Another week and a half passed by before there was any opportunity to check out the urban instruction of his Aunt. Winter wheat growing in the fields was now two inches high and needed feeding if it was to be well harvested in five months time, the muck needed spreading to aid the growing season. Walt was glad to see it finished but had grumbled so many times about the cost of the exercise doubling in the last two years that Mac had been scared to do the last few acres for worry of not having enough which had been a strain to say the least, so he was even more glad to see the back of the task.

Margaret had been kept busy as well with their fifty or so pregnant ewes. The ‘scanman’, as Walt called him, had confirmed which ewes were carrying twins and which singles, and the workforce of two abled and one not so had been tending the expectant mothers, supplying them with sufficient feed, and not too much, to match their requirements and watching them all for signs of labour. Mac had taken on most of the nightshifts, sitting up with the ones at term, watching, waiting patiently, paternally, for the bubble bursting and a new individual thrust feet forward into a life born of commerce, helping delivery when the strain had lasted more than was tolerable. Only once had it been necessary to go into a ewe and bring out her infant, and that was one time too many, it was a head-back birth and he had been forced to pull it forward by the little ones eye sockets to move it into position for delivery.

Sadly, and unfortunately expectedly, a few were born deformed, two with crooked necks, the little ones heads forced unnaturally to one side, and two with fused front limb joints, legs moulded into strange positioning, all making for a newborn that in one of each of the cases would not be able to survive so had to be put to sleep. The other two, although in a sad and sorry state, Margaret had decided to give the chance to grow and then see what happens in a few weeks time.

“All life should be allowed a chance to thrive,” she had suggested, a wet in the corner of her eyes a result of the spectacle of bravery the two showed. Mac was too shocked to comment at the time. A fifth lamb was unfortunate not to survive in the womb at all and came out still born, that result Mac was more used to, but nothing could have prepared him for the events unfolding. Margaret had alerted their new farmhand to the danger of this new viral disease with the strangest of titles but that had not helped.

Schmallenberg, a small town overseas, in a country named Germany, had given up its name, now enshrined forever to the history books of infamy after the testing condition was first sighted and reported there the previous summer. It affected cattle and sheep alike and during their pregnancy resulted in the tragic offspring. Scientists were of the opinion that midges had brought the virus across from the continent to infect the native herds last Autumn or even as late as this January. At the present there were under a hundred farms affected in the homeland though ten times more abroad.
The worry, extra workload and vigilance had made for two very tired twenty year olds, and the farmers counted themselves lucky to be let off so lightly.

So it was then, eleven days after being instructed, that Mac finally found himself at the top of a high street looking in disbelief at a dried up, litter stricken fountain, no water whatsoever having recently, or historically for that matter, spewed from a bronze dolphin, once positioned central to the affair, it’s purpose to refresh, to supply the pool below.

“Aunt Bessie was right then.” He did not want to believe the facts, but there was no option.

Margaret overheard, but not clearly enough. “What you say Mac?”

“I have an Aunt, told me to check out this fountain. She has a photo of herself and schoolmates paddling in it from some time ago.”

“It must be some time. It’s never worked as long as I’ve been coming to town.”

That was that then, confirmation enough, but what was the wider connotation of that fact? Aunt Bessie must have been on this very same street at some time before now. She had to have been, otherwise how…

“I need to go to the bank Mac, down here,” Margaret interrupted his chain of thoughts with a smile, a skip and a pointing of her free arm. The other one was occupied, as it had been since they had left the car park. “If we get that done I’ll treat us to lunch in the park. We can buy a sandwich and watch the world go by.”

“Ok, let’s go, I’ll take a look at the shop windows while you’re in there.” Mac replied, eager to be away from the very object he had come to muse upon.

When they found it, a poor wretch sat on the hard pavement outside the establishment building belonging the financial outlet, Barclays bank. The unfortunate individual looked terribly out of sync with the elaborate entranceway. Wearing a shabby sheepskin coat and an even shabbier expression, unkempt and unshaven, his long matted hair hid the fact that on closer scrutiny he was not an old man, quite the contrary. On his feet a pair of dirty, supposedly white sports shoes looked totally at odds with pin stripe trousers, which told a story of an earlier more fruitful existence. On the pavement in front of an upturned, floppy, grey felt hat, one in which coins were visible, was a scribbled sign on cardboard, fraying at the edges from its obvious frequent employ. It read; ‘Bankers did this to me’. The letter B was written over a crossed out W, more than likely not a attempt at humour more a ridiculous statement of derision.

