This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 785 words.
The house at the end of the long track was well hidden from the road. It was more a collection of buildings, one of which appeared to be inhabited, judging by the curtains in some windows, and a pair of boots outside the main door. In the distance were two large barns, at the end of the continuation of the track. Old machinery was scattered around, mostly rusted and bent. I stopped the car fifty feet from the house, and looked to my right as I got out.
There were some large fields bordering the property, each planted with neat rows of small bushes. In contrast to the buildings, the fields were neat, and the bushes stood in their rows like soldiers on parade. I knocked on the door with my fist, and stood back.
With a scraping sound the door opened slowly, and a man’s voice called out. “What you want? I’m resting”. I couldn’t see anyone, and felt awkward speaking into the gap. I told him I was there to see about the job, and mentioned the sign on the road. With that, the door opened all the way, revealing an elderly man in filthy blue overalls. He looked me up and down, with no effort to introduce himself, or excuse his rudeness.
“Well you look young and strong. I need help with the blackcurrant bushes. Weeding, watering, and such. Then harvesting when they’re ready. And some help around the farm fixing up buildings and such. You get lodging and food, but no pay until the crop is sold. How would that suit you?” He was certainly blunt, and had offered me the job with no formal interview, and not even a single question about my situation. When I didn’t reply, he carried on. “You would have to bring your own bedding and such, but there’s the first floor, you can have that for yourself. No hours as such, and we work until the work’s done. Yes or no?”
Smiling inside at how many times he could say the word ‘such’, and how an old-fashioned shabby looking man like him still managed to run a fruit business in the modern world, I had already decided. The remoteness of the location appealed to me, and I told him I would take the job, returning in two days after I had gathered my things, and made arrangements. I extended a hand to shake on the agreement, but he was already closing the door as he spoke.
“Take down the sign on your way out”.
The next day, I packed some clothes, towels, and bedding before telephoning Mr Dean to inform him I would be away for some time. He assured me that he would see to my house and property while I was gone, and I made him take a note that nobody was to try to enter any of the workshops. The grounds would be maintained, the windows cleaned, and utility bills paid. He sounded happy to hear from me again, no doubt pleased that he would be able to send me a substantial bill for his services at some stage. I also asked him to engage an accountant on my behalf, to show me as being self-employed, for the purposes of tax, and other matters. He could supply most of the information required, and I would provide some evidence of what I was doing, in due course.
From the workshops, I took some good tools that I suspected I would need at the farm, and packed them into a smart toolbox. All my notebooks and video recordings were sealed in a locked box, and placed under the false floor of one of the workshops, next to the large drum containing what was left of Michelle O’Connor. Then I took the sign that I had removed from the road near the farm, and burned it in an incinerator in the garden.
When I got back to the farm the following afternoon, the door opened without me having to knock. Still wearing the same overalls, the man appeared outside, his mood greatly changed. This time he extended a hand and smiled warmly, showing many missing teeth. “I forgot to tell you my name. Edward Cobden, of Cobden’s Fruits. You call me Ted. I used to run this place with my brother before he died, and can’t manage it now, being on my own and such. Come in, and I will show you your rooms”.
My best guess was that he was at least seventy years old, maybe more. As I followed him upstairs, he held his hand against the wall for support, and appeared frail.
I was wondering what he might be afraid of.