About Us

Contact Us


The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction about betrayal

The Girl in the Baseball Cap
John Ludlam

utside Russell Square Hotel cars hurtle, roaring.
An August evening light, pink bricks glow pinker. Top-hatted Fred’s face glows pink like the bricks.
‘Bring you one down, sir?’ Fred asks a hotel guest.
He hoists a gloved, doorman’s hand and a cabby zooming round Russell Square on a glorious Friday evening of promised lovely squeezes later sees Fred beckon and brakes.
‘Come on,’ Fred commands him. He points to the kerb in front of his punter.

‘Sir, your cab,’ he announces. He opens the vehicle’s door wide, trailing discreetly a gently cupped hand.
As Fred brings taxis nosing to his kerb he’s daydreaming of passion lost to the past, of brandy whirling into a tiny glass once in baking Plaza Dos de Mayo. That was years ago, in Madrid, during Franco’s final days, when the streets boiled with rage against the old man. Fred hung around in the funky Malasaña district with activist friends. Before rallies they drank brandy in the hot shade, talking dangerous politics.

Sometimes they watched as a gypsy played pungent tunes on a dented trumpet. The gypsy’s father kept time with side-drum rhythms of horrible strength. Before the pair, a stained goat stood unnaturally to attention atop a tiny podium. It was difficult to tell who was saddest – the father, the son or the hopeless goat.
Fred was a young man then and he noticed things. He would tell himself that he would always notice things, that he would never stop seeing the world, never stop seeing the goat.

But he did stop, for years he stopped. Everything went sour when one of his friends betrayed their group to Franco’s stooges. The band evaporated and, rudderless, Fred dropped out of sight. Then, one terrible night, he rode a dark, bucking drunk to its very limit, whipping his spinning intellect so hard that he spewed his sad, grey soul into a Madrid gutter. Some time before five o’clock a callous sanitation lorry hosed his soul down a drain, leaving Fred alone and weeping as the first, awful day of his mortality dawned.

After that, Fred had just one mate – drink. He was already mourning the death he knew lay ahead.
Getting better took years. But, millimetre upon millimetre, the amount left in his bottle of whisky at the end of a day rose. The less he drank, the easier it became to imagine that one day he would notice things again.
That day did come. He still likes a drink, of course. Who doesn’t? But now he is noticing things again, although what he sees makes him sentimental where once it made him glad, angry or proud. Still, sentimental is better than blind.

He has grown another ponytail. It is a greyer ponytail than the one he had around the time Franco died but it feels good to have it anyway. He keeps it pinned in a bun when he is working. The hotel management don’t seem to mind. Really, you can’t see it when he has his topper on.
Fred turns up his face to the sinking sun and closes his eyes.
Oh, what an evening it is of the best London kind, slow and smelling of dust and traffic and salad.
‘Hi Mister Fred.’
Fred turns and it is the young American girl, the nice one, the one that talks to him. She’s a model, poor kid. Ever since the spring, pictures of this girl have peppered the trendier fashion spreads. Fred is clued-up about this world: for years, he’s collected style and movie magazines, like other men amass records or guns.
It’s easy to see why editors are mad for the American girl. She is beautiful, about fifteen, with wide, sky-coloured eyes, a straight, adult’s nose and creamy skin. Her arms and legs fold easily. They are still girlishly long compared to the rest of her. Even so, she looks too grown-up.
Pink Russell Square light curls in the folds of her plain white t-shirt.
‘Kind of nice today, huh Fred?’
She is so relaxed, so familiar. He, at her age, could not have spoken to a near-stranger so.
‘It’s beautiful,’ he says.
Her name is Sarah Stanley. Her mother was a famous model in the seventies. Fred remembers seeing her pictures in the magazines friends sent to Madrid.
‘Still sunny in LA?’ he asks.
‘Still sunny.’ Sun dazzles her and she squints. Her broad forehead creases. Fred sees the frown and feels sad.
‘LA sucks,’ she says.

