"There's someone living near me here that you might know," said Peter, handing me a pint of Hooky's Best.
"Who's that?" I asked idly.
"A man named Blank. He went to your school and thinks you were in the same house. He's pretty old and not very well. Do you remember him? He wants to invite you to have a cup of tea with him and catch up on past times. Decent sort of chap, very friendly."
I went completely cold and put the glass down hard on the bar. Suddenly I was back sixty years, a small boy in my first term at boarding school.
I was frightened of everyone that first term: the other, bigger boys; the masters, aloof and from another world; the Housemaster, grim despot standing in loco parentis; the prefects with their powers to fag you or send you on runs; and a strange in-between beast called, in one of the many weird terminologies of the school, the Senior Inferior.
This was the position allotted to an older boy, perhaps the oldest in the House, who for whatever deficiency of moral fibre or social adroitness had been passed over for promotion to a prefect, and was neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring in the hierarchy. But he still exerted a special tyranny over the junior boys in the House. In some ways we were more in awe of him than any of the others, because he lived among us and not in the lofty ivory towers of the Prefects' Room, and yet was not one of us. He was not allowed to beat you, but could fine you - and did - for minor trespasses, of which there were many.
Two pence ("two dee" in the jargon) for shoes not properly cleaned, laces undone, socks not pulled up, jacket not buttoned... the list was long. The financial impact was bad enough, because we were only allowed a "Saturday bob" of one shilling, distributed in a solemn weekly ceremony, and that was all you had to spend on sweets at The Grub. But if the fines exceeded a shilling (twelve pence) you were sent to the Head of House to offer an explanation. And that could see you bent over the wooden chair. It seemed to me that this happened to me more than to the other boys of my term, but perhaps that was my imagination. There was one particular incident... but it was all a long time ago.
Blank was a sinister figure even then; podgy, unathletic, with thick lensed glasses and curly black, rather greasy hair. An unpleasant smirk would appear on his face when he detected an ink stain or a carelessly knotted tie, and he had a soft voice that sent shivers down my spine.
The 80 year old figure who opened the door to me had changed remarkably little, and it was all I could do not to glance down at my shoes to check my laces. "So lovely to see you again," he said, shaking my hand, and holding it a little too long. "We were such friends, weren't we? You haven't changed at all. Come in and tell me all about yourself."
A week later I met Peter again in the White Lion.
"Just as well you caught up with Blank," he said, warming his hands in front of the fire while I went to the bar. "He had a heart attack yesterday and died in the night. It was very sudden." He sat down. "How did you find him when you saw him?"
I took a pull of my pint. Dead, was he? Well, well.
"It was more what I found out after seeing him, " I said slowly. "He was pretty cagey about his history, so when I left him I went online and Googled his name. I didn't expect to find much, but I hit gold. He'd said he'd been a lawyer in London, but I didn't know he'd been disbarred. Or been sentenced to four years in prison at the age of seventy three."
My friend nearly spilt his beer. "Never! What had he done?"
"The judge at his trial described him as a hardened criminal. He'd spent his life defending dodgy characters from the world of crime, and finally got caught himself for swindling an old lady - his client - out of over half a million pounds."
"Oh, there was loads of stuff. Apparently the police had been after him for years, but he was living abroad, and he couldn't be extradited. Then the law changed, and he was brought to London for trial."
"And then he ended up here?"
"Yes, when he was released, he came to live in the Cotswolds."
"And ended up living as my neighbour. Well, I say. You never can tell with people, can you?"
No, I agreed, you never could tell. But somehow, I had to admit, I wasn't totally surprised this time. And despite myself, I couldn't prevent a beam spreading over my face.
I retired to the Cotswolds ten years ago after selling the retail business in North Wales which I had built up over forty long years. Fortunately for my sanity most of my time was spent creating advertising copy and promotions, which dramatically increased the business and taught me the power of words. Being a member of the Chippy Writers’ Group encouraged me to attempt a lifelong ambition to write a novel. Recently published, In the Shadow of Hitler is a romance set in the ruins of bombed-out Hamburg in 1946.... more