Thursday 12 September 2013

Unknown Relative

After riding this slow train for twenty hours and looking out at barren land for the last ten, it finally pulled into what they called a station. Consisting of one small shack that looked like it would collapse if a wind came up.

A relative that I did not know had left me a farm that had not been touched or worked for over ten years. My second uncle was in his nineties when he passed and I was his last living relative. A solicitor had tracked me down, sent me estate papers and the deed, and arranged for me to be met when I arrived.

I was the only person to get off the train and there sat a young boy in a beat up car, slumped down in the seat sleeping. As I struggled with my suitcases, he finally jumped out and came towards me introducing himself as George, my neighbor. He looked no older than twelve. I asked him if he had a drivers license, shaking his head he stared with big brown eyes and asked why I was asking. Grinding the gears, he took off smiling as he turned the corner nearly hitting a fence post.

He was a chatterbox and never stopped talking for the rest of the trip. We came over a hill and all I could see were green fields with cattle grazing, groves of trees, then a rustic house and a large barn standing in the middle of the most beautiful area I had ever seen.

I had come for a look at what was mine, to decide for myself what to do with it all.

Apparently the boy and his family had looked after the livestock for my uncle for the last few years after he had a heart attack, the wife cooking for him and looking after him as best as she could. They were a large family of eight and they all worked their land according to George.

He hit the brakes the dust swirled everywhere. My clothes were full of dust as he had left the windows open in the car since leaving the station. He jumped out and took my suitcases dropping them on the porch as he opened the door and I had my first glimpse of the inside.

I was surprised at the neatness, George’s mom must have given it a good cleaning. I could smell furniture polish and the floors were shining. As I looked around and saw rays of daylight shining through cracks in the roof, I wondered if I could survive living here. My uncle who had spent his whole life here with his wife seemed to have made it a home. She had made cushions, blankets and trinkets throughout to make it homey. A picture of the two of them lingered on the fireplace, both smiling at each other enjoying their life here.

A little bit of a girl came running through the door, she had big brown eyes as well, her face had not grown into them yet. She was out of breath as if she had run a marathon. Collapsing on a chair, she smiled up at me, and I couldn't help smiling back as she introduced herself as Patsy, George’s younger sister. She told George to get home as his chores were not finished and she would help me settle. Patsy was a talker just like her brother, chatting non-stop as she opened the old frig pulling out a pitcher of lemonade and pouring us each a glass. This family had caringly prepared for my visit.

Patsy started to give me a running commentary of what had gone on in this small community in the past. I was sure she was not old enough to have been around when many of the things had happened that she talked about. Probably she had heard it from her older siblings at the dinner table. She told me her Mom was expecting me for dinner tonight at 6 o’clock and their place was just through the trees at the back of the property.

I heard a car coming down the driveway and Patsy, her face suddenly frozen in fear,  jumped up and said she had to get home and ran out the back door. A large robust man opened the car door, shifting his weight onto a cane as he started to walk towards the porch. He had big jowls and a scar down the length of his face. One eye was half-closed and a black and purple bruise had begun to color his cheek, I wondered what the other person looked like. He told me he had come to buy this farm, as he needed more grazing land for his cattle. He handed me a cheque. His hands were like sand paper as he thrust the paper into my hand. I was a little taken aback at his presumptions. He struck me right away as an arrogant man who always got his own way. I now knew why Patsy had been frightened of him. Had he intimidated her family as he was now trying to do to me?

I told him I had just arrived and had not even had time to look around and he could keep his money until I was ready to decide what I was going to do. As I handed the cheque back to him his face turned to a sneer, eyes boring into me as he looked me over from head to toe. This man looked dangerous and a chill ran down my spine. He turned, heading down my stairs and looked back and he told me he would be back for the deed to the land. Adding he never took no for an answer.