Los Angeles is tired out, that is what the matter is. Los Angeles is tired out and Sarah is sick of the place. Someone stretched LA too thin and then was clumsy and put their finger through it. Everything leaked out after that.
At least that is how it feels without Top. Top is Sarah’s boyfriend. Okay, he’s kind of her boyfriend. He would be if they ever saw each other. Now she does so much modelling that she hardly ever sees him. It is kind of sad because Top is real, more real than her Mom and Dad, more real than the fashion people she is working with all through this vacation. Some vacation. By the time she gets home again Top will be in school, back East and gone. It’s like a conspiracy.
At Easter, Top took her to the Grand Canyon.
Sarah had never been to the Grand Canyon before. By coincidence, not long before the trip with Top, some smacked-out actor had offered to fly her over the Grand Canyon in a private helicopter. She turned him down. Then Top took her. It was an ordinary excursion to a lookout point, with plenty of walking. It was the best trip, much better than modelling or some cheesy chopper ride that only people like her ever got to go on.
He took her to the top, where the wind is so strong it goes up your nostrils. He made her hold her breath and close her eyes while he spun her round until she was good and dizzy. Then he told her to lift up her head and open her eyes.
When she opened her eyes it was wonderful. All she could see was grey sky, on and on forever. Top had his arms around her. Her head was filled with sky.
‘Now look down,’ he said.
She looked down, miles down, down to a tiny thread of river. It was such a tiny thread. It didn’t look big enough to perform whatever geographical task rivers in canyons were supposed to perform.
But it did. That was the point about the world. It all fitted in.

‘So what’s going on today, Fred?’ she asks.
‘Well, I’m nearly finished, Sarah,’ Fred says.
It is a weak reply. He wants to say something clean and true to this wise-seeming child, something that he would have said in Madrid, before things went wrong, before he spoiled himself with drink and self-obsession. She deserves it. So does he. He has waited a long time for his thoughts to become useful again. Now, in the soft light, with a day’s work almost done and the promise of an ordinary, comfortable evening in his favourite pub before him, Fred wants there to be once again the clean peal of truth between his ears.
‘I’ve seen your pictures,’ he says.
Sarah looks surprised.
‘Yeah, you have? Where?’
Fred says the name of an international fashion magazine.
‘Oh, those,’ Sarah says. ‘I kind of want to forget about those. I guess it wasn’t such a smart idea to do them, huh?’
‘You weren’t to know the fuss they would cause.’
‘I guess not. Though those guys are kind of well-known for some tacky trips.’

Fred remembers the pictures well. They appeared in a North American issue of the magazine a few months previously. The photographer, a well-known but waning figure in Manhattan’s fashion circles, used Sarah as his principal model in the magazine’s main spread.
The theme was an afternoon in Central Park. Sarah, looking wise and beautiful and wearing a selection of expensive vests, jeans and shorts, was pictured hanging out in the park with several downmarket, chunky young men in soiled street apparel. The feature was shot in black and white.
Sarah’s calm, young beauty and the rough and ready nature of her consorts gave the spread an uneasy sexuality. But this was nothing new, either for the magazine or for the photographer.
Uneasy sexuality, after all, sells just about anything.
No, what rippled the normally placid waters of American fashion’s conscience was Sarah’s baseball cap.
She wore it in the shoot’s centrepiece, a double-page spread based on the idea of a casual softball game. Sarah was the batter. Her face scrunched in cod concentration, she half-crouched, bat held at the ready, wearing cut-off jeans and the thinnest, shortest and most expensive of the vests she was modelling. About her, their hands improbably cupped before them ready for a close catch, crouched the stained, troubling extras. On Sarah’s beautiful, wise head was the baseball cap. The cap bore a legend written in classic baseball team script.
‘Fuck me Buster,’ it read.

When the photo came out, America’s media tore into an ecstasy of self-examination and moral finger-pointing. Fashion editors at rival magazines ostentatiously declared they would not have run the picture. Television moralists and phone-in hosts asked audiences to dive deep into their psyches. Even columnists on the East Coast’s most leaden and smudgy dailies turned away from the Middle East and embarked instead on bewildering, mapless quests to understand what new American ill lay behind The Girl In The Baseball Cap.

