All in a Day’s Work
by P. S. Gifford
Tom was startled by the alarm clock; he wasn’t used to getting up before noon.”Bugger,” he exclaimed as his eyes began to focus.
He hastily pulled a sweater over his head and sped into his brother’s room.
“Wake up Simon!” He hollered.”It’s half past five already and we need to be at the worksite by six. We’ve finally got ourselves a proper job... and we don’t want to bloody lose it on the first day.”
Simon and Tom Baxter were brothers separated by less than eleven months. In the several years since leaving school they had never had a proper job before. They had managed to get by from exploiting as many Government training programs as possible. And by still living at home.
In fact, at twenty-three and twenty-two years old respectively their Mum still made their beds, did their laundry and purchased the food. But finally every avenue of avoiding work had been exhausted and the job centre had vehemently insisted on their taking this particular position.
Within ten minutes the brothers were in their battered 1986 Mini and speeding down the lane racing towards Aysgarth. It was an eleven-mile journey to that quaint ancient town, and the little red car traveled swiftly down the narrow country lanes.
At 6:05 on they pulled into the parking lot, and screeched to a halt. About half a dozen other young men nonchalantly looked up at them. A man, whom they recognized from their interview, walked up to them shaking his head in disgust.
“You are flippin’ late!” he yelled.”If this happens once more you are out. Now move it. Go and get kitted up and join the rest of the team.”
A few moments later Simon and Tom were lined up with the others and dressed in blue overalls as the foreman began to explain precisely what they were going to do.
“Now gentlemen take a look at this beautiful building directly behind you. It is the historic Palmer Flatt hotel.”
The young men glanced up half-heartedly.
“Now we have been brought in to reinforce the foundations which date back over seven hundred years.”
A few of the lads yawned.
“Well time is a fleeting, and time is money... Follow me lads.”
The motley procession reluctantly picked up their allotted tools and began marching behind the foreman over the green front lawn towards the rear of the building. Then they entered the hotel through a door adjacent to the parlor and were led a little further to an old staircase at the rear of the building.
“There at the bottom of the stairway is the cellar where we need to go lads,” the foreman said as the team nervously peered into the darkness.
“It looks bloody creepy down there,” Simon whined as he stared down into the menacing shadows.
Moments later there were a few hushed murmurs as the team gradually, and with the utmost caution, clambered down the well worn steps.
They finally reached the cellar floor. The foreman pulled on a chain and surprisingly an old sixty watt electric light flashed on to expose the air to be thick with dust. A few dilapidated pieces of furniture were scattered about as was a collection of old cardboard boxes which now barely concealed their contents.
“I bet there are some brilliant old treasures down here that would do well at an antique auction,” quipped Tom as he eyed the boxes.
Simon nodded, understanding precisely what his brother was thinking.
At the back of the cellar the lads were directed to move some of the boxes, which soon revealed yet another door in the floorboards.
“Down here is where the suspected foundation slippage is,” the foreman said as he studied the door.”Right first I need to cut off this rusted padlock. It is a shame; it looks like it’s centuries old.”
The lock easily broke and clattered to the ground. The foreman tried to pull the door open.”Here give me a hand with this, somebody. It’s bloody heavy.”
A couple of the young men grudgingly assisted him, obviously not used to having to do any work. After a few attempts, the door opened to reveal yet another set of stairs heading downward.
“Well, let’s take a bloody look!” The foreman grunted.
The team once more traveled downward. This time there was no luxury of an electric light overhead and the intense darkness was only feebly illuminated by a few battery torches.
“It’s a tunnel,” the foreman cried.”A bloody long tunnel. I wonder where it goes?”
They walked a few feet further along the curious passage when the foreman suddenly stopped them. “This just doesn’t feel right with me,” he proclaimed,”I reckon we should head up to fresh air again. I think I need to make a phone call.”
Several minutes later the young men happily filed back out of the back door and out into the fresh cool morning air. Soon there was much hushed chattering amongst them as theories about what they had just uncovered were exchanged back and forth.
The foreman dialed his mobile phone. As he talked, the workmen could see he was becoming more and more agitated. After a few moments he hung up the phone and solemnly addressed his workers.
“Got a bit of bad news I’m afraid,” he groaned. “I have just spoken to the Wensleydale preservation society.” He paused and took a deep breath. “And until they come and investigate the tunnel we are not permitted to do any bloody work down there what so ever. You’ll get paid a full day’s pay for today of course, and I’ll call you when we hear anything, but I know that these chaps can take weeks or even months. You are now all free to go home. I am sorry about this lads, but hopefully something else will turn up soon.”
The collection of young men put the equipment back in the van, slipped out of their overalls, put on their jackets, and left.
That night Simon and Tom found themselves, as usual, in the local pub, the Kings Arms, supping their customary pint of bitter. Their talk quickly gravitated towards the morning’s unusual events.
“Bloody strange, innit,” Simon said as he shook his head, “kicking us out like that and all.”
“Yeah,” Tom said taking another sip, “I reckon there’s something important and valuable down in that flippin’ tunnel and they’re trying to hide it from us.”
After three more pints Simon suddenly got a look on his face. “I have got a grand idea,” he announced as his eyes twinkled, “and this one is going to keep us in beer for a long time I reckon.”
At that moment the dreaded cry came, the cry that makes all beer drinkers shake in their boots. “Time, gentlemen, please!”
The two brothers, along with several others, were hastily herded out onto the street.
