“I’ve signed. Now you sign.”
Tom retrieved a grubby envelope from the table and waved it under Roger’s nose. The tabletop was littered with mugs containing dregs of tea, the newspaper lay open at the racing page. The gas fire flickered and the room reeked of stale cigarette smoke.
“Dad, this is ludicrous.” Roger ripped the envelope in half.
Tom snatched it up again. “It’s me last wishes.” A hacking cough interrupted his words.
“Dad, you are not dying. You had a nasty bout of bronchitis. You’ll be right as a trivet in no time.”
“I knows better. Now, listen. Me and your Mam, we had money put by in the blue teapot for when we went. But your Mam’s send-off was expensive. I did her proud, but there’s nowt left to do me.”
“Don’t talk about that now.”
Tom smoothed out the envelope halves and handed them to Roger. “I’ve written it down. You’re to put me in that big car of yours and take me to the seaside. The beach where we used to go fishing. Choose the right tide and I’ll be halfway to Holland by daybreak. Won’t cost you a penny.” He wheezed with effort. “I’ll not be a burden on you. Promise me you’ll do it.” His hand clutched Roger’s arm with surprising strength.
Roger prised the bony fingers loose. “Dad, you’re making yourself ill.”
“Stop maundering, you daft old bugger. Come on, I’ll make us a cuppa.”
The fireman was grave. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s not safe for you to go inside. The explosion destroyed everything.”
Roger winced. “The doctor told him not to smoke with his oxygen mask on.”
The fireman patted his shoulder. “If it’s any comfort, your dad wouldn’t have felt a thing.”
“Can I take this?” Roger picked up a charred object that had landed on the pavement. “It’s one of his old Army boots. I’d know it anywhere.”
The fireman shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
The boot floated on the waves, its black shape growing smaller. The solitary onlooker wiped away a tear.
“Got what you wanted, didn’t you, you daft old bugger.”