1 – The Interloper
Gordon Petrie liked his small town existence. As a solicitor he held a position of prominence in the community, was well known by everyone and, for the most part, respected. He was generally happy with the decisions he’d made in life and was glad he hadn’t gone to work for a city law firm. He liked being a big fish in a small pond.
Gordon’s principal client was Roy Cooper. He was usually described as a businessman but it was a generous title. He had a finger in many local pies but some of those pies had been made using controversial recipes.
Gordon met Roy for lunch every Thursday in The Old Ford Inn – An attractive country pub where the food was of a considerably lower standard than the décor would suggest. The pair always sat at the same round table, to the right of the main door under a hunting print.
Their meetings were ostensibly to discuss business but they tended to skirt work-related issues, dwelling on topics they thought to hold greater import. Both men considered themselves intellectual but anyone with a modicum of academic ability would have quickly identified they were by no means as clever as they thought.
This Thursday was apparently the same as any other. Roy had already told Gordon of his desire to acquire some land adjacent to workshops he owned to the south of town and had ordered lasagne. Gordon had listened to Roy’s plans for gaining this land and had mentally noted they were not legal. He changed the subject and began to clumsily tackle something else. The pub was seemingly empty and his words were at a volume that would have been unsuitable if anybody else had been present.
“I believe, Roy, you share my convictions with regards the NHS.”
“I think so Gordon. Scrap it you say?”
“Yes indeed Roy. It’s a lumbering oaf of an organisation that inhales money and provides ever-decreasing levels of service.”
“In my younger days when I had more socialist views I may have had some vague thoughts that it was a good system.” Said Roy. “But when my mother died I lost any sort of faith. If she’d been in a private hospital she’d be alive today”
At that point something very unexpected happened. From a table in a darkened corner, where both men would have sworn nobody was sitting, rose a figure. It was a man, but rather an odd looking one. Over six feet tall, he moved across the room towards the men in an awkward and intimidating manner. He was skinny to the point of appearing unhealthy; his face was drawn and gaunt though his eyes sparkled lucid blue as if he was wearing coloured contact lenses. He wore a long black leather coat covering black, skin-tight jeans and a red woollen sweater. On his head rested a black beret over jet-black hair. He looked about 40 years old.
“Yes your mother died a most unfortunate death.” Said the stranger.
“Excuse me?” Roy was taken aback.
The stranger re-adjusted his beret and straightened his back, apparently gaining at least another three inches in height.
“My apologies for the intervention gentleman, I certainly didn’t mean to shock you. You see I’m a visitor to town and had been enjoying a small glass of wine in the corner when you came in. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversations and opinions. Many of which are most informed I must say.”
Roy was clearly pleased with the stranger’s compliment but had not forgotten the interloper’s opening gambit.
“Right, right. Whatever. But what could you know of my mother?”
The stranger turned his head away for a second, evidently agitated, then brought it back to face the confused pair. With much creaking and cracking he lowered himself into a crouching position. He positioned his mouth inappropriately close to Roy’s ear.
“She was admitted to hospital suffering from kidney stones.” The stranger spoke in a grainy voice almost as if it was coming from a slightly tuned-out radio. Gordon couldn’t place the accent. He certainly wasn’t British. Maybe a well-educated Pole he reasoned. “It should have been routine but her charts were muddled and she was given the wrong drugs. She received penicillin but was allergic to it. The dose was administered late in the evening and by the time the doctor on ward rounds noticed the mistake it was too late. Oh dear, such a shame.”
“So you’re a doctor and you must have worked on her ward,” said Roy.
The stranger looked offended.
“I most certainly am no doctor,” he snapped. “I am, you could say, an overseer. I fill a number of different roles.”
Roy was becoming distressed.
“So you’re a coroner or work in the general register office?” He asked.
“No and no.” The stranger chuckled. Roy’s anxiety was clearly amusing him.
“You’re insane, that’s what you are. Leave us alone,” said Gordon. The stranger rose back to his feet.
“Yes, maybe I’m insane,” he said. “Or perhaps I’m the only source of sanity in the entire universe. Humans quantify sanity on a very narrow set of criteria, who or what is to say they have made their judgements accurately?” “I, for one, see the merits in the human view of insanity. It ensures a certain equilibrium is maintained.” As he spoke the stranger’s voice grew louder and deeper and he seemed to grow another couple of inches taller. He was towering over them and his face seemed to be lit up, though no lamps were pointed in his direction. The unfortunate pair had never seen such a man.
“As an overseer, one of my roles is to ensure an equilibrium is maintained.” He continued. “As such, I monitor deaths very closely. I could tell you, for instance, how you will die.” The stranger was staring down at Roy.
”No you couldn’t and I would very much appreciate it if you left us alone now please,” Roy pleaded.
Gordon noticed a flash across the stranger’s vivid eyes. He was hoping desperately that Graeme the barman would re-appear but there seemed to be no sign of him.
