Every evening after dinner my dogs take me for a walk. On the way to the park we drop in on certain elderly neighbours who are always pleased to see Gizmo and Spark, having had dogs of their own in younger days. One neighbour 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 little friend, from his time in the National Service to the state of the NHS. And unlike other hosts, Ed allows the dogs onto the sofa where they regularly finish off his Meals On Wheels frozen dinners.
During one visit we had time to spare and happily sat down to watch Crime Watch UK, one of his favourite programmes. Ed was 89 but not without his faculties and he considered it his civic duty to keep watch over the neighbourhood’s more elderly residents.
“It’s the old dears we need to look out for,” he’d say. “They’re soft targets.”
“And who’s looking out for you?” I enquired.
That evening’s episode showed 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 the crops in his fields. Rabbits were a perennial problem on his farm because he grew their favourite food: carrots. So every morning he took his shotgun with him to shoot as many as he could while patrolling the property.
“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 his 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 once they get going.”
“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 but 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. Keep going.”
“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: the farm or revenge!”
“Not even close,” Ed laughed. “Not even close. It’s obvious; 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, Apollo 11 and now Coronavirus, yet I knew he 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 grinned, thumbing tobacco into his pipe.
“I’m all out of ideas,” I conceded, happy to be sharing in his big moment.
“I think it was the rabbits.”