There is death in the alley ways.
Night is your friend.
Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.
November in the Province was wet and cold. The mists and slow, slight and pessimistic rain came off of the Gulf Stream fed Atlantic and swept across the city of Belfast. It didn’t really look like rain, just a sheen of grey drifting through the streets.
The streets had been built during the ship building and trading boom years of the early twentieth century. They were the close together surgically straight streets of Victorian red brick industry. The sort of housing that had sprung up all across the north of England in the industrial heartlands of Manchester, Wakefield, Liverpool. Just as their heavy industry and trade had died out in the Thatcher era so did that of Belfast. The huge gantries of Harland and Wolff stood as mute witness to the city’s decline. The “troubles” had fed on this decay and from the frustrations of broken men rose the low intensity war that claimed the lives of so many innocents and less than innocents in the long years from 1969 to 1996.
As the 1980’s saw some growth start to appear in the other recession hit areas they neatly sidestepped the cold and divided streets of Belfast. Investment ignored the home of sectarian violence. The only growth industry in the old city was that of hate. Cancers grew from the fabric of the city and were there for all to see. Miles on miles of steel wall hypocritically called the Peace Wall gave visual representation to the division of the cultures. Police stations grew concrete outposts and sangars. Machine guns peeped from the sangar windows. Barbed wire curled around them in a halo of thorns. Slum clearances and modernisation of the housing estates had happened in the other stricken cities, but not here.
My recurrent dream is set in this wasteland. I dream it often. It has been twenty years now since I was there but still I close my eyes and the streets of Belfast are there waiting for me like a comfortable blanket I can just reach for the blanket and pull it up. When I was there I dreamed of being at home. When I went home I dreamed of being there. I didn’t fit anymore. I didn’t know where I belonged. I felt guilty because I enjoyed it. I savoured the opportunity to pull the trigger; to fight.
I dream that I am on patrol in the streets of Belfast with my team. We work through the cold drizzle of rain into the dark. There is shadow in the alleyways. The dark is our friend. The terrorist sniper or machine gunner needs to see us to engage us. We would never see him. The bullets would strike, the blood would flow and the engagement would be over. The alleyways are too close to houses to use an Improvised Explosive Device against us. The terrorist doesn’t want to kill the sympathisers in these streets where he had grown up and played as a child. I feel some sort of safety in the darkness of the alleyway where the rubbish from the tipped bins litter the ground. Tipped by stray dogs and mangy foxes, they share this edgeland space with us. We are on the outside.
I am the commander of a four man team. I am the oldest, at twenty, in the team. We are boys playing a man’s game. But this is the way war is. The team works through the alley ways, the tension is huge. Every day we lose soldiers to the bullet or the bomb. For me they are not soldiers they are Paul or Jim or Smudger, I know them. For us they are not soldiers they are our mates. The next second it might be me. I might make a mistake and put my men at risk. I might lead them into a trap. It’s on me, I am the man.
One of the men in my team is Frank Burnley. He is a private soldier, nineteen years old. He is of limited intellect. Probably struggled in main stream education. Burnley was my problem. My unsaid mission was to get the team through the tour alive. Sometimes it seemed that Burnley would do all he could to make this impossible for me. Burnley picked shiny things up. Things like a pen, an army issue water bottle, a cassette or a dirty magazine discarded on some waste ground. We all knew that the terrorist would booby trap these things so one press of the pen button would blow his hand off, picking up the apparently discarded water bottle would cause the two pounds of plastic explosive to explode and kill everyone in a seventy yard radius. But he still did it.
In my dream we work up the alley way towards the junction with Springfield road, “The Big X” as we called it then. We crouch in the shadow of the alleyway before running into the harsh sodium glare of the notorious junction. Waiting to feel the hammer blow of the AK47 rounds. There had been so many shootings there in the past. Crossing the junction was to take your life in your hands.
We crouch. The team are looking to me to decide when to cross. We will wait until there is a car in the junction or even better a black taxi, the chosen front for terrorist money laundering. A car comes into the junction and I give a nod. Burnley and Matt get up from the shadows and sprint into the orange glare in to the amphitheater. As Matt passes me I can hear him hissing as he breathes, he explodes into the junction zig-zagging and crosses the junction jumping behind a low wall at the other side. Burnley’s token effort of a sprint is slow and lazy. He runs straight into the junction and crosses to a garden nearby besides a pelican crossing.
