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A Barrel Of Rum (standard:mystery, 1071 words)
Author: Brian CrossAdded: Nov 26 2005Views/Reads: 2508/1402Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
On a hot, humid summer day, a walk across Suffolk heathland presents unexpected hazards


The heat had been building up all morning and my tiny room in the inn's
attic was stifling; I felt I was breathing in soup. I headed downstairs 
needing air but outside it was almost as still and stale, just a 
flutter of a breeze. 

Standing surveying the greying shroud of the heavens I thought I heard
thunder rumble. But I needed to walk, needed to think. My personal 
problems close to getting out of hand I'd come to this country 
backwater for a break. 

At the crossroads I took the lane towards Thorpeness, my brow already
clammy from the oppressive heat. The trunk road carried most of the 
traffic but unusually not a car passed me by. The only vehicles that 
did being the horse-drawn variety – novelty rides aren't unusual in 
these parts but I remember thinking some convention must be taking 

I reckoned that getting trodden on by a horse wasn't much less painful
than being clipped by a car and so I took the sensible option, I headed 
off road, into the heath land, following a narrow twisting track which 
wound between purple heather and bracken; the air was thick and still, 
and it seemed to me that the only sound carried on the limp breeze was 
the occasional rustle of coarse grass. 

I'd progressed about a mile towards the coast when I came across the
sheet of paper. It was entwined in bracken and like a blot on a 
landscape that was spotlessly clean. Litterbugs seemed scarce so I felt 
a sense of responsibility in retrieving the waste – only I hadn't 
reckoned on what I'd find – 

“THIS DAY – 1st JULY 1735 

A reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS is hereby offered for    information
leading to the capture of smugglers terrorising this district and the 
forfeit of their contraband. Contact the undersigned 

Signed J.Tabbs – for H.M. Customs Preventatives.” 

I frowned, looked across the heath, puzzled at how the reward poster
could have ended up entangled in the bracken – from the museum in 
Aldeburgh perhaps? But who'd drop it here? And it could hardly have 
blown three miles. 

There was something else though – the parchment seemed new, the ink
hardly dry – I prodded it tentatively with my forefinger and it left a 
slight stain. 

Part of the convention perhaps, I recalled the column of chaises that
had galloped past me – some kind of festival that I hadn't heard about? 

Yes of course, what else could it be? 

‘One hundred pounds friend – a fair reward I'd say – ah but smuggling is
the scourge of our times, aye – so it is.' 

I spun in shock at the deep voice, I could have sworn there wasn't a
soul in sight but he stood before me, a portly man dressed in boots, 
breeches and a yellow waistcoat. 

‘I'm sorry,' I said, ‘you startled me – I'm afraid I don't follow.' 

‘Parson Prendergast my man,' he looked me up and down as though I were
an oddity, from my clean-shaven chin, checked cotton shirt to my 
stonewash jeans and then swiped the back of his hand across his nose. 

‘Of course you understand, I don't abide by your clothes but you hardly
look a dimwit – smugglers, my man. They're running amok – we must stamp 
them out – we must stamp their evil out!' His voice rose as I became 
aware of a developing rumble, but deriving from the ground rather than 
the skies. 

I realised I'd been standing on a broad parched track and along it like

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