Over ten years had passed since the Great Depression of 1929 and Edward and Gretel Helling’s peppercorn farm continued to boom. As did the town. Edward had become a father to Gretel’s two children. They had grown older and helped out on the farm. Seeing as the two children were Helling brothers themselves, Edward and Gretel saw them as fitting successors to the Helling Bros. business. That was until the day the world changed forever.
Jack and Elias Helling were both barely of age when they enlisted in the military in 1941. The Second World War had been raging for two years and both men felt an obligation to fight for their country. Naturally their parents were proud of them; however they were both very frightened for their lives, especially Gretel.
The young Helling brothers soon left to fight for their country. Even though Edward and Gretel would see little of their children during the war, Jack and Elias would write home often. Hearing from their children was what got them through and they were counting down the days that they would see both their sons again.
It was the letter they received from Elias Helling in 1942 that told them that both of their sons were returning home. One son, however, would not be returning alive.
Jack Helling was one of the first to be buried in Peppercorn Patch’s cemetery. It seemed like the whole township of Peppercorn Patch had turned up to say goodbye to one of its fallen soldiers. Amongst the mourners were Edward and Elias Helling. Gretel Helling had been too distraught to attend the memorial service. She looked on from a safe distance from the house high up on the hill.
Sergeant Michael Anders brings his police vehicle to a stop outside the entrance to Peppercorn Patch Cemetery. He looks over to his passenger, Constable Kyle Cook. “I still can’t make sense of this,” he says.
“None of this has made much sense,” the constable replies.
“I’m just not sure why Thomas has done this. Why has he decided to come back now? After all this time?”
“We won’t know until we find Thomas. Until we do many things may remain a mystery.” Constable Cook looks out of the passenger side window then back to Sergeant Anders. “I’m sorry about last night. I was just trying to save Joanne.”
Sergeant Anders opens his door and starts to exit the vehicle. “We’ll discuss this later,” he says. “We have other things to worry about at the moment.”
Both men enter into the cemetery and head towards the large peppercorn tree in the middle of the grounds. As they move closer to the tree they can make out a large mound of dirt piled next to a deep hole.
“Oh my!” Constable Cook exclaims as he nears the edge of the large hole.
Sergeant Anders remains silent as he peers down into the hole. Inside it, he can see a wooden coffin. Its lid sits pried open by a shovel. The inside of the empty coffin has been covered in a layer of dirt.
“It’s true,” Sergeant Anders whispers to himself. “Doctor Smith was right.”
No one had been closer to Joanne Evans than Cathy Gilmore. Cathy had been with Joanne through many hard times. It was no different now. Joanne needed Cathy more than ever.
“Joanne, honey,” Cathy says gently to Joanne. Joanne stirs from her shallow sleep and sees the nurse standing over her hospital bed. “I’m just about to finish my shift. I wanted to say good bye before I left, but I’ll see you again tomorrow morning.” Cathy leans over and kisses Joanne on the forehead.
“Thank you for everything Cathy.” Joanne grabs onto the nurse’s hand and squeezes it gently as she closes her eyes and falls back to sleep.
Cathy gently closes the door behind her as she walks out into the busy hospital corridor. She looks down the corridor and catches a glimpse of Valerie Pickering seated in the hospital’s waiting area. She can see the woman lift a brown paper bag to her lips and take a drink.
“Cathy!” a colleague calls her over to the nurse’s station and hands her a sealed envelope. “This arrived for you.”
Cathy takes the envelope and looks it over. It is blank apart from her name written on the front. Curious, Cathy tears the envelope open quickly and pulls out the contents; a handwritten letter.
As quickly as she tore the envelope open, Cathy rips the letter into little pieces and dumps them into the closest rubbish bin. Her head starts to spin as she digests the contents of the letter. She spots Valerie Pickering again and rushes over to her.
“Val!” Cathy shouts at a surprised Valerie Pickering. “What are you drinking?”
“I wasn’t…” Valerie starts to defend herself.
“Give me that now!” Cathy says to the woman as she grabs the bottle of whiskey wrapped in brown paper. Cathy lifts the bottle to her mouth and takes a swig of the brown liquid. “I need a drink.”
“Doctor Smith matched dental records of our burned body from the high school,” Sergeant Anders explains to Constable Cook. “I needed to see for myself that it was true.”
“So Thomas dug the body up here and took it to the high school?” asks Constable Cook.
“Looks that way,” agrees Sergeant Anders. “We really need to find Thomas before someone else gets hurt.”
Sergeant Anders looks down to the grave that has been disturbed. Underneath a pile of dirt he can see something white. A bunch of white tulips lay half buried. Sergeant Anders reaches down to lift the tulips out of the dirt and uncovers the marble headstone sitting atop the empty grave. Its words bring a tear to the sergeant’s eyes: Here Lies Benjamin Pickering. Devoted Father to Joanne.
Next Episode – Monday 9th March
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