Every evening after dinner my dogs, Gizmo and Spark, take me for a walk. On our way to the park the pair regularly drops in on our elderly neighbours who, in most cases, once had dogs of their own. One in particular, Old Ed, is especially fond of Gizmo who himself is knocking on 17 years. The two have a bond and Ed discusses everything with his loyal friend, from his time in the National Service to the state of the NHS.
During one visit in particular we had time to spare and happily sat down to watch Crime Watch UK, one of Ed’s favourite TV programmes. Ed is 89 years old but not without his faculties and he considers it his civic duty to keep watch over the neighbourhood.
“It’s the old dears we need to look out for,” he said. “They’re soft targets.”
“And who’s looking out for you?” I asked.
That evening’s episode included a re-enactment of a homicide which had taken place in the shires. Like all re-enactments, the viewers were first introduced to the characters and setting to make its treatment of the crime less clinical and more personal. The victim in question was an elderly farmer. His last day on earth portrayed him as a hard-working, decent sort who was fair in his dealings with others. The narrator set the scene:
John Brown began his day like any other, checking his crops in the fields. For him, as for every other farmer in the county, rabbits proved a perennial pest because he grew their favourite food: carrots. Every morning, shotgun slung over his shoulder, he’d shoot as many as twenty before breakfast.
“Vermin,” Ed told Gizmo, who hung on his every word although deaf as a post.
After a long day’s work, John Brown drove his tractor into an outbuilding and locked it shut. He then checked on his cows and hens a final time before heading into the farmhouse.
“Cows and chickens make okay intruder alarms but he should have had a few geese as well. They’re the best,” Ed informed me.
“They’re skittish. Geese’ll wake the dead.”
“They haven’t mentioned his family so I’m guessing he might be a widower,” I ventured.
“They didn’t say. But where are the sons?”
“Maybe they didn’t choose that life.”
“It’s the best life for a person,” Ed was staring ahead at nothing in particular. “Fresh air, proper food, hard work…”
The narrator went on to describe what police believe happened next. Apparently, at some point during the night one or more intruders broke into the farmhouse. From what they could gather, the intruder(s) found John Brown’s shotgun by the door. Whether it was because he heard them or not, John Brown came downstairs and was confronted by the intruder(s) who killed him with his own shotgun.
Nothing of value was taken as far as police can tell. John Brown had no known enemies and it’s suspected it might have been a burglary which went horribly wrong.
“Poor bugger,” Ed stroked Gizmo behind the ears. “And by his own gun.”
“Maybe he screwed someone over,” I weighed the evidence. “Maybe he owed them money. Farmers are always juggling massive debts.”
“It wouldn’t be that.”
“Maybe developers wanted the land and he wouldn’t sell.”
“Nope, that’s not it.”
“Okay, last one,” I racked my brain. “Maybe he does have a son but they’re estranged and the son came to claim what he believed to be his birthright.”
“Not even close,” Ed looked out the window. “Think about it.”
I was flummoxed, but moreover, I was intrigued by his self-assuredness in the matter. I had apparently missed a vital clue which was the clincher. Now watching him savour the moment without any smugness whatsoever I was proud of Ed. He’d seen more in his lifetime than I ever would: The Great Depression, WW2, the draft, rationing, The Cold War and a man on the moon, yet I knew he now felt utterly discarded by those who had come after him. What he’d already forgotten I’d never know; I had gained knowledge whereas Ed’s generation had acquired wisdom.
“Give up?” he asked, thumbing tobacco into his pipe.
“I’m all out of ideas,” I conceded, happy to be sharing in his big moment.
“It was the rabbits.”