It is time for me and my front man, Bart. I feel my heart pounding. The shooter knows there are two more to come. The safety of the car has gone. I get up from the Belfast squat and power in to the light. As I hit the junction I see Burnley at the pelican crossing box fixed to the lamp post. I see his outstretched hand as he reaches towards the button to change the lights. My dream vision slows down and I can see the stitching on his issue leather glove in infinite detail. I can see the grain of the leather as his forefinger extends. I try to shout but my brain is working faster than my body can. I watch him push the grey plastic button in to its chrome plated surround. I almost sense the current running into the detonator and the flash building into the semtex. I see the steel box burst as the device fully detonates, the steel stretches, distorts and rips like a popping paper bag. The explosion grows and spreads the instant long white flash takes seconds and I can see Burnley being hit by the explosion and the flesh and skin being stripped into molecules mixed with the molecules of his uniform. I see the pieces of shit covered shrapnel tearing through the air before they reach the other men, they move slowly spinning over and over in the air. The shiny pieces of steel, selected for their uneven shapes – more damaging, move slowly through the still Belfast night smashing the droplets of falling rain into tiny sparkling rainbows on their way to smash into the flesh of my team.
This is how it ends. I wake from this. Always at this point. It never changes. I never dream about the terrorist that I shot. I never dream about the explosion that smashed my ankle and shoulder and shaped the rest of my life.
The whole concept of making a living from writing seems really alien to me. I spent years in the army then years in the police. My working life had been very different then to now. But it seems to be working out very well. The time off with my ankle turned out to be the time I needed to get writing. Now we are here living, very comfortably, on the proceeds of the book and working hard to finish the next one. It has meant that I am able to afford the one thing that I have always wanted. Some land of my own. My own small farm. Woodland I manage. I have worked on building up the numbers of the deer on the land. I planted trees and bushes that attracted the deer onto the land.
It was time to go into the woods and try to harvest a deer. The pigs that Jan wanted to put on were right beside the meadow I had cut to attract the bucks. I would get myself in position above the meadow and sit and watch. As first light dawned I would be ready.
This has become ritualistic for me. I opened the gun cabinet. First the top lock, then the bottom lock. Slowly, anti-clockwise, feeling the mechanisms click. When I reach in, without looking, the barrel of the rifle falls to my hand. I feel the cold stainless steel of the barrel in the web of my hand. I slowly and easily take the rifle out of the cabinet and walk through to the hall way placing the rifle carefully on the dining room table. I return to the hallway and go for part two of the ritual. The small safe has a combination lock to it. I punch in the numbers and the door swings open. I reach inside and remove the bolt of the rifle and a small pouch containing seven rounds of ammunition. I know there are seven rounds in the pouch because I counted them when I put the pouch away. The rounds are .30-06 Springfield. They are three and a quarter inches long, brass with a copper plated bullet. The bullet weighs one hundred and seventy grains. Made by RWS in Germany for hunting large game these bullets leave the rifle at two thousand eight hundred and fifty feet per second. On impact they expand as they pass through the game. Designed to expand to a perfect mushroom shape doubling their frontal energy and dumping energy on the quarry. The killing power of these rounds is phenomenal. More powerful than a snipers rifle.
I placed the bolt in the action of the rifle. The rifle is custom made with a twenty two inch fluted barrel, custom trigger but at the heart of the rifle is a Mauser action made in 1930 in Belgium. I know all of this because I put the rifle together and built it. I know that this rifle can place a bullet in an inch circle at two hundred yards every time. The affinity I feel with this steel wonder of engineering is like one of a lover.
On top of this rifle is a Schmidt and Bender six by forty two. It is equipped with the best glass that Europe can produce. Superb light transmission in low light making this the ideal tool for deer hunting.
This part of the routine is done. I picked up my hunting bag and put it over my shoulder. Once I used to wear the latest realistic scrub clothing. Not any more, I slip on my fleece, pick up my binoculars, rifle and ammunition and head towards the woods.
