Chapter 10 - Home On The Range
Robert and Amelie Bruford, Claire’s parents, lived on a sprawling farm in deepest, darkest Kent, well, near Paddock Wood in fact. Some areas of the county felt far from the madding crowd but the reality of Kent was that you could never be far from civilisation, it just wasn’t big enough. Although they owned one of the largest farms in the area, the Bruford’s fields were mostly left fallow and so produced no income. Robert had a plan: leave them alone for seven years and then he could sell the land as organic, hopefully realising a better price for his lack of endeavour. Amelie liked riding her horse so this plan suited her just as well. Being French she was used to large tracts of land where she could ride unfettered by traffic and the presence of other people. That aspect of home she genuinely missed; to her England always felt overcrowded.
That morning was a strange one; Amelie had heard more sirens in the last hour than she’s heard in the last six months. Curious as to the cause, she’d ridden close the boundary of their land, trying to figure out what was going on. It’s terrorists, was her natural assumption, hence why she felt unthreatened by the docile group of people she had discovered gathered just inside the southern border of the farmland. They looked more like a cultish religious group due to their trance-like state. Using her mobile she called Robert.
“We seem to ’ave some people setting up camp at the southern edge of the farm,” she announced, her accent strengthened by her stress. “Can you come over and ’elp me clear them away? Bring Trevor.”
Trevor was a strapping young farmhand, built like the proverbial brick outhouse. If they couldn’t be moved under threat his mere presence engendered then they could only be on drugs. He worked for the Brufords and was faithful as a bloodhound, yet still he scared Amelie. While waiting back at the treeline she kept an eye on the small group, curious to work out what they were doing. Probably illegals, she thought, her suspicions modifying yet again; she was certain this was not what was causing the police to be running around with their sirens blaring, surely. They didn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, perhaps waiting for a ride to some other place where they’d disappear and become yet more of the UK’s grey economy. Amelie begrudged them because she considered she and her husband were part of the hard done by, toiling economy, conveniently classing her and her husband’s more nefarious activities as legitimate work.
After a few moments Robert’s blue and cream old Land Rover hurtled over the field, its engine screaming under the exertion, and finally slid to a halt within feet of the congregants. He and Trevor stepped out of the vehicle and approached the group, Trevor’s ominous presence felt even from Amelie’s remote vantage point.
The interlopers made no effort to move away, appearing to ignore the pairs’ approach, as if they hadn’t even noticed the noisy diesel or the two looming men. Amelie could see the look on Trevor’s face change as his anger amplified at their total disregard of the impending confrontation. It was like a red rag to a bull and as his temper overflowed, making him target the largest man in the group, squaring up and aggressively pushing him hard on the shoulder. For some reason the man fell over as if poleaxed and lay still. Trevor shrugged and faced the others; still they paid him no heed. Turning to the others he tried the same with a couple more of them, but merely achieved similar results.
Losing it completely he slapped the last one across the face with as much force as he could muster. The sound of it echoed around the field; Robert winced at the sheer power used. Surprisingly, the recipient stumbled backwards but remained standing, slowly turning to face his attacker, his face impassive. Trevor took a step backwards, shaking his head slowly as if confused. After a few moments he seemed to freeze, his gaze fixated. From where Amelie sat on her horse it looked a little ridiculous, almost as if they were having a childish staring competition; it certainly had the air of farce.
Robert spoke to Trevor; Amelie could see his lips move and hear the faint tones of his voice carry on the still air. She edged the horse on and out of the trees to get a better view and to hear what was being said.
By now her husband had stepped close to Trevor and was peering closely at the man. Starting to raise a hand to prod him, Robert hesitated and seemed to think better of his actions. Amelie’s horse galloped down the hill to her husband.
Robert turned to watch his wife and horse charge down the slope, the thunder of the big steed felt underfoot, even from where he stood. He had always admired her riding skills as she sat quite naturally on a horse, while he always looked like he was riding the devil incarnate, he and horse loathing each other.
“I don’t know what the fuck is going on,” he shouted as she approached, throwing his hands up in perplexed surrender.