Mac stood transfixed for a second or two needing to look and learn, but at the same time not wanting to stare at the sorry sight. Having never come across any such person or circumstance before the tragedy upset him to the core. Staring was the last thing the unfortunate needed so retreating to a wooden bench seat twenty paces from the doorway to wait for Margaret to finish her business in the bank seemed a polite and more humane action to bring to the event, looking up the concrete, bland precinct of haphazard, non descript business’s, then down, but all the time keeping a weather eye on the proceedings on the pavement.

The charity shop theme seemed to prevail, not one technical outlet or fashion emporium which ought to be expected, instead drab, hideously fitted out windows competing for inconsequence with cheap food outlets and even worse boarded up signage. The bank, for all it apparently represented, be that good or bad, he had not sufficient information yet to make a learned decision, the only beacon of artificial light shining like a lighthouse in a shabby sea of concrete and metal.

It was the desperation in the mans ruddy, drawn face that kept Macs attention. Like the opposing poles of a magnet, his eyes, the strangers face, he could not help but keep glancing back to the drama being played out on the concrete thoroughfare. One passer by after the other, every one bar none in a much better place than the lonely sitter, walked by untroubled and unconcerned by what they saw, because see they did. One or two even quickened their pace so as to spend as little time as possible with the unfortunate company.

The hat offered no invitation either, and so received no revenue, it just sat there on the cold paving slab as stiff as its owner but twice as full. Mac played about in his pocket and felt for a few of those fatter small coins, the pounds, and stepping over to the entrance, Margaret was now coming down the foyer, bent down and placed several in the makeshift receptacle. Margaret smiled at him and gave an approving acknowledgement of the gift, while the half awake recipient tilted his head and stretched out a grubby hand, stained finger nails and all. Mac simply took hold and patted it with his other, then stood to catch Margaret up. What else could be done? If it was not for Walt the figure on the pavement could be him.

A shop of all sorts, on a corner of the street opposite the fateful water feature supplied the al fresco picnic and Margaret true to her word as always bought the vitals for the purpose. Mac insisted on a couple of bottles of a drink never encountered before, bottled flavoured water of all things, much to Margaret’s satisfaction of her hopeful future partner preferring non alcoholic choice at mid day. She took a different flavour to his, so they might swap she suggested, and allowed the purchase by him in return for hers, but only after Mac being so persistent on the matter of share and share alike that she felt obliged to agree to the discussion and give way.

He was just collecting the change from the purchase when three gentlemen approached the cluttered counter of best buys and sale price items. They were all well heeled and dressed in expensive suits. What looked amiss with them were clear plastic bags full of bottles, bottles of spirits by the labelling, which they ceremoniously placed on the counter one by one. Surely no one could wish to purchase such a quantity all at once unless for an office party perhaps.

Mac was intrigued and loitered a little to listen, not understanding the gentle push from Margaret to try and remove them both from the vicinity.

“It’s a raid!” She was whispering in his ear. The tallest of the customs and exise trio overheard her and stared their way, a message of
go away filled his face.

“A what?” What was Margaret talking about?

“A raid. Those bottles in the bags are counterfeit vodka by the looks.” There was obvious confusion between the two of them, so she carried on, a tone of disbelief in her voice. “A raid Mac, illegal cheap vodka, the stuff that can blind you, the criminals distil it from paint stripper and dry cleaning fluid and the like, erh! hello Mac, where you been?” She mocked him, but only in jest.

The explanation was finally sufficient. “Ah yes, sorry I was on a different wavelength. No! Really!! We’ve just seen it happen?” He had to retrieve the lost ground quickly. “Wow! That’s the first time anything like that has happened when I’ve been around.” That was no lie.

“C’mon we need to get home now.” Whether Margaret was afraid they were going to be dragged into the evidence or she simply did want to go home, they had been in town a long while, Mac was not sure, but the best course to take would be the one suggested by the person in the know, besides she was almost out the shop door. He followed suit and vacated the soon to be prosecuted premises making a mental note of the name for the diary entry later on in the evening.

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