Later that evening, I lay in the strange bed and went over my day, my mind would not shut off and my stomach was still full from the delicious dinner with my new neighbors. How long I was here for I was not sure. The whole family was so hospitable and friendly and they made me feel like one of them. I found out the name of the man who had visited me that afternoon and all about him. His father and grandfather had owned acres of the surrounding land and kept buying up property when someone died or left for the bigger cities. 
They all had the same name, Frank Paton Willard, and were known for getting what they wanted, one way or another. Betty and Bill Murphy, the parents of the six siblings, let them ramble on about Frank until Betty said that was enough gossip for me for one night. They all laughed as I told them I was not one to be intimidated. Patsy and George walked me home and Patsy held my hand the whole way. I had made some good friends today.

Did I need this drama in my life? I could live very comfortable in a warm climate by the sea with this money from the farm and the cash in the bank. Maybe I should take Frank Junior’s offer.

I lay looking out my bedroom window into the darkness, I had never seen so many bright stars in the sky as the moon came into view.  I heard barking in the distance and then awhile later a sound like something on the porch, a scraping then nothing. Some animal doing his rounds I thought.   
Finally fell into a deep sleep. 
I awoke with the sun shinning brightly onto my face, feeling so relaxed even on this old mattress full of lumps, I pushed myself up and went to make some coffee, opening the front door I could see a sack lying near the stairs.

Someone had been here and left me something.                                                             

A dead coyote inside the sack! With a scribbled note saying for me to enjoy, there would be more treats for me soon. I felt a wave of dread pass through me. I was sure Frank Paton Willard Jr. had started his intimidation; but he did not know who he was starting trouble with. 
I had finished burying the sack out back when I heard Patsy calling. She had a plate with still warm scones smothered with homemade jam. We sat with coffee, each savoring our breakfast. With those big brown eyes, she asked if I thought I would come and live here on the farm. I told her I would be here for a while until I made up my mind what to do. She gave me a wide smile, saying I would surely love it here.

I was going into town to buy groceries and asked if she would be allowed to come with me? She was up running towards home to ask before I finished my coffee. I had trouble getting my uncle’s old car started and Patsy showed me how to put a bit of gas in the carburetor and we were off. People on farms seem to know how to do things, even at an early age. There were no windows and she explained that someone had broken them shortly after my uncle had refused to sell his land to Frank Senior.

As we arrived in town, we started picking up everything I thought I needed. A few people stopped to say hello and Patsy introduced them along the way. Everyone welcomed me mentioning how fond of my uncle they all had been. Filling up the back seat and trunk with all the groceries and picking out a few special items, we were off.

As we pulled up to the house Patsy’s oldest brother Mike was waiting and helped us unload the car. He shooed Patsy home to help her mom. 
He looked very serious as he took a rifle out from under the porch and asked if I knew how to use one. If not he would show me. Laughing I told him I grew up duck hunting with my dad. And I had found my Uncle’s oak walking stick that looked like he had carved it himself. I assured Mike I could look after myself. He seemed to relax and explained about the Willard family and how dangerous they could be if they did not get their way.

Frank Jr. had been in a brawl at the local pub, and a couple of men had jumped him when he left alone and beat him up. Frank had tried to get a girl into his car and her father had come after him. That was why he was walking with a cane and had black eyes.

I told him what had been on my porch that morning, and asserted that I could look after myself again. He told me to be careful and gave me his cell number and to call anytime day or night. Warning me to keep the rifle loaded at night. 
After Mike left I walked the property, liking what I saw. The green hills, the copses of trees, the peacefulness and the fresh air. It had great potential and with the money that my uncle had left me I had the finances to bring this land back to what it once was, that is if I was going to settle here. I did not know a thing about farming, but I was sure I could learn with the help from the Murphys. 

I baked two pies and headed over to their house, bringing Patsy and George the small gifts that I had bought in town. Patsy was thrilled with her necklace of a heart and George smiled as he opened his Swiss army knife. Betty asked me to join them for lemonade and pie. But I told her I had a few things to do back at the farm and set off through the trees, the sun was high in the sky and very warm as I made my way back. It was becoming a contented feeling.

