What lies behind the fireplace

It was the summer of 1976. The dust and soot were slowly clouding the room and clogging up my nostrils. Putting down the hammer and chisel I opened the living room window to try and clear the air. The old fireplace was being stubborn, refusing to leave the wall. Another attempt and it gave a little, the thin gap widened to finger thick, light crept in. I noticed a piece of paper that was in the space.

            I unfolded it. It was a betting slip. Five pounds on Manchester City to beat Birmingham City in the 1956 F.A. Cup Final. I put it in my back pocket ready to begin again but was stopped before I started.

“How you getting on Tom “?

“Hi  Harry.”

“Joyce is just making a cuppa if you fancy a break?”

“Aw, this fireplace has a mind of its own, I’m having a hell of a job getting it off the wall. A cuppa sounds good to me” My future in laws lived a few doors further along the street.

            Small Heath. Industrial remnants. Old red bricked back to back houses. The narrow rear garden a suntrap. Runner beans and tomatoes flourished against the outer kitchen wall. Joyce’s pride and joy. We three sat out at the garden table, in the warmth, but in the shadow of the corner by the back door. The tea refreshed washing the dust from my mouth. I was renovating the house before my wedding.

“I’ll come down and give you a hand with that fire for while after the this if you like?” Harry offered.

 I remembered the betting slip.

“I found this behind the fireplace,” I said pulling the paper from my pocket and handing it to Harry. “It’s a betting slip from the 1956 F.A. Cup Final.”   

“Manchester City, they beat us. I was at the match,” he replied, taking the slip from me. He looked at it and passed it to Joyce. The atmosphere changed our cosy chat was interrupted by a lengthy silence that followed their knowing glances.

“I think you need to tell him,” Joyce said.

I was intrigued.

Harry took a drink then leaning forward he began.

“I think you may have found a vital piece of information about the tragedy that happened the day after that Cup Final in 1956.  The Dawson family lived at 28 Maxsted Street, your house.  Three of them. Maude Dawson, she worked down the Hotpoint with Joyce. She lost her husband John in the war, Dunkirk I…….

“Get on with it Harry, Tom doesn’t need to know this all this stuff,” urged Joyce

  He continued, his thunder slightly stolen, the opportunity to embellish confiscated by Joyce’s reprimand.

              “Okay Joyce. Terry and Derek, the twins, were my class in…”

               “Harry! “

               “Okay Joyce, but I need to give Tom a bit of background info. They were both twentysix.”

               Joyce shook her head in dismay, I smiled.

               “Terry supported the Villa and Derek the Blues. They went to Wembley for the cup final together. They had a heavy night of drinking after the match. Terry got up first the next morning looking for his betting slip which he was determined he’d left on the mantelpiece before going up to bed. Still semi – drunk he stormed back up the stairs and began shouting at Derek accusing him of taking the slip. Then the tragedy happened.

In court the evidence was that Mrs Dawson had appeared from her bedroom to see what all the noise was about, by which time Terry was pulling Derek out of bed. She told them to grow up.  They used to fight like cat and….”

                    “Harry! “Joyce interjected

                       Harry continued, “Still raging, Terry attempted to push past his mother to go back downstairs but only managed to make her over balance and tumble down in front of him. Derek was behind him by this time. The betting slip forgotten they rushed down to their mother. She was dead, broken neck.”

                      “The police came” he quickly added, “I remember Sandy Pritchard, a policeman who went to school with me, guarding the front door. “He glanced over to Joyce, no response, embellishment allowed.

                      “It got sadder, Terry  somehow managed to give Sandy the slip and just disappeared. They found his body in the canal basin by The Watering Hole three days later. You know Bill’s the grocer’s shop on the corner that used to be Frankie Bernardi’s the bookie. The police checked with him and Terry had made a five pound bet on the Saturday of the match for Manchester City to win. But it had not been claimed. There would not have been a chance to until the Monday anyway. Derek had no offence to answer, but he was a broken man and left Birmingham after the funerals.”

                    “There was only a small gap behind the fireplace,” I said “I can’t see how that betting slip could have got down there unless it was pushed down. Do you think.?

                      “Don’t go there Tom “Harry replied, softly. “I’m not a betting man.” 

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