Sarah hated the fuss that followed. Journalists tried to interview her but all they wanted to know was whether she had been on coke during the shoot. It was pathetic and it made Sarah mad. Her Mom said it was good for her career and told her to hang on in there and check out some good management.
Sarah thought her management sucked. They would not let her speak. They wanted to keep her mysterious so people would have to pay more if they wished to book her. Sarah wanted to explain to people that she wasn’t a bad person. She wanted to tell them she had been exploited by a photographer determined to revive his wilting career.

On Russell Square mild pink sun warms Fred’s grey doorman coat and Sarah thinks he looks a neat colour, kind of like a nice elephant uncle in Disney. Fred’s being nice makes the photographer’s betrayal meaner.
‘You know what the worst thing was, Fred?’
‘Not having a name. I didn’t have a name. I was just The Girl In The Baseball Cap. That really sucked.’
‘Not having your name is a terrible thing.’
‘You know what it’s like?’
‘Sort of.’
‘You understand then, Fred. It really is the worst thing. At least you’ll never call me The Girl In The Baseball Cap.’
‘I won’t.’
‘That whole scene sucked,’ she says.
‘But the pictures weren’t all bad,’ Fred says. ‘I mean, they were well done, weren’t they? I mean, they were professional.’
‘Sure they were well done, Fred, sure they were professional. But well done doesn’t mean good. You know, Fred, he pretended to me that it was art. He betrayed me. The world is full of professionals, Fred. It’s full of people who do their jobs just fine and dandy. But you got to be more than good at what you do. You got to do good.’ Top is always telling her stuff like that. His Dad is a high school principal.

Fred feels admiration for Sarah rushing up from his knees. She wants goodness. She sees things are bad but still she wants goodness.
‘You’re right, Sarah,’ he says. ‘We’ve all got to try to do our best.’
‘Sure thing, Fred. You’re one of the good guys. You are.’
She holds out her right hand for Fred to shake. They shake. Sarah’s palm feels warm through Fred’s glove.
‘So long, Fred. Got to eat. See you tomorrow.’
‘Bye bye, Sarah. See you tomorrow.’
Fred watches as Sarah crosses the square. Most evenings the girl is on her own like this. There was a time when Fred didn’t mind being on his own. Now he prefers company.
Sarah walking to High Holborn as the sun drops at last behind Russell Square’s patient facades wants to do no more crappy fashion shoots. She wants to learn stuff and be good and do her best like Fred told her. She wants to go to a place in Mexico where Zapotecs once lived in the sky. She wants to go to Norway and sing to the fjords. She wants to talk to real people with real lives. She wants to understand what it is that makes the world the way it is. And, most of all, she wants to understand why it is that the things people know always seem to make them so sad.

Walking later in twilight to the pub Fred knows what it is that he wants. He wants truth again and a pint of cold lager. He looks down to his feet. He is still wearing shiny hotel doorman shoes.
In the down-at-heel snug bar used by Bloomsbury’s drudges and pot-scrubbers, Geoff is shining bright glasses as Fred enters from the dimming street. They smile.
‘Evening Fred,’ says Geoff.
Geoff’s face tonight is coloured plum. Business is brisk. Warm evening air is sucking the snug’s louche regulars from their tiny flats. Fred knows these faces. He has gone on drunks with half of them. Geoff, the snug’s regular barman, has drunk with them all.
‘Good day on the square?’ Geoff asks as he fills a glass with cheap, cold lager.
‘Yes. Yes it was a good day,’ Fred says. Sarah’s having talked to him has lifted his mood more than he thought. He feels optimistic as he swallows down lager.

