Friday, May 19, 2017

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook by Mitchell Toews

When Canadian Micah James and his wife visit London, an error with their luggage sparks a comic misadventure; by Mitchell Toews.

Micah James was shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man - an engineer working for the City of Halifax on Canada's east coast.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London, England. Micah's wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster contingency.

"I got this," she would say to him - busy at the kitchen table with her lap top - as he walked by on his way to the fridge.

He was certain that she did "have it" and that they would go through their vacation sans incident with Marion bunting them around the bases; safe and secure but still enjoying all the splendour, colour and din of London. Micah was comforted in this knowledge but he secretly yearned for something adventurous to happen. He daydreamed Mitty-like about a dust-up in some seedy "local" and let his imagination loll about in scenarios where he stepped up to protect Marion; Sir Micah from faraway Castle Halifax-by-the-Sea.

Upon arrival and after Marion's step-by-step analysis of the hotel room, the Best Western Beefeater passed muster. They lay spread-eagled on the bed, exhausted from the tedious flight.

"Well, what's on the agenda?" Micah said.

"We have free time until four. Then we'll get ready for our dinner reservation at 'Bombay Palace'," Marion said.

"Ahh, we're gonna 'do an Indian' are we?" he said.

She cocked her head sideways and replied in a sarcastic tone, "Oh, I see you have studied up on local colloquialisms. How well prepared we are!"

"Too right, Luv," he said.

"Drop the accent. It's Dick Van Dyke at his worst," she replied. "We've talked about this."

Just then the room phone rang.

"Hello," Marion said. Micah went to the bathroom. When he came out his wife was standing with the luggage tags from their flight in her hand.

"Here's the deal," she said, handing the cardboard tags to him, her voice registering some stress. "The front desk called and we apparently have someone else's bag and they have ours. It's that blue American Tourister, the same model that everyone seems to have."

"Oh, BOLLOCKS," Micah said, as Marion glowered at him. "Switcheroo," he continued, "what now?"

"Well, it's not too bad," she said. "The other people are at the Best Western Donnybrook. That is like, only eight blocks from here. So, pretty easy."

"Ok, I'm on it! The walk will do me good," Micah said, giving Marion an assuring glance and summoning up some energy for the trip. It was the kind of little blip he had been hoping for.

"No harm, Mare, no harm. Worry not, fair maiden. I shall fetch up our recalcitrant Tourister and come hither to ravage thee!" Micah said with theatrical flourishes.

"Oh, goodness, Micah. That really is the most pathetic accent of all time! Also, you had better bring the bag back, because that's where the Viagra is packed!" she replied, as she handed him his passport. "Don't lose this," she added.

Micah shoved his bare feet into a pair of runners and grabbed his wrinkled raincoat from the bed. He studied a map of the neighbourhood on his cell phone as he strode down the hallway towards the elevator, pulling the doppelganger American Tourister with him.

The lift, he thought happily as he pressed the button, excited to be untethered in old London town.



After matching the luggage tags and showing his passport he exchanged the bags. Micah wanted to check the contents, but the lobby was packed with a busload of jostling Dutch tourists so he exited, pushing his way through to the sidewalk outside.

The wind was icy and his thin raincoat was no match. Just like Halifax, Micah thought, same shit, different pile. The only thing helping him fight off the wintry conditions was his beard. It was a new addition and Marion hated it. She said it made him look like "a vagrant pop-can collector." He had chided her on the dangers of employing stereotypes, but she seemed unimpressed. As he neared the corner, a delivery van veered into the curb lane and sent up a sheet of foul, frigid, gutter water. Micah was drenched. The van sped away, leaving him sputtering.

"Goddamn! God-dammit! For fu..." he stopped in mid-F-bomb because of the appalled glare of a nearby mother and her young daughter.

Micah noticed a Hilton Hotel just up the street and he hustled towards it, trundling the dripping American Tourister behind him. The suitcase hit a rut in the sidewalk and one of the plastic wheels flew off, clattering on the concrete. He stopped and bent down to reattach the wheel but it was split in two.

"Stupid junk! Stupid cheap junk!" he fumed under his breath, kneeling beside the case.

"Everything alright?" The question came from above; a calm, dispassionate voice.

Twisting slightly in his crouch, Micah was eyeball to kneecap with a pair of creased, gold-piped black pants. He followed the stripes up to a white satin tunic and topping that, a dapper red fez. Then, the voice again, but softer, "You alright, mate?"

"Yes, yes - I just need a place to clean up and change, that's all," Micah replied.

"Of course, sir," the doorman replied with perfunctory politeness. He glanced around and saw the woman and her daughter still staring at Micah. "Are you, ahh, our guest here at the Hilton, sir?"

"No, I'm at the Best Western. Not this one behind me, but that other one, up the road." Micah pointed, but not in the right direction in either case.

"I see, sir. May I hail a car for you?"

"Oh, well, it's just a coupla blocks, but that damn truck got me good so I guess I had better, eh? I got a booter," he said, pointing at his runner and squelching gray water out of it.

The doorman was perplexed by Micah's heavy East Coast Canadian accent - which he could not place - and vocabulary. Not waiting for a further explanation, he blew two short blasts on a silver whistle. A Lincoln Town Car slid up to the curb a second later and Micah tossed his suitcase in the back seat.

"Best Western," Micah said to the driver as he got into the Lincoln. He called Marion. You'll never guess what happened, was what he was prepared to say when she answered, but the call came back "Undeliverable". He redialed with extra care a second and then a third time to no avail. He fussed with the data and Wi-Fi settings.

