The remainder of the afternoon saw Mac playing mouse to the clowder of cats in the lane. Sneaking from outbuilding to barn, from old and rusty machinery to stonework was in the beginning a lot of fun, but by six o’clock he had tired of it all. What the attendees hoped to gain by besieging the small farmhouse on the hill was obvious from their persistence but when rain began to fall from clouds that had threatened all day, driven in on a wind blowing across from the steep valleys to the northeast they all decided, and without exception, to retreat back down the hill and into town. The rain at their backs hastened the rout.

Mac watched the soggy sight of them from his bedroom window, his nose resting on the sill so as not to give himself away. On the outside of the glass a spider’s web spun tightly across the corner of the window frame held a fly captive within its grasp. Mac had to move position slightly when it obscured his sight of the procession. He did not want to miss one second of it. Across his mouth was a wry smile of satisfaction at the journalists plight. This surprised him. He had never harboured such feelings and to be aware of it bothered him.

His folks had a saying, that eventually a dog owner begins to take on the appearance of the animal they keep. Perhaps here he was not doing that but something much stranger, taking on the sentiments of the people he now kept the company of. Neither fact nor thought sat comfortable with him but he was still glad that his tormentors had all suffered a drenching. Perhaps they would think twice tomorrow.

They did not. A good nights sleep saw dawn break. It was before six o’clock this week, which was a delight. Early mornings kept to himself, spending a relaxed half hour or so looking far across the quiet awakening vale reminded him of his youth. And that is what he had done this morn, relaxed and returned to his youth, until the journalists had meandered back up the hillside that is, their unwelcome appearance putting paid to any enjoyment in a flash.

So just to be safe and out of the way he had worked about the yard this morning, repainting the farmhouse door a lively colour of red. He had found the can of paint in one corner of the parlour the day before, where Walt admitted putting it some years back. Why he had moved away the half dozen roofing ridge tiles and odd piece of corrugated iron sheeting was anyones guess, perhaps his tidy nature, but behind them under a layer of dust and debris was the unopened can, laying on its side on the parlour floor.

The heavy door to the hallway offered no chance of him being seen by his inquisitors and although it did not really need another coat putting to it the two farmers had insisted it be done just to keep him out of sight.

Margaret and her father had some business with their solicitor in town and so had left him with paint tin in one hand and brush in the other straight after breakfast. He was under strict instruction to stay put and not venture outside the farmyard at any cost. Walt was really taking a paternal interest in him of late, especially since Nigel Tyas had come onto the scene.

Yet again Margaret had not been very well earlier on, so after insisting on finishing with the milking on her own she had decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and accompany Walt rather than do anything more strenuous, a more than unusual stance for her so Mac knew she was off colour.

Professor Smith had made a call around ten as well, much to Mac’s bewilderment, asking his patient to make himself known to another laboratory across town who were expecting him after the clinicians referral. Whenever the pink handset rang it always made Mac laugh to see himself with such an item, not the colour as much as the antiquated technology. The professor had also enquired, and somewhat sheepishly it has to be said, about the radio interview the previous day and whether Mac had heard it. He was even more apologetic and embarrassed when Mac admitted that all three of them had been tuned in.

“It was not my idea at all Mac.” He sounded sincere but was he? Mac replayed the conversation as one brush stroke followed another. “In fact I would rather not have given it, but felt I owed it to you to put all the facts properly.”

Mac thanked him, adding, “and that was good of you Professor.” But was the clinician telling the truth. Mac’s mind wandered back to the day when the two doctors had been revelling over their findings in the consultant’s office. “To tell you the truth it was not such a good connection and your words were sometimes unclear,” he added.

“Well make your way over to this lab and …….” Mac felt a breeze in his face. A warming breeze coming off the land, quite the opposite direction and temperature to the rain wind of yesterday. It took his mind away from the present and into the past, and not only the past but the far away as well, so far away that thinking on it was painful and upsetting. With just over one week to go until the membranes touched it may as well be an eternity away.

He stifled a laugh. Who was he trying to fool with that notion? It was an eternity away. Why did he not just admit it, that way of life he longed for was so far out of reach that no amount of wishful thinking could realise it. Whatever circumstances had brought him to this present post, and the honest truth was he still had no absolute proof of what nature had been employed, this state of mind and matter was his now and the horrible realisation uppermost was that it was his lot. This melancholy world of fractured society and misplaced ideology was perhaps his for the rest of his born days. His stomach raced down to his pelvis and tried to drag all comfort there with it. It almost succeeded. The saving grace was a shout from Margaret.

