Ravenscroft was Tordorrach’s nearest neighbour. Hoping the owners, Matthew and Coral Fulham, would be more civil than Shamus had been Paul drove out to see them. After witnessing the dire poverty of Shamus and Mary he wore no tie, and a shirt that didn’t need cuff links. Their house was freshly painted and had solar panels, so he assumed they had survived the hard times. Given the state of the two homesteads he was perplexed that Noël had chosen to buy Tordorrach rather than Ravenscroft.
A woman came onto the veranda carrying a basket full of washing. His spirits flagged when he saw her expression.
He smiled. ‘Hello, I’m Paul Knight, a solicitor from – ’
‘Matt! Matt!’ she shouted. Her voice was panic-stricken.
Before he could attempt to reassure her, a man came round from the back of the house holding a spade. His hands were dirty and his face and arms were powdered with red dust.
‘It’s a solicitor – ’
Before Paul could apologise for interrupting his gardening Matthew threw down his spade and rushed into the house. Paul’s bemusement turned to fear when he came out holding a revolver.
He looked straight at Paul. ‘Right, this is it then,’ he said quietly. ‘The end.’ ‘First I’m going to shoot my wife. Then I’m going to shoot myself. Do you like animals?’
Paul was too stunned to do anything other than nod.
‘Good. Because we have two cows, three horses and some hens. I don’t want them to suffer. You can shoot them yourself or call a vet. Or give them to the neighbours.’
Paul dropped his briefcase and held out his hands. ‘Mr Fulham, why – ’
‘You ask me why? You know why. It’s because of your type – you greedy lawyers and bankers, that we’re losing the lot.’
‘I’m not here to get money – it’s – ’
Coral’s eyes shone with tears. ‘Why then? More threats from the banks?’
‘No. I’ve got good news – please will you listen?’
Matthew lowered the revolver. ‘What good news? You’re sure not here to give us money.’
‘In a way I am.’
Coral’s expression was dubious. ‘What?’
‘Tordorrach has been sold – ’
The hope that had wavered in Matthew’s eyes, dimmed. ‘Well that’s good for Shamus – can’t see that it’s good for us.’
‘How come he can sell that tip?’ Coral burst out bitterly.
‘I don’t know – your house is much better, but it’s still good news for you.’ The wind blew a cloud of dry earth in his face. ‘Can I come inside and explain?’
‘No. Tell us what the good news is,’ demanded Matthew.
‘I don’t think there is any good news,’ said Coral. ‘He’s stalling. He’s come to evict us and once he’s inside – ’
His eyes were gritty with dust, but worried that Matthew would raise his revolver again Paul got to the point. ‘The buyers of Tordorrach want to employ a manager. Shamus turned it down so they asked me to offer it to you – or another near neighbour.’
They looked incredulous.
Paul picked up his briefcase. ‘I’ve got all the papers in here. Are you interested in the proposal?’
Coral put down the washing basket and wiped away her tears. ‘Come inside. Would you like some tea?’ Her tone was more friendly, but they both looked wary.
Because of their hardship Paul was about to decline, but knew if they accepted Noël Carlyle’s offer they would no longer be poor. He picked up his briefcase. ‘Thank you,’ he said. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He wished he could splash water on his eyes, but owing to the scarcity of water, he didn’t ask, just blinked.
The inside of the house showed no sign of poverty, which given their desperation, confused Paul. Even Shamus hadn’t been suicidal. On their way to the kitchen he saw a study with a flat screen computer that looked new, the furniture in the rooms he passed looked comfortable, the units in the kitchen were in good condition, everything was clean and tidy, and neither Coral or Matt’s clothing was threadbare, although it was faded.
Read the rest in Searching for Sylvia by Joanna Stephen-Ward .
My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.