The bus came to a halt and Bob Clement stepped off, nodded an acknowledgment to the driver who drove away, leaving him with a light breeze under the bright sun and cloudless sky. He was in unfamiliar territory, so he had no idea where to go first, and thought he would find a local pub or café as the locals there might know where to find who he was looking for.
After around ten minutes, he was sat outside a café, drinking tea, in the village of Mosshey, eight miles north of Arbroath, Scotland, near the North Sea coast. He took from his inside pocket, a letter that had brought him here. He’d already read it many times, and had virtually memorised every word. He read it again, not really knowing why, perhaps to confirm he was in the right place, or a simple desire to read his old friend’s words again.
I was saddened to hear I was being posted to another division up in Arnhem to help repel the German advance, effectively meaning I would never see you again. I never struck up a similar friendship as I did with you in Normandy, and as you know, the war ended four months later, when we all went our separate ways. I would like to know what happened to you. It would be good to see you again, catch up on old times. I came up to a village in Scotland. Mosshay, overlooking the North Sea. I do hope to find a wife and start a family. It’s nice and quiet here, a far cry from the frontline. So if you’re ever up this way, please call in, we could have a drink, which of course, I will pay for. Anyway. I hope you're keeping well, and I look forward to seeing you again.
My kindest regards.
Thomas Roberts. 07/02/1946.
When he had first received the letter, all those years ago, Bob having returned home to Plymouth, he had told himself he’d make a special journey up there. However, circumstance meant that he had never found the time to make the trip. A marriage and a career meant that gradually he had not so much forgotten his old comrade, but accepted that he would probably never make the excursion. As the years went by, he harboured doubts about simply turning up and expecting to be greeted with open arms. He guessed he probably would be, but it did not alter the fact that he would be a virtual stranger to him. He certainly would be now, after 59 years. It was a pensioner’s golf tournament that had brought him to this part of the country,
Near to where his old friend lived. He knew it was a good opportunity to visit Thomas again, and he certainly could not pass it up, being only eight miles from Mosshay. He had lost the golf game, so, therefore, travelled north to find his old comrade.
He folded up the letter and put it back, wondering how on earth he was going to find Thomas without a proper address. He finished his drink and decided that the best thing to do was simply ask around. He asked in the café, in a charity shop, even a boy riding past on a bike. ‘Do you know a Thomas Roberts?’ was met with shakes of the head and shrugs.
‘Sorry, but you could try….’. was a trail that he followed that eventually led him to a tavern, or pub, overlooking the sea. At the entrance to a footpath that led down to the rocky coast, Bob looked out towards the horizon, the breeze stronger, ruffling the sparse hair he had left. After three hours, he wondered if this place might be the last chance saloon. He turned and walked across to the entrance. Inside it was dark and gloomy, the bar itself obviously well lit. There were not many people in there. An elderly man by the window wearing a flat cap was reading a newspaper, a cigar jammed between his teeth, curling blue/grey smoke in the light from the window behind. Another man, early fifties, was in the darkest recess, doing nothing but drink from his pint. At the bar, another man, late forties, was chatting to a portly, bald barman, also late forties. He thought that if this turned up nothing, then he would probably have a drink, then give up and go back to Arbroath, to his golfing colleagues.
"Excuse me," he said, to both of them. "Do either of you happen to know a Thomas Roberts?" Both men smiled, but there was no humour there.
The man sitting at the bar nodded.
"Ah, Tommy. Daft old fool. You shouldn’t bother going to see him".
"You know him?" said Bob, smiling.
"Yes, we know ‘im," said the barman. "’E lives just up the road ‘ere". He pointed in the general direction.
"’bout a mile up the road. First ‘ouse you see on the right. That’s ‘im. You shouldn’t bother. E’s a bit, you know". He twirled his finger at the side of his head.
"What was that thing you called ‘im recently," he said to the other man.
"Erm, a paranoid schitzo. E’ thinks folk are out to get ‘im. The postman doesn’t bother goin’ up there anymore. E’ says he gets chased off the property. E’ always sets ‘is rottweiler on folk who trespass. Well ‘e used to, till it died. On the rare occasion e’ gets mail, the postman leaves it ere’ behind the bar, and I’m the only one brave enough t’ go up there an’ post it. The last time I went up, he chased me off with the dog lead. Big chain it was. E’ caught me on the elbow, fractured a bone. ‘Ad to go t’ casualty. Right barmy e’ is. I think it all started back in the eighties when e’ was burgled". The barman nodded in agreement.
"E’ came ‘ome from somewhere one-day t’ find is ouse’ in a mess. Money and anything valuable were taken. Burglers thought they were onto something. So came back a few months later, when they thought e’d forgetten about ‘em. Ready for ‘em e’ was. Two of em, stabbed, tryin’ to break into ‘is kitchen. They certainly didn’t do any more burglin’ after that. Tommy got two years inside for that. E’ came out more twisted and bitter, trustin’ no-one. Thinks eveyone’s out to rob ‘im. Daft old fool". Bob nodded.
"I was in the war with ‘im. Maybe when ‘e sees me, e’ll be alright". The other men looked at each other, saying nothing.
"Thanks, you’ve been a great ‘elp," said Bob, turning and walking out into the sun. He began walking up the winding slope that led to the house, and beyond, along the coast. Trees lined both sides of the lane, sunlight dappling his face as he went. First house on the right, he told himself as he walked. After about fifteen minutes, he came to what must be the place, on top of the crest of the lane, which continued northwards on a gradual downward slope.
He stopped to regain his breath, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief.
The house was bigger than he thought, with white painted walls and grimy windows. A large gate barred entrance, but Bob found it easy to open. He was surprised how nervous he was feeling. After hearing what the two men in the pub had said about him, and the fact he hadn’t seen him in nearly sixty years, he was glad nobody was around to see how uneasy he was. Before the house was a large area which was probably built for cars, but there were none. There was debris scattered around. Pieces of wood and metal from unknown machines were dotted around, untouched in years. He saw a rotting kennel, but it was obvious it had no occupant. He apprehensively approached the front door and knocked as loud as he could. After a few moments, he knocked again, but the place was silent. He wondered if he might try around the back, and decided that while he was here, he might as well. The garden was in a decrepit state, and in serious need of attention. Grass and weeds were almost waist high, and like the front, it had debris scattered amongst it. To his surprise, he saw that the kitchen door was open. It was somewhat a contradiction to what the two men in the pub were saying, so he wondered if they may have been exaggerating about him. He approached the door, took out his handkerchief again and wiped his brow. He also took out the letter to show Thomas he still had it. He leaned in and knocked on the door, then stepped back and waited. He then heard a familiar sound, a loud clicking.
"I didn’t think you would resist my trap, you no good thief", came a voice from behind. Bob didn’t have time to turn around, to lay eyes upon his old friend again when the shotgun was fired into his back, his chest exploding.
Bob fell forward, sprawling on the few paving flags between the house and the garden. Thomas slowly stepped over and looked down at the intruder. He had deliberately left the back door open as a temptation to any would-be thief brave enough to trespass on his property, so he could mete out his own kind of justice. He saw the blood-stained letter in the man’s hand and bent down to pick it up. Leaning the shotgun against the wall, he unfolded it and read it. It gradually dawned on him just who this person was, and he looked down at the face of the supposed intruder, and recognition came to him. He stood there for a few moments, letting it all sink in. He then calmly stepped back to the shotgun, reloaded it, and turned it, so it pointed at himself. He could not live with what he just done, and face a prison sentence, so had no hesitation in pulling the trigger. Bob would see Thomas again, but not in this world.