The transition into a hunting mode is quick. Light is starting to form in the East and the softening of the darkness is all around me. I start to look between the trees, as I get into the trees I am looking for any movement. The twitch of the ear, the flat line of the bucks back, the gap under his belly. My movements become slow and precise, each move calculated. It is important to move into the wind. The buck’s most acute senses are his smell and hearing. He can hear much better than I can, he can detect the sounds of animals and differentiate between me and the dog, even the fox and the dog. He can smell me and he knows my smell. He has smelled me as I come and go through his woods. He will know when I am hunting. I move differently and I even release different pheromones I smell different to him.
The light gathers and the grainy greyness starts to give way to water washed pale colours and detail.
As I walk through the woods along the path my awareness is heightened and I enter his world. On the mud in front of me on the path I see his hoof prints, I have seen them before. I know he has a deformity to his right rear leg, I know this because there are two little dimples in the mud where his two smaller hoofs touch the ground. This is not visible from his right rear leg. Subsequently he will have a deformity to his left antler, maybe an extra point, maybe one less point.
I use my binoculars and scan the wood every few yards. My breathing is measured and calm. My heart rate is slow and relaxed. I am looking for any twitch any tell-tale sign of movement. The binoculars amplify the light and give everything depth and colour.
I scan down to the lawn I had cut. Maybe he will be down there. I had planted raspberry canes in the hedge near to the lawn. Looking further into the trees around the lawn I can see movement. It is like a whisp in the gathering light.
At first it is just a movement of behind a tree. Just slipped out of sight behind a thick oak tree. I study the area carefully from the vantage point a little higher in the woodland. A large tree stump in front of me. I put the rifle on the stump and watch the area through the scope. The light gathering abilities of the scope allow me far better vision than the naked eye can give me. I am waiting for the buck to reappear, one hundred and fifty yards to the last sight of the movement. The vantage point is quite a lot higher than the target. I will need to shoot an inch lower to make up for the trajectory change.
In my mind I am going through all of the variations in shot presentation. Should it present broadside I would aim half way up the body in lie with the front leg. I could picture the path of the bullet in my mind’s eye. The impact, the line in through the ribs, through the heart and exiting low on the chest on the other side. The temporary wound channel; the cavity torn open and slammed shut by the bullets energy, shockwave and then vacuum, would include the heart and lungs. He would be dead before hitting the ground. To me it looks like a long straight rod through the deer. Maybe Atlas joint where the neck joins the head. The atlas joint is clean and leaves no damage to the carcass for the venison preparation but needs to be from a solid base to an unmoving target. The bullet would smash through the joint, the spinal cord cut within an instant. Death, again is instant.
Movement, again. Back onto the scope. Away from the calculations. All eventualities have now been mentally rehearsed and prepared for. Steady the breathing. Bring the heart rate down. Now it will be a simple choice of what shot I am going to take, slow the breathing. Consciously slow the heart. The second that a clear shot presents itself the safety catch will be slipped off with my left hand to so my grip is not disturbed. The action of the rifle will strain against the sear of the trigger. The pad of my right forefinger will feel the deep grooves on the Timney, custom trigger. My breathing will stop half way out of a breath and I will gently squeeze the trigger. The rifle will fire. The bullet will take one fifth of a second to cover the one hundred and fifty yards.
Movement again. My left hand comes up to take the safety catch off. It’s not him. It is a person. I lift my head from the scope. I watch him through my binos. I recognised his languid easy movement as Janus. I don’t know what he is doing. He walks slowly across the ground looks like he is watching something on the ground. There is a patch of big red topped toadstools there. He approaches them and kicks something on the floor. I can’t see what it is from where I am. It looks like he is looking for something.
As soon as he appeared he walks back across towards the river and back towards his land. I put the covers back on the scope. I check the safety catch on the rifle and as the sun starts to rise and its light is painted on the hills from their peaks as it rises over the horizon.
I watched Janus go back across the river and onto his land. He walked into his yard and out of sight.