I heard a rustle in the bushes ahead,  saw two figures coming from the direction of my farm. I did not recognize either as I drew closer. They both stopped, blocking the path. I looked them in the eyes and said did your mothers not teach you any manners? As I sidestepped them, I felt a hand on my hip.
I turned with my walking stick and aimed for his knee, hitting hard. All I heard was a groan as I continued on my way. I could hear one say that women needs a good lesson on how to behave around men.

Reaching my steps, there lay another sack, this one had blood oozing onto the porch. Going and getting a shovel, I took it out back getting angrier as I dug another hole. This was not going to keep happening. I would not be threatened to sell this land.  It was now my land.

Loading the rifle, I set it beside the front door. I made a pot of soup to simmer on the stove as I poured a glass of wine and stepped out on the porch. The same car that had come yesterday was driving up the road, with two men inside this time. An older man that looked like Frank Sr. got out and came towards me. 
He had a smile, Frank Jr. a scowl. He introduced himself and hoped that we could make a deal on the farm price. I told him it was not for sale, and to tell his son to stop dropping off dead animals on my property, or he might end up walking with two canes. They both looked surprised and Senior started to try to placate me saying they would never do anything like that.

I told them they were on private land and not welcome and to leave, both their faces were in shock, guess they were not used to women telling them off. Senior turned first to go and Junior muttered I would regret talking to his father that way and limped off.

Later that evening I heard an explosive bang, being disoriented for a bit, then realizing, where I was I jumped out of bed and ran to the window. I could see two figures running away from the barn. Flames were billowing out from under the doors, they were burning down my barn!  After calling the fire department, I grabbed my rifle taking off in the direction of the two. I caught up as they were jumping into a truck and fired, taking out the front tire and hitting one of the men in the leg. He went down screaming, as I kicked him where I had hit him. The other went to grab me as I lifted the rifle. He backed off when he realized my determination. This was now personal to me.

As I led them back with them cussing all the way, the fire department had put out the fire and Mike and his brothers were standing there talking to the police. I told them what happened, the two denying everything, but the smell of gasoline on their hands and boots nailed them. The police took them away in handcuffs and they were recognized as two of Willard’s employees. 
At that moment my mind was made up, I was staying.

For the next few weeks, all was calm. I hired the Murphy boys to rebuild the barn and was starting to get into a routine, going to auction and with the help from Mike had started bidding on some livestock. He was counseling me on what to look for and how to do it. I was becoming a farmer without even realizing how much I was enjoying the simple life. Mike was getting to be a regular visitor and we shared a glass of wine most nights and talked about life.

My bubble burst one night when I had gone to bed early. I heard someone jimmying my back door. I slowly slid out of bed shaking and trying not to make a sound. Someone was coming into my house.  As I pointed the rifle towards the noise, my bedroom door opened and there stood Frank Jr. with a rope dangling from his hand. Shock on his face as I cocked my weapon straight at him. 
He came rushing towards me flinging the rope in my face, it caught the barrel and the rifle fell to the ground as he hit me hard pushing me down on the bed. His face turned to rage as he hit me again. Pulled at my nightgown and it started to rip, this animal was going to rape me. I bunched my fist and hit him as hard as I possibly could in his bad eye, he yelped, slacking his hold on me. I twisted around and aimed a hard kick to his groin with the heel of my foot, rolled off the bed as he slumped over giving me time to grab my rifle. 
A loud bang exploded in my ears as Frank fell to the floor, blood flowing onto the rug. I must have hit an artery.

I dialed Mike then the ambulance. Mike arrived in a rush and I told him what happened before the police arrived. He said Frank would be spending time in jail this time.

As they loaded him into the ambulance, I whispered in his ear, “Next time you die, and tell your Daddy he will too, nobody harasses me and gets away with it.”

His eyes glowed with hatred as I turned and went back inside. 

This was going to be a long battle, but I was prepared now and had found some good friends.

I thought I had won this time, but was it only the first round?

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