelves that the table butted against. “What do you think?”
“Pretty.” a little voice from the other side said.
“Cool. I’ve only got to make another six. If I can find enough slides.”
The regulars started to roll in. Sally was the fifth of the usual crowd to appear. Jon still loved to see her in her business suit, the sharp lines and dark wool contrasted with her pretty heart shaped face. She waved at Will and he picked a particular mug from the ones he had lined up.
Jon spun on his stool and stood to kiss Sally. He didn’t lay his hands on her waist, just in case he had picked up any grease or oil that would do terrible things to Sally’s suit. “Hey there.” said Sally when they parted lips. “Where have you hidden my daughter?”
Jon turned and knocked on the top of the tool shelves, and a moment later the top of a small head- curly black hair pulled back as tidily as its energy would allow- appeared from behind it. “Hello Mum.” the little voice said.
“Hey Nat. What are you doing behind there?”
“I’m putting the tools away. But not the sharp ones.”
“The girl whose room is such a mess is tidying up?”
“This is a job. I’ve been helping make things, so I gotta help put tools away.”
“Are you all oily again?”
“That’s why we got you work clothes, isn’t it.” Jon prompted. “Why don’t you go and get changed while me and your Mum smooch a little?”
“Eeeew! Okay.” Nat walked around the end of the bench. A trip to a charity shop had provided her with work clothes- jeans and a top that was too big for her, the ends of the sleeves rolled up into fat cotton bracelets so that she could stick her hands out. She had the same heart shaped face as her mother, but her skin was a warm mid brown. The front of her top was streaked with oily swatches, some of them the exact size and shape of her hands.
“Good grief, what have you been doing?” Sally asked.
“I’ve been building a bike. Danny says I can have it when it’s done.”
“Really. Don’t you already have a bike?”
“Yes. And I ride it whenever I can. But the one I’m making is super cool.”
“I can’t wait to see it.”
“Here you go darling. Go and get changed.” Jon handed Nat a plastic bag and she skipped off to the toilets to get changed. “Don’t forget to scrub your hands well to get the oil off.” he called after her.
Will waved at Sally and she went to collect her coffee. “You don’t have to get her a bike.” she said when she returned.
“Oh I’m not. She really is building it. Danny got a couple of kid’s bikes thrown in for free by his tame scrappy. He’s been giving her lessons and helping her and she’s been keeping his work space organised so he doesn’t waste half an hour trying to find the right size Allen key. They make a good team.”
Sally smiled, then blew on her coffee before taking a sip. “Thanks for looking after her this week. You’ve been a lifesaver. When Mum had to go look after Uncle Brian I didn’t know what I was going to do. And she’s loved it here. She’s tried to explain everything she’s done, but it just sounds like she’s been under your feet the whole time. I hope she hasn’t caused too much trouble.”
“Not at all. We’ve loved having her here. I think she’s closed a couple of sales just by being cute at customers. And she did a bit of waitressing as well. We’re going to miss her tomorrow.”
“She never mentioned that you made her work. I hope she’s been adequately reimbursed.”
“Well, she is getting a bike.”
Nat came bouncing back from the toilet dressed in a very girly red dress and white stockings with white and red pumps. She’d let her hair loose and it was a crazy spray of tight curls. She didn’t look like she had been wielding hammers and spanners all day. Jon tore a big square of blue paper towelling from the roll and said, “Hold on, come here, you missed a bit.” He carefully wiped a smudge of oil off her cheek.
“Give Jon a hug goodbye. We have to get you to your Nana’s house.” Sally instructed.
Nat reached up to wrap her arms around Jon’s neck and pressed her cheek against his as she closed them tight. He lifted her up off her feet. “You have fun at your Grandma’s. Grandmas always have the best sweets.”
“And you look after Mummy tomorrow when I’m away.”
Sally had an odd expression. When she realised Jon was trying to read it, she flashed a smile. Jon lowered Nat to the floor and Sally kissed him lightly on the lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” She handed over her half empty cup of coffee then took her daughter’s hand. “Come on then, let’s see what Nana’s made for us.”
As they headed for the door, Nat waved at Will. “Bye bye Will! Bye bye Danny!”
Will waved back and, from the rear of the big arched space a voice called out, “Bye Nat!”