I poured myself a coffee whilst I sat and waited. The ten minutes I gave him to get inside and make a coffee to be sure he was not going to come back out dragged like hours. This might be the answer to the enigmatic Janus Mason.
I kicked the ground where he had. There was something there. I crouched down and looked closely. Rubbed the soil away with my fingertips. With the soil a small hard thing came away. The small almond shaped object was red and flat. I struggled to see what it was in my hand. I held it up to the now broad daylight and with a shudder it dawned on me that what I was holding was a fingernail. It was painted in a scarlet gloss. I became aware of the smell of decomposition. I scraped a little more soil to one side and uncovered the rest of a hand. The soil clung to the wet decomposition. Skin peeled away like old gloss paint peeling from a long derelict wall. The flesh was black. The smell was cloying and heavy now I had uncovered its source.
"Jesus, really?" She put down her precious mug of tea and looked me straight in the eye.
"Yeah, I knew the bloke was odd, but this is a surprise" I replied. Fleur had been horrified when I told her what I had found in the woods.
“Is it a surprise, really, you thought they were odd the first night we met them for drinks” She asked.
“Well I thought that roses were a bit in appropriate… I didn’t think than makes him a murderer” I replied. Somehow the humour crept into what I was saying.
"Should we tell the police?" She asked.
"I don’t know, let’s give it a day or so and think about it. The last thing that we want is them dragging all over our house they will think it was us. It’s on our land”
"Don’t call her it. She was someone’s daughter or mum. I wonder who she was?"
"I don't suppose we will ever know, I hope she doesn't have someone waiting for her to come home"
"I am a bit scared now, what if it us next?"
"I don't think he is going to do that. He is a clever bloke, I don't see him shitting on his own door step" I tried to reassure her. I was not so sure. There seemed to have been a change in his personality over the last couple of weeks. I was already thinking that he had become over familiar with Fleur and I didn't like it.
I would have to step up my security. I know how clever he is. How could I deal with him as a threat? Should I even consider him as a threat?
I know he has killed before, I suspect he is watching either Fleur or me, he has changed in the last week and is less stable than before. He was a real threat to us. I am confident in my own skills to protect us at any time. But we are not always going to be together. I might not be able to protect us if he chooses to strike whilst I am out training or something. I could neutralise him as a threat straight away- and go to gaol for murder. No, that’s not an option.
"I think that we need to be a bit careful of Janus." I tried to sound calm and off hand.
"Is he going to come for us?" She was scared.
From my pocket I produced a small folding knife. Its three inch stainless blade was sharp enough to shave with. The lock worked with one hand. The aluminum handle with its soft rubber inserts felt solid and reassuring.
“I want you to have this in your pocket”
“What? You are worried he is coming for us!” She said slowly, sounding every syllable.
“No I don’t think so, but still…” I tried to reassure her.
“Really Pol, is he going to get us?”
"I don't think he will, and, he would have to get past me first"
"My hero!" We both laughed and I got up for and poured a coffee. The joke had nicely broken down the tense atmosphere.
5th June 2011
Janus: Hi mate how are you?
Me: Alright working hard
Janus: working? You mean sitting on your arse and writing LOL
Me: That’s right.
Janus: would you two like to come for a glass or three of wine tonight?
Me: no thanks. Too busy maybe another time
Janus; No worries
I showed the conversation to Fleur. She read through the messages on my phone. Then read through them again and again.
“Pol, we will be alright won’t we?”
“I think so” I replied.
6th June 2011
I don’t know what his game is. I went out training today and whilst I was out he came to the house. When I got back Fleur was distraught.
The door was locked. I banged on the door and shouted.
“Fleur, it’s me, let me in!”
The door was unlocked and unbolted. It was the first time the bolts had been used in the time we had lived in the house. She leapt into my arms. She was wracked with powerful sobs. She pulled me into the house and shut the door behind me, she shut and locked it.
“He was here, he was here, I was so scared I thought he was coming for me. I didn’t know what to do.” She sobbed against my chest.
“Oh my god what happened?”