Today was a good day. Today he said something to someone that really counted. Maybe things are getting better. Ever since it all went wrong in Madrid nothing has meant anything or made any sense. For months he has been wondering why he does this old man’s job and now he knows. It is so that he can talk to people like Sarah Stanley and get hopeful about life again.
‘Happy, Fred?’
It is a man called Robin. He is tall and thin and habitually sour. His mother is a posh, alcoholic teacher who pretends she hasn’t wasted her life. As far as Fred can work out, Robin shuttles between his little boy’s room in his mother’s flat and lumpy beds of lost-looking young women.
‘Yes, I am happy,’ Fred says. He would not normally pick Robin for a drinking partner but he feels that tonight no one can destroy his mood. Besides, he does not want to drink alone.
‘Are you happy enough to buy me a drink?’ Robin asks. He is trying it on. He is always trying it on.
Fred buys Robin a drink and they drink.
Geoff’s snug fills up. Pub glow pushes back twilight and men in worn jackets become bolder with their talk of adventure and horse racing.
Fred feels light as he starts his third pint. Robin is thin and cruel but you can laugh along at his bitter stories.
‘So, Fred, how is the doorkeeping?’ Robin asks.
‘It’s not doorkeeping.’
‘Well, whatever it is.’
‘It’s okay.’
‘You meet some famous people, I guess. That must be nice for you.’
Robin is probably taking the piss. He usually is.
‘There aren’t that many famous people that stay there, actually,’ Fred says. He sounds weak again.
‘Come on. You can tell me. They’re all tossers anyway. I know what those places are like.’
Fred has learned that Robin is a sort of junior photographer. From time to time he assists established photographers and meets famous people.
It’s clear that the famous fascinate him.
‘I did meet someone famous today,’ Fred says, knowing he has begun some kind of betrayal.
‘Who?’ asks Robin, immediately.
‘You’ve probably heard of her. A model, a girl called Sarah Stanley. She’s American.’
‘Never heard of her.’
‘Yes you have.’
‘No I haven’t.’
‘You have. Sarah Stanley.’
Robin’s disbelieving face is yellow in the snug-hue.
‘You’ll know who she is if I tell you what she’s been in,’ Fred suggests.
‘I will? What? Tell me.’
‘She’s The Girl In The Baseball Cap,’ Fred says. He takes a large mouthful of lager. He has done it. He has called her what she most hates to be called.
‘Her? You met her? She’s staying in that hotel? I
don’t believe you.’
‘She is. She is.’ Fred swallows more lager. Something is lost, something that had been with him just a few minutes before.
‘Prove it,’ Robin challenges.
How can he?
‘She showed me the cap,’ he says, and hope itself collapses inside his heart.
‘What, the cap? The "Fuck me" cap?’
‘Yes, that cap. She showed me it.’

It is queer but Fred can see somehow Sarah reaching down into one of those sports bags models always carry and bringing out the cap. It is as if it really happened. Of course, Sarah would never have kept a thing like that. She isn’t that kind of person.
But Robin believes him now.
‘Have a drink,’ he offers, and he is almost nice as he says it. ‘Geoff,’ he calls. ‘Draw lager for the friends of the famous.’
Fred knows he has betrayed Sarah. But now he just wants another drink. He just wants a good drunk on.

Night unrolls across Russell Square.
Sarah is standing on her balcony, watching the night come. Top sent her an SMS. They call it a text here forget this dumb modeling. tell your mom you’re sick. I'm back in CA with my uncle and he’s cool. i want to show you big sur. love top. It’s cool. It's nice the way it's written out like that. This is the end of all the dumb shit.

It’s a pity there’s no one to celebrate with. She should tell Fred but he went home. Still, there’s British beer in the little ice box and a new Chillis CD in her bag. Hey, things could be worse.

Sarah reaches into her bag for the new CD. In the bag, at the bottom, under some other stuff, is the cap. She never wears it. She doesn’t know why she kept it. There is something bad about the cap, after all.
But it did kind of fit really neatly. She brings out the cap and puts it on. There is a rolled-up Whistler poster on the bed. She picks it up, swings it like a baseball bat and walks towards the full-length mirror on the closet door.
What the heck. You only live once.

© John Ludlam November 2004
john at

John L is an ex - Reuters correspondent now living in SW England

More fiction in Dreamscapes


© Hackwriters 2000-2004 all rights reserved