"Best Western," the driver said, pointing a stubby finger at the meter which registered £4.60. "That's the minimum, not counting gratuity," the gruff little man explained.

Befuddled, Micah put the phone aside and searched.

"Oh, my. I left my wallet in the room," Micah said to him. "I just brought my passport, is all." He dug in the raincoat, checking his pockets. Relieved, Micah found a crumpled five-pound note. Marion had stashed them in various articles of clothing. She would be so pleased to hear of this usage of her emergency measures, Micah thought.

"Here's a fiver then, guv!" Micah said with an encouraging wink.

"Whatever," the driver mumbled, snapping the bill out of Micah's fingers and shifting the car into drive with impatience.

After wrenching the bag out, Micah stood on the sidewalk in front of the same Best Western hotel that he had just left. The black Town Car was now speeding towards an on-ramp a block away with Micah's cell phone on the back seat.

Realizing that both he and his phone were misplaced, he groaned aloud, holding his arms out like Christ the Redeemer. A passing man in a stylish coat paused and put a handful of coins into Micah's outstretched palm, saying, "God bless," as he did so.

Frazzled, and feeling more and more like Basil Fawlty and less like Sir Micah, he pocketed the coins and towed his scummy, reluctant companion back into the Best Western Donnybrook, hoping to arrange a cab over to his Best Western, "whatever the hell that one is called," he muttered to himself.

He waited in line at the reception desk, listening to an instrumental version of a Bob Dylan song. It was piping out of a speaker in the ceiling above him and he laid his head back to peer at it. Thinking of his own rapid descent into hell, he picked detritus from his oily beard; bits of plastic and other rancid urban spod. His thinning hair hung in limp disarray and the belt of the raincoat had come loose and was dragging on the ground behind him like an obedient, filthy snake.

"Eh, remember me?" Micah James said to the desk clerk, who had just started his shift.

"I may not, sir, but I am certain our reservation system will!" said the well-scrubbed fellow behind the counter. He tapped some keys, "Name?" The desk clerk's face registered a look of displeasure. Not another one, he thought.

Young, bright, earnest, well trained, and frickin' oblivious, Micah said to himself.

"OK, sorry. Let me explain. I was just in here. Our bag - this one here," he said, pointing down to the soaking wet, monoplegic suitcase and the long, slippery trail it had left. "This bag got switched and was s'posed to go to us at Beefeaters, or whatever that place is called," he said, pointing in the wrong direction.

"I see," said the clerk, thinking, us? Which "us" is that?

Micah continued. It became a rant. "I came and fetched it a while back - me and half the population of Amsterdam. I got splashed by a jackass in a Mercedes Sprinter right outta Fast and Furious - friggin' marinated me in sewer sludge... got hosed in a stinkin' five pound Lincoln on a two-pound ride, left my phone in it and now I'm right back HERE!"

Micah James had not slept well on the airplane.

Courteous as the March Hare, the deskman excused himself, hacked a balletic 180 on the polished floor and picked up the house phone. He gave a quick backwards glance. There Micah stood, resting a sodden elbow on the desk, his eyes upturned to the speaker as he sang the lyrics to the lobby music in an absent-minded, toneless whisper:

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,
Alive as you or me,
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost miseryyy... eee

Deskman on the phone: "Rory? Better get down here. I gotta piss-wet geezer at Reception praying to an invisible grilled Cheesus! Need to get him out and over to the shelter! Hurry."

Deskman to Micah: "Sir, an associate will be here to sort you in a few minutes. Please have some cucumber water while you wait," he said, indicating a water cooler against the far wall.



Micah emerged from the hot shower. Their new room at the Hilton was quite splendid. He regarded himself in the clouded mirror and called to Marion. "You were right. The beard was disgusting! It's gone."

Marion leaned against the door frame, watching him as he combed his hair. "It was a disarrrrster! You look a helluva lot better than you did when I rescued you from the homeless shelter," she said.

"That Rory guy was the biggest man I have ever seen not wearing shoulder pads," Micah said to his wife. "I don't think my feet touched the ground on the walk from the hotel to the shelter."

Marion shook her head, "What a day!"

"Thanks for coming to get me, by the way - they kept insisting that it wasn't me in the passport photo and they didn't want to give it back. I hate how the hotels over here take your passport - I just can't get used to it."

"Yeah, and it still took me ten minutes with all your other ID to convince them you had not stolen the passport - you with your grubby beard."

"Thank God for the Hilton doorman! He got the phone back, got us this room and don't forget the credit for the mini-bar!" Micah said.

"I do feel rather royal," Marion said, toasting with a glass of wine.

"Just one thing remaining, Lord James," Marion said, giving him a look that was half resignation and half hilarity. She pointed to the bed where their ill-fated suitcase lay open. The contents consisted of a worn Gideon Bible, two copies of "What's On in London?" a wadded pillow, and several Best Western Donnybrook bath towels, all quite wet.

6 comments:

  1. Quite a jaunt - good for a laugh on this cold, rainy day! Well-paced and amusing. Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. Alls well etc. - but not in this case! Loved your ending; seems a shame that after all the mishaps poor Micah was in for another shock. At least Marion had a sense of humour. A fun read, Mitchell.
    Beryl.

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  3. Love this! The characters came across so well. Nice ending! Thanks for a good laugh, Mitchell.
    Talia

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  4. Thanks, all. And thanks to Charlie for putting this little story on the site. Cheers, from the southern reaches of the taiga biome.

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  5. Jcfreeman1959@gmailMay 22, 2017 at 2:33 PM

    I wondered where Sir Mitchell had toted his wit off to.Now I know. Crisp as always.Even when wet. Leila Allison

    ReplyDelete