“They’ve gone Mac. You can come out to play now.” There was a humour in her voice which infected him and replaced his worry with an offer of future happiness, unconditional happiness, unusual in this life he realised, but unconditional just the same. In this place he had found his soulmate. She was the only beacon of shining light in this otherwise dark existence. He jumped up with joy at his restored freedom.

“Where’s Walt?” he asked.

“He wanted some time alone with the solicitor,” Margaret replied with a frown. “I don’t know why but he’s troubled over summat or other.”

“Perhaps he’s arranging for his future….” Mac stopped short. Elders always made sure their funerary wishes were decided long before the time came to implement them. Mac knew that. Whether it be cremation or river fire, sky burial or ground grave the plans were usually in place for many a decade before they would ever be needed. Mac’s own family had a tradition of sky burial, returning their bodies to Mother Nature courtesy of the carrion and carnivores high on the White Peak to the south of their home town. This was the designated site for those in the Mid Lands wishing their earthly remains to be taken back by life itself, leaving only clean picked and bleached bones to be interred within the family vault in the towns cemetery. It went without saying that this would be his choice of demise but there would come a time when he would have to put it to record.

Margaret showed of a deeper thought across her face and repeated her concern. “I don’t know what he’s about but he’s definitely up to summat.”

For a change it was his turn to give reassurance. It felt good. “He’ll let ya know when the times right.” Mac gave her a hug. “Now did ya say the rabble’d gone?”

“No sign of em. Let’s get the last few fields sprayed while we can shall we.” The Margaret he knew was back. “I’ll make some lunch first though.” Definitely his Margaret.

A final ten minutes of offering the brush to the door and all was done. Margaret was back with a plateful of beef sandwiches, two mugs of tea and some fruit loaf she had baked last night. Mac ate the cake first, one of his own idiosyncrasies. To eat sweet before sandwich. He said that it kept the sugar away from his teeth because by chewing the sandwich last it acted as a cleaning agent after the sticky first helping. Margaret simply smiled and looked on him affectionately. No matter what her lover did it always pleased her immensely. She was totally besotted with him and he knew it.

“Prof Smith has arranged an appointment for this Thursday at another lab, he called earlier.”

Margaret looked astonished. “The two faced bastard!”

“Well he seemed apologetic ………. about the interview.”

“I bet he was. Don’t trust em Mac. You need to be going along though eh! We need an end to this stupidity don’t we.” Her turn to give a hug now.

“Sooner the better.” And with just over a week to whatever might happen it could not be soon enough. Sudden awkward thoughts assailed him. Those thoughts again, of betrayal.

His voice fell silent, for a moment, an awkward silence, broken only by a Chatter Pied flapping its black and white wings as it crossed the farmyard to come to rest on top of the old plough by the outside steps. What was this cunning prophet about, arriving on the scene at this moment in time? Had he brought divination, prophecy, did he represent a symbolism of bridges by arriving just now. Risk taking for prestige was not something Mac was schooled in, and this fable of the birds ability in representing this was just that, for it was definitely not needed now in Mac’s world. Here and now though the thought seemed appropriate. To come into his life just now seemed to offer him ancient help of prophecy and instinct to use to his advantage in ways which are clever or even stealthy. Chatter Pied offered all this, countered by the ability of balance, not only of the physical, black with white, but also the balancing of strong opposites. Opposites! Margaret and Sal perhaps? Chatter Pied also represented the taking of joy in personal change, to let go the old and find the new with confidence and clarity. Yes Mac knew that too, intelligence, adaptability and success were all his traits, so is that why he was here, head on one side eying Mac up from across the yard.

Betrayal came back to mind. Yes betrayal. But to who? Now he had a true dichotomy to deal with. Margaret and Sal? Two different worries, very different but much the same and certainly not opposites, except for being on opposite sides of the bridge that is. One his wife, the second his lover, to be his wife no doubt if this land was to be his only. Who should he show allegiance to above the other, why should he have to choose? Who could possibly council him?

Bessie! She could. His Aunt had been so conspicuous in her absence of late that he wondered whether he would ever cross paths with her again. A meeting of membranes indeed! How far fetched was that? How could he tell of it to anyone else and be thought of as sane? Only he knew the truth and that was how it must stay no matter what the outcome.

