Monday night in a Travelodge in Telford might appeal to a certain kind of person, but as a definition of a ‘good time’ it certainly wasn’t Colin McAllistair’s. Although he was tired from his journey north, as soon as he’d checked in and dropped his bag on the bed, he knew he couldn’t spend the rest of the evening there.
On his walk from the station, he’d spotted a pub just a few hundred yards away, and thought it might be a good place to kill a couple of hours before retiring. A thin drizzle of rain kept the streets empty, apart from the odd car that sped past and, as he retraced his steps back towards the Dog and Partridge, he anticipated a cheery welcome from the landlord, and perhaps a Quiz Night to divert his attention.
As he pushed the door open, he quickly realized the error of his ways. The place was empty. It was a modern building dating, he guessed, from the last decade. With it’s strip lighting and leatherette bench seats around the wall, it had all the charm of a provincial community centre, but with the unexpected treat of a carpet. A juke box was playing quietly in the corner, and as he moved across to the bar, Colin was already starting to regret his decision. Even the anonymous room he’d just left was more inviting. He resolved, however, that he’d at least have a whisky – it might help him sleep more easily in a strange bed, or so he reasoned.
A young girl behind the bar smiled a welcome to him and asked what she could get him. He glanced at the limited array of spirits on offer, and chose the nearest he could see to anything half decent from amongst the whiskies.
“Oooh!” the barmaid exclaimed. “Now, what are the chances of that?”
Colin didn’t get her drift. “I’m sorry?” he asked, opening his wallet as she turned to get the bottle and spirit measure.
“Well,” she said, smiling as she poured the drink. “Only two customers since six o’clock, and they’re both drinking the same drink!” She nodded across to a corner by the door, where Colin saw, for the first time, a grey-haired man sitting alone at a table, facing the bar. He looked up when he noticed the two of them looking at him, and raised his glass, with a smile.
Collecting his drink, Colin thought it would be churlish to sit alone in such a cavernous place, when the old man had acknowledged him in such a friendly way. He walked across towards him.
“Good evening! Welcome to Telford, bloody Telford!”
It wasn’t the greeting he’d been expecting.
“Hello. How can you tell I’m not from these parts, my friend?” Colin asked, smiling, as he pulled a chair out from the table. “You don’t mind if I join you?”
The stranger smiled back. “Not at all, young man. Be my guest. I could do with some entertainment. And as to how I know you’re not from around this way – apart from your accent, I saw you walk past on the way to the Travelodge not a quarter of an hour ago.” He stood up and proffered his hand: “Bill Blunt’s the name…”
Colin shook Bill’s hand, introducing himself, and taking his seat opposite his new friend.
“Not the most exciting Monday night I’ve ever spent, Mr McAllistair. And I’ve spent some bloody dull ones in my time, I can tell you! What brings you to Telford?”
“Oh, I’m researching a possible TV documentary about a woman who fought in the Spanish Civil War. How about you? I take it you’re not local, either?”
Bill Blunt’s ears had pricked up like a sheepdog’s, responding to his master’s whistle. Of all the people, in all the places, who would have predicted he’d run into a TV producer in a down-beat pub in Telford, intent on making a programme about a subject that had suddenly become very dear to his own heart? Well, if Lady Luck wanted another good time with him, who was Bill Blunt to say ‘no’?
“That’s fascinating, Mr McAllistair! Or may I call you Colin? I’m a journalist by trade. Just call me Bill. You might be surprised to know that I’m here in Telford looking at a story that has connections with the Civil War, too.”
McAllistair did look surprised. But before he could quiz his companion further, Bill Blunt was standing up, lifting his glass to his mouth and emptying its contents.
“I’d say a co-incidence like that was worth another drink, wouldn’t you, Colin? Same again?” And before McAllistair had a chance to reply, Bill was off to the bar. They’d better have a couple of bottles of that whisky squirreled away somewhere, he was thinking – he’d resigned himself to an evening alone, but the night now had the potential to be a better one than he’d ever dared imagine. That Tuesday deadline suddenly didn’t seem so impossible, after all...