When you were training he came her. He tried to get me to go in the house with him. He was here. That man was here he came to our house”
She told me the story, Told me how he had appeared whilst I had popped out on my bike. How he must have been watching and waiting for me to go out of the house before he had come here when he realised it was safe to do so. I feared he had gone there to kill her but hadn’t been able to get into the house. He daren’t do it outside in case I had been watching him.
“Let me get cleaned up and we can talk about it. We will make a plan and deal with him”
“Yeah ok, can I come in the shower with you?”
“Of course you can sweetie”
“I just want to be close to you all of the time” She said in a lost, timid voice that felt too small for her personality.
We went together to the bathroom when my phone vibrated.
Janus: “Hello mate do you fancy some training tomorrow?”
I made no reply.
Half an hour later Janus: “Running in the morning mate?”
Me: “sorry mate, too busy with this writing”
I looked at Fleur, we had no secrets, she was looking to me for the answers to this. She said “Is it him?”
“Yes, it is” I replied in a calm and measured way. I wanted my confidence to infect her.
“What are we going to do?”
“I am going to neutralise him.” I was starting to build the plan. The man would be no threat to us by this time tomorrow. His killing days would be over. As I wished mine were.
We had finished in the shower and I sat in the bedroom, I was naked and red from the hot water. I put my left foot on the chair near the dressing table and checked it. It was another of my rituals, this one was from the army. Fleur sat on the side of the bed in her dressing gown and with a towel on her head. I checked every toe nail and every gap between my toes, I checked for cracks and dead skin. I shook talc over my foot and rubbed the talc down between each toe in turn.
“What do you mean, Pol? What is neutralising?”
“I am going to stop him being a threat to us.”
“Well I am not going to politely ask him to go away” I said simply.
“Are you going to… kill him?” She asked looking at me. Searching my eyes for an answer that she would like.
We talked about how the plan could work and how we would make sure that there was no trace of Janus.
“What about Ivy?”
“I don’t think she will go to the police” I replied.
“Well if they get involved they will crawl all over her and all over everywhere they have ever been. They will find out about him, they will find out about her. She will go to prison”
“Fuck, Pol, That’s a long shot.”
“Not really, only about two hundred yards” I laughed at my joke. She didn’t. The pressure was building on her.
“Pol, can I be with you?”
“No, not for this” I said firmly.
“I want to know where you are all the time”
I was surprised at how many apps for a smart phone that allowed them to be located by GPS. Both of us installed an app called Find R Phone. This allowed our phones to be traced.
“We have to keep our phones on us at all times” I spoke to her softly and calmly.
I slept easily and soundly.
7th June 2011
Fleur had not slept, her eyes were bloodshot she was exhausted.
“Do you want a coffee?” She asked.
“That would be nice, flower”
She made her way downstairs. I lay in bed and studied the uneven plaster and beams of the ceiling of the seventeenth century farm house. There were a few very fine cracks in the plaster radiating from the light fitting rose. I thought that we would be able to deal with these cracks by painting over them with some of the thicker acrylic paints that are available. Matching the colour would be difficult. I would probably have to paint all of the ceiling.
Fleur came back with the coffee.
“Hey, sweetie, that coffee smells good”
“Thanks, I am going to cook some breakfast.”
“Yeah that sounds really good, I have a long day ahead of me and I will be starving if I don’t eat now”
“Lincolnshire sausages, black pudding, eggs, bacon, beans and toast” She said.
“Great, no black pudding though, it will make me want a shit and I won’t be able to move”
“What! You are about to spend the day in the woods and kill a man and you are worried about what you are having for breakfast. For fuck sake Pol, what is wrong with you?” Fleur was really angry with me and I couldn’t understand why she should be this way. To me if you are going to do a job then you need to do it right.
“Nothing, I just need to get this right”
“I can’t believe you are so matter of fact about this. Like some sort of a machine.”
“Anyway let’s get on with this,” I said to her as I got up and walked to my drawers. She went downstairs as I extended my ritual to getting dressed. I chose every item for today’s task. Socks, boxer shorts, T-shirt and trousers. Camouflage today. Not my normal hunting gear. The quarry today does not rely on smell and sound he relies on vision. The old combat trousers with standard British army issue camouflage would be ideal. The dark colours suited to the dense woodland and deep shadows that I would be walking into that afternoon in the wooded valley.