“Get in the car Tom.” Simon said rubbing his hands together.”We have got work to do!”
* * *
A few minutes later they once more were outside of the Palmer Flatt hotel, only this time a heavy darkness enveloped them. In daylight the hotel looked quaint and charming but now in the moonlight it appeared far different.
“It bloody well looks like a horror movie set,” Tom whined, “maybe we should just forget it.”
“Don’t be a chicken bruv, this place is completely...” But before Simon could finish his thought a deep pounding bell rang out echoing into the night. They flinched for a moment. Then they chuckled at their edginess realizing it was the old church clock across the lane next to the graveyard.
“Well I suppose we should get on with it then.” Tom said, the shaking tone in his voice contradicting the bravery of his words.
Then they crept towards the back door of the hotel and peered up at the building.
”Brilliant, no lights are on.” Simon whispered.”I am sure that no-one would be foolish enough to want to stay here in the middle of winter, we should have the place to ourselves.”
They approached a downstairs window.
“This must be to the Parlor,” Simon remarked. “Yes it is. I recognize that lovely old piano we saw this morning.”
As Tom expertly slipped the blade of his pocket-knife into the crack the window clicked open. “A cinch,” he said, winking at his brother.
A couple of minutes later they once more found themselves within the old-fashioned parlor. Wasting no time they quietly continued out into the hallway and directly to where the first cellar door awaited them. After some effort the door was opened and they shone their torches downward and peered in.
“Crikey, it looks even scarier now.” Tom remarked.
“You first,” muttered Simon not willing to admit he was just as scared as his brother.
Tom took a deep breath and slowly began his descent into the darkness.
“This seemed such a brilliant idea an hour ago in the pub,” he lamented as he crept warily downward.
After Tom made it to the cellar, he called up to Simon, who reluctantly followed him, and they continued amongst the shadows caused by their lights until the second, even more ominous door.
They stood there for several moments as they examined it. The remains of the large old padlock still laid on the floor.
“They obviously wanted to keep people out of here,” quipped Tom.
“Or stop something from getting out,” replied Simon as his face contorted in fear.
It took all their might to pull the large solid oak door open and they needed to catch their breath afterwards.
“Well we’ve come this far,” exclaimed Simon,”come on, let’s get this over with.”
They shined their flashlights down into the depths. Simon and Tom stared at each other and once again downwards they climb. The air was stale and musky, and they both had some difficulty breathing.
“It smells like death down here,” Tom whispered, “I hope this is going to be worth it.”
Onward they went through the cobwebs.
“It can’t be much further in. The foreman wasn’t gone for long,” said Simon with his trembling voice showing evidence of his growing fears.
They hadn’t traveled but a few yards along the tunnel when they saw it: a wooden chest.
“I bet you a hundred pints of Yorkshire’s finest that this is what the foreman didn’t want us to see this morning,” Tom whispered as his natural greed rapidly overcame his trepidation. “Come on, let’s get it back to the house.”
Thirty minutes later the chest was clumsily bound on top of the mini and they were once more speeding along the dark narrow roads.
“It’s got to be valuable!” Simon said with excitement.
“I reckon that we have hit the bloody jackpot,” Replied Tom as he rubbed his hands together.
At 1:30 they screeched back up their driveway and jumped out of the car. The two shivered in unison.
“Right, let’s get this inside and into the warmth,” said Simon as he unbuckled the straps binding the chest. As silently as they could they carefully carried their prize into the house, and up the creaking stairs. Finally they made it into Simon’s back bedroom.
“Be careful, mom will kill us if she wakes up and sees what we have done,” Said Simon in a hushed tone.
They carefully place the chest onto Simon’s bed, closed the door, turned on the light and examined their prize with more detail. There was a faded plaque upon the top. After a little cleaning with Tom’s handkerchief it revealed writing which they could not understand. However, a date caught their attention. It was faded yet still readable: 1350.
The chest was fastened with a padlock, which looked like a smaller version of the one that had locked the cellar door. Simon pulled his tool chest from under the bed, and pulled out a chisel and hammer. Their enthusiasm grew even further as the chisel was positioned on the lock, and Tom hit it with the hammer. After a few sharp taps it tumbled free to the carpet.
The lads looked at each other and gulped.
“Moment of truth time,” proclaimed Simon.
Then Tom slowly, yet purposefully, opened the chest and peered in.
“Blankets,” he cried with dismay.”It’s full of bloody blankets!”
Their previous excitement evaporated which left them sullen and disheartened.
“Well. Perhaps there is something wrapped up inside of them,” Tom chirped feeling a moment of optimism again.
With that the brothers pulled the blankets out one by one, but the cloth fell apart beneath their clumsy touch.
“Now this really does smell like death,” Tom observed unavoidably breathing in the ancient dust...
* * *
The following morning they were awakened with a sharp knock on the bedroom door.
“Wake up lazy bones,” their mother yelled. “There are mugs of tea and lovely bacon and egg sandwiches waiting for you on the kitchen table. Hurry up downstairs as I am going to need your help today.
“Oh, and I was listening to the news this morning. It was lucky you two got called off that building job yesterday. Some bloody idiots broke in there last night and stole one of several old chests locked up in a tunnel. The tunnel led all the way to the graveyard across the street.
“They used to transport plague victims in the tunnel to keep others from getting affected. Inside that chest was some old blankets they used for the poor buggers, and the plague has become a new strain. No known cure! I tell you there ain’t half some daft uns in the world!”
Copyright © 2006 by P. S. Gifford