This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 1090 words.
Jack Porter quite liked to go shopping. Having saved carefully for all of his working life, he could afford the best, and knew where to buy it. The next part of his plan would require some clothing and other items that he didn’t already own, and even though he would probably only use them once, the expense seemed justified. After spending some time in an exclusive outdoor shop, he emerged with bags containing some classic walking clothes, a suitable hat, and some stout shoes. In the shopping mall branch of a large camera retailer, he purchased some prohibitively expensive binoculars, very pleased to see the distinguished brand name prominent on them. His last stop was at a well-known bookshop, where he found a suitably portable book about regional birds.
That evening, he would study the book carefully, comparing it to his maps.
Richard Willoughby was drunk, and it was only one in the afternoon. Jerry the publican had suggested it was time to leave, before he upset the respectable people choosing to eat lunch in the bar. Actually, it had been a little stronger than a suggestion. “You’ve had enough now, Rich. Clear off, before I have to come round there and throw you out. There’s a good chap”. He had leaned his large bulk across the polished bar as he spoke, and Richard, drunk as he was, was left in no mistake that he meant what he said. Best to walk home and sleep it off. By the time he came back this evening, it would be forgotten. It always was.
The walk from the pub to his house usually took around ten minutes, cutting across the fields. That afternoon, it took twice as long, as he stumbled constantly, trapping his shoes in the ruts at the edges of the crops. He cursed the place, and wondered why he had ever bothered to move there. But when he sobered up, he would remember.
He hadn’t even heard of Uncle William. When he got the letter from a solicitor four years ago, he thought it was a joke. When the second letter arrived, he rang the number on it, and made an appointment. It seemed he was the only living relative of Bill Willoughby, a respected farmer in the flat-lands to the East. The man had died suddenly, leaving him an isolated house and substantial arable farm, over one hundred miles from the grimy city that Richard lived in. There was money too, quite a bit. When he was completely sure there were no catches, Richard signed the papers, and he became a property owner, a man of substance.
At first sight, the house looked huge. Isolated at the end of a long track, it was part of a complex of buildings that included storage barns, and garages for the many farm vehicles and trailers. He went inside to discover a rambling house that had been inhabited by a bachelor for all of his adult life. It was a mess. In short, it was a shit-hole. But at least it was his shit-hole. All paid up, and worth a small fortune.
His first action was to upset everyone by closing down the farm. He put five local people out of work for no reason other than he couldn’t be bothered to work out how to pay their wages, and sell the crops they would grow for him. Then he contacted a local auctioneer, and sold off all the tractors and machinery. That man put him in touch with a land agent, and he had soon sold most of the fields, at a bargain price. Other farmers nearby were keen to take advantage of this city man, someone who knew nothing about land values, or agriculture. He kept the fields immediately surrounding the house, to ensure his privacy. They were soon overgrown and untended, an easily-spotted eyesore in the otherwise pristine countryside.
Just six months after arriving in the quiet village, Richard had a lot of money, most of which he kept in a substantial safe in the cellar of the farmhouse. He drove around the country lanes in a very unsuitable Mercedes sports car, and became one of the regular customers at The Horseshoe, the only pub. At first, the suspicious locals accepted his drinks, and tolerated him flashing his money around. He employed a local woman to clean up his house, and bought some new furniture too.
But he tired of the dull community very quickly. Arguing with the miserable-looking country people in the bar, upsetting the cleaning woman by shouting at her, and walking around in his underwear. Once his drinking bouts became a regular feature, he started to be shunned by the other residents. Nobody would work for him, few would even speak to him, and he had to get his groceries delivered from the town, when he was no longer welcome in the village shop. Only Jerry the pub owner tolerated him, and then simply because he spent more money than almost all of the other regulars combined.
It was unusual to see a man so close to his property. Richard rubbed his eyes, which confirmed he wasn’t seeing something. It was a man. As he got closer, he noticed the smart walking clothes, the expensive rucksack, binoculars hanging around his neck, and a very stupid-looking hat. The man was looking at a map, and as he drew level, he smiled. A TV-star smile, too white, too perfect. “Hello, I was wondering if you can help me? I am hoping to find a good place to spot a Montague’s Harrier. This is supposedly a good location, but I haven’t managed to see any yet”. He moved in front of Richard, holding an open paperback book in his left hand. Richard pushed past the man roughly. “Haven’t a clue, mate. Don’t know nothing about birds. Ask at the pub”. He jerked his head backwards, to indicate the direction the stranger should take.
Jack watched the man stagger off, and followed him at some distance. As the drunk turned left through a broken gate, he stationed himself at the end of a long rutted driveway, using the powerful binoculars to watch as the man continued toward a substantial isolated house at the end. Fumbling with a bunch of keys, he pushed open the heavy door. After wandering around pretending to be a bird-watcher for most of the morning, Jack had only seen one lone person, and that was him.
But he would do nicely.