Highly commended short story: Payback for Tom

Tom’s memory was serving him well. The high wall opposite the paddock gate was just as he remembered it. Not bad for thirty years. Thirty mind-numbing years of prison. Now at last he was free. Free to enjoy greenery, birdsong and horizons. But more importantly, free to dig up the hoard of silver treasure he had stolen from Lord Dyffine’s stately home, the Jacobean manor on the other side of that wall. Silver that was his. He had paid for it with those long thirty years.

The sentence had been harsh but came as no great surprise to him. It was his fourth conviction for aggravated burglary and he had stupidly waved a toy gun at a gardener on that fateful winter’s afternoon.

It was two o’clock in the morning and Tom had parked his electric hire car a few hundred yards away in a passing point. Electric cars indeed. So many things were new to him. After he had left Strangeways Prison a month earlier he had looked around Manchester centre and recognised nothing. Tom had never heard about the bomb that devastated the city, having avoided keeping up with any news or current affairs while inside. Neither reading newspapers nor watching TV bulletins. What was the point? He now had plenty of time to catch up, and soon plenty of money to enjoy life.

The late summer air was still warm and fragrant from the blisteringly hot day and the countryside on the long drive south to Kent had looked beautiful. Yet so much was unfamiliar. What were all those hilltop windmills for? Grinding grain? Then he had nearly hit some odd-looking deer by the roadside. The Muntjac escapees from Woburn had not spread widely when he himself had gone behind bars. Next, on arriving near Dyffine Hall earlier, he had been amazed to see a flock of green parakeets roosting noisily in a copse. Surely not. Weren’t creatures like these from the Himalayas?

Using an old-fashioned grappling hook and rope he easily scaled the wall, a shovel strung across his back. Dyffine Hall was lit in the distance and looked in fine shape. This surprised him. The old Lord Dyffine, surely now long dead, had let it deteriorate, unable to maintain the place with its two thousand acres. His son must have got money from somewhere to do it up.

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Now to the serious business of finding the spot where he had buried the silver. Just how good was his memory after all? Tom walked a hundred paces from the wall and then turned to his right. He had dug it in by the base of a huge mature tree. One that would certainly be there for a many, many decades to come. But where was it? Where was that great towering elm? It had to be here. But where was it? Where?

Panic was rising in Tom as he heard a terrifying sound from behind him. He looked uncomprehendingly as one of Dyffine Hall Safari Park’s lions leapt.