All of a sudden the interloper smiled and the aggression in his features eased. He reached over to an adjacent table and grabbed a chair pulling it up to the table where Roy and Gordon sat.
“Gentlemen, I am very sorry. I have had a long journey and am feeling tired, I speak out of turn.” He said. “Now. I’m staying in town for a few days and am in need of lodgings. Could either of you recommend a hostelry?”
Seeing an opportunity to get rid of this most unwanted table-mate Gordon spoke.
“Yes, The Strath Hotel on the square has comfortable and affordable rooms. It’s just a few minutes walk if you turn left out of the front door here.”
“I’m much obliged,” said the stranger. “I’ll go there forthwith.” The stranger stood and turned for the door. Roy and Gordon had to hold in sighs of relief. After taking a few steps the stranger turned back.
“Delighted to make your acquaintance.” He said. “No doubt we’ll bump into one another again at some point.”
I sincerely hope not thought Gordon.
“No, we definitely will,” said the stranger as if he’d heard Gordon’s inner monologue. “And Roy, that land you’re hoping to acquire. I have a feeling you just won’t have the guts to go through with it.” And with that, he left and the door slammed behind him.
“That encounter was most odd.” Said Roy in a stage whisper. “Who in hell was that chap and what in god’s name was he talking about.”
“I have no idea and frankly don’t care. I was on the verge of getting physical.” Gordon displayed that common male characteristic of extreme bravery after the moment for it has passed.
“Anyway let’s get out of here.” Roy had lost his appetite.
At that moment Graeme reappeared behind the bar.
“Where have you been?” Snapped Gordon in a tone that seemed rather unnecessary to the barman.
“Major issues in the basement,” replied Graeme. “I’ve never seen it before but all of a sudden the bungs on the un-opened barrels blew out, beer was spraying all over the place. It took me 15 minutes to get it under control. Very strange, never seen that before.”
Gordon hurriedly settled their bill and the bemused pair left the pub. It certainly hadn’t been their most enjoyable Thursday lunch meeting.
“Do you have a moment to go and look at this land?” Asked Roy as they made their way back towards their cars.
“I suppose I do.” Gordon was far too confused to think of a reasonable excuse as to why he couldn’t.
“We’ll take my car,” said Roy.
Gordon climbed into the passenger seat of the Nissan Patrol 4×4. It was the sort of motor that people who live in the countryside claim to need.
It wasn’t a long drive. Just over the river and down a dirt lane. Roy was clearly still perturbed as he was driving too fast. Even through the end of the 30mph zone he was doing nearly 60. They left the main road onto a dirt track and Roy showed no sign of slowing down.
Gordon recognised the vehicle was designed for off-road driving but this was a little much. Rattling over the rough surface, stones flew out from behind the machine’s huge tyres. The suspension was working overtime as they approached a hairpin bend right, still travelling at an excessive speed. A copse of trees meant it was impossible to see around the bend but Roy ploughed on. He swung the wheel as though competing in the Monte Carlo rally.
Unfortunately, around that bend travelling in the opposite direction was Georgie Bruce driving his tractor to collect some hay bales for his cows. The tool for carrying these bales was a huge, five pronged fork mounted to the front of the tractor pointing out at 90 degrees to the cab.
As Roy was driving too fast and the farmer wasn’t really paying attention, a collision was unavoidable. Roy threw his car to the left and George did the same with his tractor, but it was too late. There was a horrifying sound of crunching metal and smashing glass and Gordon’s head was thrown forwards.
Gordon got himself under control and looked right to assess the damage. What he saw was not pleasant. The two rightmost spikes on the tractor’s hay bale fork had smashed through the Nissan’s windscreen and had continued right on through Roy’s stomach. Roy was looking down at his predicament in disbelief.
“This is bad,” he said.
Each fork was some three inches wide and both had pierced him.
At that moment the farmer made an unfortunate decision. Evidently unaware of what had happened to Roy he attempted to reverse. Gordon shouted but wasn’t heard above the tractor’s engine. He attempted to open his door but it was wedged against the hedgerow on the edge of the track.
As the farmer began to move backwards he turned the wheel. This caused the spikes embedded in Roy’s body to wrench across his stomach ripping the skin. Roy let out a bloodcurdling scream before passing out. Gordon turned away as Roy’s midrift was torn apart, his intestines spilled out into his lap. Gordon, desperate to get out, clambered over to the back seats and jumped from the rear driver’s side door. He was immediately sick.
The farmer, now recognising something more serious than a mere prang had occurred got out of his cab and ran forwards. He opened the driver’s door to the Nissan and recoiled. But, he went back and felt for Roy’s pulse. There was none.
“He’s dead,” said Georgie.
Gordon wiped the vomit from the edge of his mouth and looked towards the farmer. As his eyes rose he could have sworn he saw a tall man in a leather jacket disappear into the woods behind the tractor.