“Penny for em?” Margaret recognised the far away look.

Mac shook himself back to the moment and thought quickly. “Just wondering what’s to come of me.” An abashed look followed. It always did the trick. Margaret took him in a tight embrace and planted a kiss firmly on his lips. “C’mon lets get on while the goings good.”

That evening Walt was very quiet throughout their meal of Yorkshire pudding and beef stew. So much so that barely a dozen words left his lips, and that was not like him of late. He was not poorly, he was not tired, or angry with either of them. Neither of them had done anything wrong. The farm he was happy with, and all the animals were in good health. This much they managed to slowly and painfully prize out of him. But nothing else. And there clearly was something else. Whatever it was though the elder was not up for telling at the moment. After the meal he was no different either, for he just sat in his armchair, a remote control in each hand fixing a gaze at the evening entertainment on the television. For long enough he barely looked in any other direction.

Mac and Margaret sat on the couch, holding hands, carefully sipping at their mugs of tea in silence. Like courting couple they kept quiet and dared not speak in case her father might say something and foil the moment. After an excruciating ten more minutes Margaret decided enough was enough and thought to chance her arm, leave her parent to this mood. This was his first in quite a few weeks and she wanted no part in its continuation. Perhaps them being there was fuelling his mood.

She pulled at Mac’s hand for moral support. “We’re off for a walk Dad.” She said it quietly, almost in a whisper, apologetically, afraid he might be back to his old self and give some rebuff she did not want.

Walt did nothing of the sort but simply offered a weak nod of his head, as if it would fall from off his thin neck of pale thin skin and obvious blood vessels if more effort was put in.

“I’ll be alreet in a bit kids. I’ve just got an eadache cumin on.” His voice was feeble, apologetic, pathetic even.

Margaret smiled back at him, a sour smile of wish I could help but know it would be futile kind of a smile. Mac kept quiet. Perhaps if the elder had been putting down his final wishes at the registrars then that would explain this melancholia. People did seem to die earlier here so perhaps that was the explanation. Or did Walt have some disease he had found out about? Could that be the reason. Only time would tell. Walt would divulge his concerns whenever he was ready and not before, that much was certain.

They walked hand in hand into town and made a b-line for their pub. There they took sympathy for Mac’s predicament and the mounting speculation of the press and media from one friend after the other. Ben was the first to voice his concern, then along came Richard to give his verdict on the fracas.

“It’s all bollocks Mac, why the hell don’t ya sue em?”

“I have so much to be grateful for Rich,” he replied, “let’s see what happens after these next tests tomorrow eh!”

The friends looked puzzled to a one.

“Mac’s got an appointment for another lot of tests tomorrow,” Margaret explained.

“A rerun,” Mac added.

“Then what?” Ben asked beckoning for them all to drink up so he could buy the next round in.

Sue and Jane were much of the same opinion as their partners and took the time to gather a feminine perspective of the debacle. Altogether it was a welcome relief for Mac until that was the group began to be slavered over by two inevitable hungry reporters. Suddenly the evening looked like turning nasty. Mac found it easy to keep his temper but Margaret did not.

Neither did Richard. “Why don’t you just piss off and leave my friends in peace.” he hissed. With pursed lips and straight square shoulders he banged a fist down on the bar top. His words although strong ones, were delivered awkwardly but forceful nevertheless from someone obviously not so used to verbal argument.

The reporters acted as though nothing had been said and pushed passed into the middle of their party.”

One of them piped up a request. “We just need a quote or two if that’s ok Mr Hamilton?”

Ben looked as though he was about to take a swing of his arm at this intruder until Mac raised a hand in the favour of a peaceful compromises instead.

“Don’t worry Ben,” he added, “Just leave em to it. I don’t think they have any feelings, even good or bad.” He laughed as he spoke.

The rudeness continued a few more minutes so not to add more fuel to the fire the pair of them left the premises to their friends and the journalists now in some argument over privacy of the individual and press standards and headed off.

“At least it got em off our backs Margaret joked on the path across the fields to the crag, the crag where Mac had first made home in ‘this neck of the woods’ as Margaret put it. She was rubbing his fingers through hers as they walked. He knew what it meant and what she was about. But not long after enjoying the seclusion and before any event began they were interrupted by a very tenacious reporter who must have stalked them along the trail certain he was the one to break them down if he kept up. Unfortunately he did not know the terrain like Margaret so he ended up with his ankles in water, falling over sideways into a wet and unforgiving bog. His prey were forced to laugh before leaving him to it and skipping off back up the hillside like a pair of lovesick teenagers out on a first date.

