Now the pace changes. David’s civilian life goes into overdrive as the beginning of his past starts to catch up with him as dangerous men from Ireland start to plan.
David and Bronwyn entered the public bar of the Black Bull which was already half full of regulars and tourists. The tourists were easy to pick out because of their pink arms and faces from being exposed to the wind and the sun. They also seemed to have taken all of the seats and little tables around the walls of the small room. The chatter around the bar was a mixture of Welsh, and Liverpool English.
The only unoccupied chair in the room was a big oak carver with high, solid arms, a high back and carved spindles. The seat was cushionless, highly polished and worn at the front from years of use. It looked as old as the pub itself, which had been built in the late 1780s, originally as a coaching house. On the back of the chair was a sign, hanging from a thin chain, which read: ‘RESERVED’.
All the locals knew for whom it was reserved: Bryn Jones, one-time postie who, for fifty-five years, five days a week, accompanied by his dogs, had walked up hills and pedalled down hills delivering the royal mail on his round that was all of twenty miles. Winter, spring, summer and autumn, ‘Jones the Postie’ delivered the mail. No one could prove it, but legend said that the only day he had ever missed was the time when his wife died and he missed the delivery on the day of her funeral. When he took his two weeks’ holiday every year, usually in early summer so he could help his brother (also still alive and a bachelor) with the haymaking, it usually took four relief postmen and women to do what Bryn did on his own. Within a couple of days, blisters and exhaustion finished them off.
Bryn Jones was now eight-five, still ramrod straight, a small man with a full head of grey hair which was always covered with a tweed cap he seldom removed. Occasionally he stumbled when he walked, so he used an old, knurled rosewood stick to steady his gait. The head of the stick was round and polished from years of wear.
The whole village loved him. He and his wife, married for nearly fifty years, had been childless and Bryn loved the children of the village and they loved him. They would wait for him, pat his little dogs, and he would tell them tales of the Great War and of the snowstorms on the mountains when the sheep and shepherds were lost, only to be found again.
Bryn never drank on Sundays even though he did not attend chapel. The only times he had been seen in the chapel was the day he was married and the day he buried his wife. More than once he had said that the third and last time he would go to chapel was when they buried him.
On weekdays, Bryn would arrive at the Black Bull at eight o’clock in the evening accompanied by one of his little terriers, sit in his chair with the dog lying under it, drink two pints of bitter ale between eight and nine and then go home. When he left, the ‘reserved’ sign was replaced. So, only Bryn sat in the chair, the locals knew it, and if a stranger happened not to notice the sign, or if they ignored it, Merion Williams the landlord would quietly remind them. No one ever complained or resisted.
On Saturday nights, Bryn would arrive at the same time – eight o’clock – sit in his chair, order his first pint, which he seldom paid for these days, and he would still be there when the pub closed. He would sing, often leading the singing. When he left, he would always refuse a hand home; so, with stick and dog, his gait a little unsteady, he would walk the three hundred yards back to his cottage.
‘The usual, David?’ Merion asked in Welsh. ‘And a half pint for Bronwyn?’
They nodded. David paid and they took their drinks from the bar and moved to join their friends: Gareth Parry, corn merchant’s son, and his current girlfriend Penny, buxom farmer’s daughter from the Wales/Shropshire border country working for the auctioneers in Abergele; Richard Horsfall, wealthy farmer’s son known to his friends as ‘Big Dick’ or ‘Horse Balls’ and not just because he stood six foot three in his stockinged feet; a German girl called Karen, studying at Bangor University for her Masters in plant pathology, accompanied him. She was statuesque – at least six foot tall – slim, blonde with ice blue eyes and a figure that turned heads wherever she went. She and Big Dick made a handsome couple. Karen was two years into her studies and three years into learning Welsh, for she had spent a year on the Horsfalls’ estate between finishing her degree in Berlin and applying to Bangor University. So, the six of them spoke Welsh.
Penny took up Gareth’s challenge of a game of darts after he whispered in her ear what he intended the prize to be, and she replied, ‘Righto, my boy, if you want to go home alone, let’s play.’
The mood in the bar was jovial and relaxed. David, Gareth and Big Dick had been at boarding school together; that’s where Big Dick earned his nickname. They had parted at seventeen, David into the army after a brief spell at home, Gareth into the family business in Llansannan and Dick on to Cirencester to the Royal Agricultural College. Now together again, they cherished the bonds built up over six years at school and now, although they never discussed it, they knew that barring accidents or tragedy, they would grow old together.
At about a quarter to eight, there was a squeal of tyres outside the pub, accompanied by the roar of an exhaust from an engine being revved up before being turned off. Except for the landlord, no one in the bar paid any attention to the noise outside; it was normal for a Saturday night.
The landlord gave someone their change then watched as the door burst open and four young men entered, accompanied by another tall, dark-haired man with a close-cropped, curly beard who seemed older than his companions and reticent to enter the bar.
With the exception of the man with the beard, who was dressed in dark clothes and a leather, bomber-style jacket, they were all dressed in loud casual clothes, clean-shaven with long, untidy hair and bare-armed. Two of them, he noticed, had large tattoos on their forearms. One of them strode up to the bar, glowering at those already in the bar and, in a broad Liverpool accent, ordered, ‘Five pints, Landlord, and none of that local piss. We’ll all have Best Bass.’
All five got their pints lined up along the bar and surveyed the patrons, whispering and sniggering amongst themselves, occasionally nodding or pointing at someone in the bar. Some of the tourists, uncomfortable with the atmosphere, left quietly. The locals who had seen this kind of invasion before continued talking but more quietly. ‘Ignore them and they’ll go away’, was the motto.
Merion busied himself behind the bar and made sure the truncheon he had seldom used in his thirty years as a policeman was within easy reach. Apart from the invaders’ loud talk, only Welsh was now being spoken.
Penny let out a yell as she scored a double twenty to finish and win the dart game, promising Gareth, ‘Fish and chips, and nothing else for you tonight, my boy.’ She went to collect her darts, agreeing to a ‘double or quits’ offered by Gareth.
One of the men at the bar, not understanding the language being spoken, walked over to the dartboard, took the darts out of Penny’s hand and said, ‘Our turn now. That is, unless you would like to play with me – now … and later.’
He was about five foot eight, heavily built and had a front tooth missing. All his mates, except the quiet one, laughed at his offer. Continue reading “Hearts of Stone – Episode 2 – Chapters 3 & 4”