Breakfast past quietly. We didn’t speak much. Fleur told me she needed to go into town to pick up a few bits. I told her that she needed to continue her day in the same way as if I was tied to the computer writing. She was a little nervous of being apart but after a few minutes of messing about with the mobile phone trackers she felt a little more comfortable.
Breakfast was over and it was time. No more coffee, just the one cup. I went to the gun cabinet and got the rifle out. I went through the rituals that seem so important to me whilst I did my preparation.
I found a tub of camouflage cream that had been in the kid’s cadet stuff for years and slowly looked into the mirror as I applied the different colours to my face. Darker colours on my cheek bones and nose. The more prominent areas flattened out by painting shadows onto my face. The paler colours around the eyes and hollows of the cheeks. Vertical lines on my neck of light and dark to simulate the growing plants in the woodland. I reached for my old combat smock from the cupboard and put on my bush hat.
All of this time Fleur had stood watching me. She had studied my movements in the mirror as I had put on the make-up. She watched me put on my jacket and bush hat. She had studied me as I had counted my seven rounds in the pouch and worked the action of the rifle. No one had seen me do this type of preparation. This was for something that was personal and secret, I had let her see it and invited her into this inner sanctum.
It was shortly after eight when I left the house. I went out of the back door. I know it is screen from the valley by the house. There was an open field to cross to the top of the woods. The remnants of ancient wall ran across the field like a welt under its thin skin of grass just a foot higher than the surrounding ground but allowing me to crawl on my belly to the top of the woods. When I have walked across the field the two hundred yards seem to pass very quickly. Crawling tight against it using my elbows and knees and keeping y profile lower than the crest of the wall was altogether a more stern challenge and after just a few minutes my knees were sore, my elbows hurt and my lower back was objecting in the strongest possible terms. My hot sweat was running down my nose and dripping into my eyes from my eyebrows running into my mouth. I stopped several times for a break but I knew needed to get into position and get ready. If I was to protect us then there was a price that I had to pay. This price was cheap. Not as expensive as the price that Janus would soon be paying.
The wood line could not come quick enough and it was with great relief that I pulled myself on to my feet and started to work my way through the wood. The human eye is very sensitive to certain things. One of those things is movement. There are ways that you can minimise the way that the eye can pick out that movement when trying to move through woods. I moved stealthily and quietly. My movements were slow, between each footstep I breathed and checked between the trees all around with my binoculars. Each footstep was a deliberate act. I looked at the ground where each foot would fall before I lifter the foot. There was no overreaching, each step precisely landing where I planned, rolled down from heal to toe in silence. Any resistance could be felt through my foot and checked. All noise was avoided. I made no side to side movement with my shoulders as I moved on. That lateral movement would be seen far easier than the linear directional movement I made.
I could see the slots in the ground on the paths that had been made by my buck in the woods as I travelled, ghost like, through his world. The silence of my movements allowed birds to continue to sing and fly between the branches of the trees as if I wasn’t there.
I was getting close to my vantage point now. Just another few minutes and would be in position. I needed to be able to see clearly the food trough in the pig pen that Janus had put in the woods. Checking through the binoculars every few steps. I saw that the pigs had not been fed. There was no sign of food in or around their trough and they were looking in the direction of the house. I guessed they would make an excellent early warning device. Their acute ears would hear Janus pour their food from the sack and into a bucket. As soon as they heard that they would squeal. That would give me sufficient time to get myself ready and turn off the safety catch, open the scope covers.
The small piece of flat ground on the sloping hill side was ideal. Once I was on that and in position all that would be visible would be the front of the rifle, my camouflaged face in the shadow of the brim of the bush hat. My body would be hidden by the angles. I lay myself down and pushed a small ridge of leaves to the front of my position. The rifle lay easily on the bipod. My binoculars were on the ledge beside me. A piece of clack netting over the lenses to eliminate any shine or reflection. A round was in the chamber. I checked the range to the pig pen using the laser range finder. I was two hundred and seventeen yards from the trough.