Once home though the magic spell was broken. Walt was sat at the kitchen table, head in hands. Dried tracks of tears outlined his protruding cheek bones, a salty reminder running from two sunken eye sockets to his thin and pale upper lip.

Margaret was devastated at the sorrowful sight. “What’s the matter Dad?” Her voice was a whimper.

Walt said nothing.

Mac squeezed Margaret’s hand and beckoned to leave her alone with her father for a while.

Walt caught sight of his concern and care. “No, don’t go Mac. There’s nowt to hide from thee lad. Fact is ya ought be here perhaps.”

“If I can help Walt, in any way.”

“There’s nowt anyone can do.” Illness went through Mac’s thoughts once again. “Truth is I’ve bin more than a bit daft, stupid in fact.” Had he been poorly for a while, not told anyone, not even his phycision. “Truth is I’ve bin duped, cums a bin greedy, thinking I could make a mint o’ money for thee lass.”

Margaret looked less concerned now. If it was only about money then that seemed to have eased her mind somewhat. She had not spoken to Mac about her worry but he knew she must have been thinking the same as him. “What can be so bad to put you in this state Dad?” she asked.

Again Walt kept quiet, twisting his bony fingers about one another whilst pondering on an answer. It gradually came out on a breath that could have been his last gasp at life. “I’ve bin conned, out of a lot a money.”

Margaret sat down beside him. “That’s not like you Dad, your always so careful. Are ya sure.”

“I’m sure lass. Bastards have took it all.”

“Took what tho, how much ya talking about?”

“Enuf!”

“And you sure it can’t be got back.”

“Yep. An yon solicitor reckons on same an’ all.”

Mac’s eyes lit up. His expression caught Margaret’s attention. She returned the understanding silently. “So go on then, it can’t be all that bad. How much you talking about? Not that it bothers me Dad. It’s your money after all.”

“It were t’be your’n tho.”

“Well what I never had…..”

“Fifty thousand!” Walt’s head returned back to the support of his hands.

Now Margaret’s eyes lit up. “Fifty thousand, but how?” Mac did a quick calculation. Fifty thousand was a large sum of wealth to lose if that is what Walt had done.

“I were called bout a year ago be a firm offering investment in shares of Chinese companies. All t’papers said China were on t’up.”

“And ya looked into it?”

“Yes. Ya know I’m not so stupid lass, I’ve always bin careful afore.”

“And made a bit too Dad, so maybe ya wrong. If you’ve bin careful then maybe it’ll be ok.”

“No. For certain it’s a scam I tell ya. I’ve bin duped. Bastards kept me dangling and I kept given.”

Mac tried to offer some comfort even though he did not completely understand what had gone on. He attempted an offer of a solution. “If it is what you say Walt then surely the police will recover the money.”

“They’ll a t’find em first tho. They’ve gone to ground that’s f’sure, I canna find hide na hair of em a t’moment.”

“Let me see the papers Dad, I’ll take a look. They’ll be something to do I’m sure.”

It was all a mystery to Mac, though he pretended to agree with every one of Margaret’s suggestions as she poured over one document after the other. Share prices and investments, capital and profit made no sense to him whatsoever but the outcome did. Walt had given money after money in an attempt to receive more back in return, a common practice by all accounts except this attempt had been a non starter from the word go. It was all worthless. In fact from what he could gather there was no company to invest in at all, Walt’s money had been syphoned off and taken by the unscrupulous individuals who had somehow made contact with him many months ago.

The two farmers were helpless to act, and it showed in their faces. Pale and forlorn the gravity of the situation had now spread from father to daughter. There was no avenue open to them yet to retrieve the stolen wealth by all accounts. Until the authorities had investigated the ‘con’, as Margaret described it, fully, there could be no comeback and perhaps even none after the investigations were concluded.

If they looked helpless, Mac felt it ten fold. To be privy to such a catastrophe both upset and angered him. He resolved to try and do something about it. What that would be was without his knowledge at the present but if it were at all in his power resolve it he would. No one was going to upset the people he cared for, loved and get away with it, especially when they had been so kind to him.

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