... Woody's End...

by Peter Hunter

Woody's end

Peter Hunter

It was more than a week since his dog, Woody, had been killed by the baker's delivery van, but the Gypsy's days had dragged - heavy with sorrow and depression. Each morning he returned to the place where he had cremated the animal - a tiny clearing in a copse called Dan's Spinney.

It was a peaceful, indeed beautiful spot, as remote as any in central Norfolk, where a narrow loke ended by a tree lined section of the river Tud - just beyond the boundary of Bellingham's home estate.

For all of his life, Leveret had poached the copses and the stream that bordered it.

To him, a place as sacred as any

By the time he'd carried Woody here, he was exhausted. He'd gently lowered the dog onto the grass, then slept beside it for almost three hours. He'd already decided not to bury the animal, fearing the indignity of a fox digging up the corpse.

It had to be cremation

He'd remembered the piles - cords of narrow logs stacked in the clearing at the end of the loke - the results of coppicing the bank side willows two winter's before. Now they were seasoned, dry and should burn well.

Leveret had not even needed to stack the wood; there were already six or seven neat piles, each about four feet tall. He selected the one with the best view of the Tud - where it splashed and sparkled for twenty yards or so, over a shallow gravel bedded riffle - and gently lowered Woody's stiff body on top of the cross-layered logs

He rested again for almost twenty minutes until energy and enthusiasm renewed, he collected dry grass and sedges, stuffing them amongst the bottom layer of logs.

During the cremation the countryside seemed to join Leveret in his private ceremony. No alien sounds polluted the air - even the birds seemed to lower their song in respect, as the old man said goodbye to his best friend.

The pyre had burned well

Each day since Leveret had visited the spot, not just for sentimental reasons but for the peace, the solitude - a place in which to think about - to ponder his long life.

Searching, endless searching - trying to find some meaning to it all

The dream, the one about Tombland Fair and his mother, haunted him He had a premonition of imminent death - and could only assume it was to be his own ending. Even at his advanced age, he was not ready for it He felt too aware, still with things to learn and wisdom to pass on. Always he'd imagined death might come as a timely relief, release from the pain of long illness or massive injury.

A mercy

But he wasn't injured or ill - he was hurt, saddened by the loss of Woody, depressed by the unfathomable changes he saw around him, but he still had energy and enough curiosity not to seek the door marked exit.

Not for a while

Now, returning to his sacred place by the river Tud, his expected solitude was missing.

He heard voices in the riverside clearing where he'd cremated Woody. Crouching low behind some brambles, he waited, judging whether the sounds were getting closer.

They weren't

Now, avoiding the loke but paralleling it, body bent low for concealment, he slowly moved towards the sound. closer still - men's voices, slightly heated

As the trees thinned near the clearing, he could see them Hilton, plus another man he did not recognise.

Leveret crept in closer

'What guarantee do we have he doesn't bring some heavies with him?' Hilton asked the other man.

'OK, we'll hide the floppy disk,' the man walked towards the stream and placed a small object amongst a clump of yellow flowered iris.

Leveret became aware of another, an approaching sound - the low throb of a diesel engine.

'Happy now?', the other man turned back towards Hilton.

Now the Gypsy could see him better. There was something very familiar about his posture and the way he moved - but still Leveret did not recognise his face.

The diesel engine seemed to be getting closer.

'I feel a bit better, Mike,' said Hilton.

Mike? Of course, thought Leveret. It was Mike's walk, the way he moved. He'd known Mike almost as long as he'd know Hilton. But it wasn't Mike's face.

The engine noise vehicle was getting louder - approaching down the loke.

Leveret considered joining his two friends in the clearing, but instinct ruled against it. He waited and watched as the Range Rover was driven slowly into the clearing. There was just one person inside.

Bellingham.

No one exchanged greetings as the businessman stepped out of the car, leaving the driver's door open.

'Where's the disk?' his voice, his stance were menacing, but Leveret could see, even at forty yards, that the man's hands were shaking.

'First the money,' replied Mike. He also shook with the nervousness of fear

Leveret edged closer, slowly, and cautiously - still concealed amongst brambles and undergrowth.

He sensed madness in the businessman

'I've got it here,' Bellingham reached inside the open car door.

Then turned towards Mike and Hilton...

... with a shotgun in his hands

The first cartridge blasted Mike two yards backwards, spinning him around - to fall face downwards into the ashes of Woody's funeral pyre.

Leveret surged forward - his shouted warning strangled in his dry throat.

He too, now shook with fear.

Hilton turned to run

Bellingham turned towards him - a slow deliberate aim - still swinging like he was tracking a quartering pheasant - then emptied the second barrel into his back

At close range, a twelve-bore shotgun is amongst the deadliest of weapons but fortunately Hilton's leather jacket probably stopped the pellets from penetrating too deeply as he pitched forward, ending up with his head and torso in the stream.

The little river Tud ran red

End

Peter Hunter 2012

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