I took out my mobile phone and opened the ballistics app. I inputted the two hundred and seventeen yards and the computation was that I should aim five point three inches high. At this range I would go for his heart and lungs. I would place the horizontal crosshair across his shoulders and the vertical cross hair down the center of his chest. It didn’t matter if he twitched and kicked for a second. The pigs would soon stop that. He would fall on the spot and they would get their food. They would clear him away to nothing. They would even eat the clothes he stood in. Their stomach acids would probably digest the metal of his zips and eyelets of his boots if he was wearing them. If he was in rubber wellies the pigs would eat them too. Nothing would be left. The pigs would complete the process.
I could see his house and the route he would take to the pigs. I would see when he crossed the river and came into my woods, into my world and into the reticule of my scope. The shot was rehearsed over and over mentally and I was fully prepared. Now was just a waiting game. He would not be long now. The pigs were restless and hungry. Pacing up and down the enclosure. The ground in their enclosure had, by now, been thoroughly turned over. It looked like the pigs had dug up the corpse and disposed of it. They would soon have another to do.
Occasionally I could see a movement on the road. The road to town was half a mile from my eyrie. The traffic was sparse and I tried hard not to let the distraction of the car traveling along the road take my attention from the task at hand. It was important I stayed in the zone and continued to mentally prepare myself with the rehearsals and the breathing exercises.
Movement. Near the river. I had looked away. Just for a second. At the road. The movement was in the woods. It was between me and the pigs but off to my left. I could not immediately turn to look. I had seen just a flash of movement in my peripheral vision. Enough to jolt me back into the moment at hand.
I moved to my rifle. The movements were slow. It took me minutes to get the rifle into position just about six inches from where it had been. Gradually I bought the binos to my eyes. I couldn’t see what had made the movement. There was a stand of hazel down on the wetter ground. He must have been behind the branches invisible to me. I knew he would reappear in a second and I would have my chance seconds later. I was in a position to allow me to follow him with the rifle to the pen and take the shot once he was in with the pigs. One shot would crash out in the woods and the threat removed. He would cease to exist. Neutralised.
I saw him. He didn’t fit my target profile. The head of the buck emerged from behind the hazel thicket as he moved forwards. I watched him through my binoculars as he stepped forward. His nose near the ground as he browsed on the tips of the bramble and weeds on the ground. His wet nose was black and shiny outlined with white patches against his beautiful chestnut coat. His full head emerged, His antlers were not a classic six point antlers of a roe buck. His left antler had an extra tine. This confirmed this was my buck, my buck with the deformed rear leg. He was a mature animal with heavy pearling and starting to grey near the eyes. He might have been the dominant buck here for years. His right ear twitched and moved backwards and forwards as he shook a fly from it. All the time his nostril flared and his ears moved scanning for danger, for a scent that might put him on guard. It would take just a hint of scent on the woodland air to send him silently running through the woods.
I looked away from him concentrating on the watching for my target. Watching for movement from the house. Watching the pigs, listening to them for any indication that he was on his way.
I had been laying out for some time now. I didn’t look at my watch but the sun was high and it was getting warmer. I was very thirsty and my fingers had started to swell with dehydration. I knew I was still very well capable of carrying out my task.
The buck had grazed and browsed his way up the wind and was now only yards away. I could see the injury to his leg. Maybe an old injury from jumping a fence. A white scar down the front of his leg.
The engine sound cane from the direction of my house. I recognised the sound of the diesel landrover. Fleur must be going out. I knew I would see her travelling down the road in a few seconds. Sure enough I saw the car starting its way down the road towards the town.
Movement again. A long way off, near the road. I looked with my binos and saw a figure in the hedge line by the road. I watched intrigued by the sudden appearance of the figure as he stood in the road and then lay down in the center. I recognised the economy of movement and with instant despair knew it was Janus.
I watched the drama unfold in front of my eyes. I was powerless to intervene and stop what I could see happening. The Freelander drove steadily along towards its fate driven by my wife. As it rounded the bend before Janus in the road it came to a stop.
“Don’t get out of the car”
“Stay in the car.”
She did stop, she did get out of the car. Of course she did. She is a good person she would always look after someone who she thought was injured.
I watched through the binos unable to reach out to her.