“Move away!” Amelie shouted back, the tone of her voice urgent. Even as she hurtled down the hill she had noticed the remains of the group had turned to face Robert, whose distraction with Trevor and his approaching wife made him ignorant of the change. He squinted at Amelie and then glanced at the interlopers. He could see it now, there was a sudden air of malevolence about them; the fallen ones had regained their feet, their movements fluid and slithery. Eyes fixed on the group Robert walked backwards slowly towards the car, fearing looking away. He cast a final look over at Trevor, who hadn’t moved since he’d slapped the man’s face, before losing his nerve and racing back to the Land Rover. He was so glad he’d left the key in the ignition.
“Go back! Now!” he screamed, waving Amelie off. She needed no prompting and wheeled the great beast of a horse around and galloped back up the slope and into the treeline once more without casting a glance back at her husband.
Robert spun the four by four around, clipping one of the group and knocking him like a bowling pin into the others. Another grasped at the rear of the vehicle, catching it fleetingly but merely earning itself a place on the grass twenty yards further away from its compatriots, rolling along under the remaining force of its actions. Fishtailing away from the scene, Robert was soon back on the dirt track by which he had approached moments before.
Arriving back at the farmhouse, the couple hugged each other in their relief at what seemed to be a close escape, but from what they could not understand. Leaving the horse to nicker quietly to itself, satisfied with its run, the couple went inside. Amelie smelled of hot horse and sweat, normally a turn on for Robert but not in the current circumstances.
“Call the police,” Amelie urged her husband.
“And what will they do? As usual, the square root of bugger all is what,” he bridled as the suggestion. “No, I’ll sort this. A single phone call should do it.”
“What happened to Trevor?” Amelie asked, clasping hold of Robert’s arm. She’d not been close enough to see any real detail.
“No idea, love. He just stopped and his face went lifeless, right after giving that bastard a right old slap. That prick should have been out cold after that. I don’t get it; it was almost as if Trevor’s face drained of everything human. I reckon it has everything to do with that slap, that contact. Can things really pass from one person to another that quickly?” he wondered aloud.
Amelie just shook her head; she’d never seen the like before. Robert left the kitchen and went to his study to make the promised call, leaving Amelie to resort to her usual solution to all problems, wine.
Sitting at the pine refectory table, stressed out and tapping her fingers rhythmically on the table. At that moment Amelie wished she hadn’t given up smoking, one long drag would go down a storm about now. Losing herself in thought, she connected the dots; all these recent news reports, the sirens. It was being reported everywhere in the country. So, it’s even way out here, she realised. Oh, my darling Claire, she suddenly exclaimed as the penny dropped. I must call her, she thought, fumbling for the kitchen phone. Dialling her daughter’s phone number, she got through on the third attempt.
Although the call started out friendly, Amelie’s genuine concern dominating the conversation, the discussion did its usual thing of getting around to the same old subject: the unsuitability of James as a partner for Claire. Amelie scolded herself for not being able to let that old subject rest, even under the circumstances.
Robert came out of the study; hearing his wife’s argumentative tone, he was somehow unsurprised at the direction of the conversation but irritated at the same time. He’d already forgotten what he’d wanted to say about his own conversation: that his contact’s only intelligible words, “nothing is what it seems”, were completely meaningless and that he was going to have to clear up his own mess - again.
“Enough, already!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t you two just agree to disagree?”
Amelie waved to shut him up. Her face showing her annoyance at being interrupted. He rolled his eyes and backed off. Suddenly she peered at the phone and began pressing buttons.
“She ‘ung up on me, the leetle cow,” she spat. Redialling produced no new connection.
Robert took the handset from her and opened the line. Nothing, just dead air. Returning to the study he tried his line. That, too, was dead. Then he heard the sirens, it sounded like dozens of them, all hurtling past the farm, going god only knew where.
There was a bang on the front door, followed by a piercing scream that sounded all too much like Amelie. His heart lurched at the sound and he ran back to the kitchen to check on her. She stood there, stock still and staring through the glass in the front door.