Marian Wood: Unrest on the Farm

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Unrest on the Farm

By Marian Wood

Breathing in, I could smell the manure and hay from the stables. The sun-baked earth and the wildflowers. The scents of our farm, the warmth and love of home. I could hear the rumble of the tractor and the pigs grunting in their sty. The clucking of the hens as mum collected their eggs for our breakfast and the cows mooing in the shed as the farm hands pumped their milk.

The sun was now rising over the hills emanating the sheer beauty of the Yorkshire countryside. I have lived here all my life and would not want to live anywhere else.

I met Jack at school and we very quickly fell in love. A Yorkshire-born lad who works hard now for my father. Sharing the large farmhouse has had its problems but we work together and give support where needed.

Elizabeth was born just five years ago, the light of all our lives. Pretty blonde hair, blue eyes and a smile that helps her get off lightly when she’s naughty. Mum has supported us on numerous occasions, sleepless nights and babysitting. Standing here now, she came running up to me. “Mummy, Mummy, you need to come.”

“Aye, love, what’s the matter?”

“Mummy.” She broke down in front of me, her face was wet, and I now could not understand what she was telling me. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. What was going on? Why was Elizabeth so upset?

Running into the house carrying my little girl, I could see my family sitting around the table and my mum was crying. Walking over to Jack I demanded to know what was wrong.

“Zoe, you’d better sit down.”

“Just tell me.”

“Zoe, it’s your dad.”

“Why, what’s the matter? What’s he done?”

Putting his arm around me, Jack said quietly, “Your dad is lying in the milking shed, Zoe, he’s dead.”

I now sat, not sure how to react, I started to shake, then pulled Elizabeth closer to me. I could taste salt now as my eyes filled with tears. “Has someone called an ambulance? He can’t be dead, he’s only sixty. He’s too young to die.”

“Darling, they’re sending an ambulance and police. There is something else.”

“What?” I could feel the walls of the farmhouse closing in around me. My eyes focused on the plate with the rooster that I’ve adored all these years. I wanted my father.

“It looks like he’s been shot.”

“Murder? No, this is a quiet farm. This can’t be right.”

“Sorry, but it does look that way unless he shot himself.”

“It’s not true, it can’t be. Dad had no enemies, did he, did he have enemies, did he, Mum?” I could feel myself becoming hysterical. If dad was murdered, then who did it? My eyes looked at Jack. Calm trustworthy Jack, no he wouldn’t do it. We inherit the farm, there’s a motive, but he needs my dad to help run it, so it can’t be him.

Mum sat quietly sobbing, I was still holding Elizabeth. The day had gone from one of beauty to the worst day of my life. Why had someone killed my dad? Or had he killed himself?

Hearing the whir of sirens now, Jack now went to the door to help the police and paramedics. Putting on the kettle, it was going to be a long morning and we needed tea. The fresh eggs sat in a bowl on the worktop. Just wanting to be alone and cry. I had to be strong for mum, I made a pot of tea and held her hand. Today was the beginning of a story that we needed answers to.

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Unable to think straight, Jack listened to the hum of noise as the police took their photos, marked out the milk shed and talked on their radios. The decision had been made that this was not suicide due to the angle of the bullet wound in the side of his head and there was no gun to be seen. Joe lay there in what looked like dark red paint pooling around him. A picture of shock across his face, and flies were now gathering. Jack willed the paramedics to take his body away. Josh the farmhand had taken the cows back out to their field.

Thinking back to a few nights ago in the ‘Dog and Duck,’ Jack remembered a conversation he had overheard about a missing farmer. Was this relevant? “Excuse me, Detective, will you be interviewing the farmers in the local area?”

“Yes, why, do you have information?”

“Well, you might want to talk to the barman in the ‘Dog and Duck.’ I overheard something about a farmer going missing.”

Detective Mills was interested now. “Did you hear anything else?”

“No sir.” He had thought nothing of it at the time and now wondered if he was next. Mind now working overtime, he started to feel hot and then shivery. This was not good, he needed to do some sleuthing too. Knowing that he should stay out of it, but now thinking maybe his father-in-law was not the last dead farmer.

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Walking into the ‘Dog and Duck,’ some of the locals looked up from their drinks. Being a small community most people recognised Detective Bill Mills. He took in the red carpet, the pictures of farm animals adorning the walls and the cheery atmosphere.

“Yes, Detective, how can I help you?” Ted, the barman, hoped he just wanted a pint.

“Is there anywhere we can talk?”

“Debbie, can you take over the bar?”

A plump lady, maybe in her thirties with a friendly looking face, hurried over. “Aye then.” She wondered what was happening but knew her dad would tell her soon enough.

Showing the Detective into a quiet room, Ted closed the door. “Alright, so how can I help?”

Detective Mills took off his coat, placed it over the back of a chair and then sat down. “We were called this morning to East Dales Farm.” He paused, watching Ted’s face.

“Aye, that’s Joe Wright’s place, him and Jack are regulars ’ere. What’s ’appened, late night party or somethin’?”

“Not quite, sir, Mr Wright was found this morning by Jack Thomas, lying dead in the milk shed.”

Stoney silence enveloped the room. Ted could feel the sweat pouring off his head. Then shaking, he said, “Not sure what to say but there were some men in a few nights ago, said somethin’ about farmers disappearin’. I don’t know if they meant that farmers were going missing or now, oh dear, now I’m wonderin’ whether they were going to off them. Feelin’ a bit stupid now, Detective, I should have phoned your lot at the time but I thought nuthin’ of it.”

“Do you think you would recognise these men again, sir?”

“Yes, Detective, I think I would, cruel-looking men, three of them, there were, and one had a tattoo of an Eagle.”

“Ok, good work, sir. Is there any reason that you know of, why anyone would want to kill the farmers?”

“From what I’ve heard, there is a fight for custom right now. We have six farms serving the local area, where one or two would be enough. Joe had been here the longest. His farm was owned by his father before him. A proper family business. His lass, Zoe, will inherit it.”

Detective Mills had heard enough, then he thought again. “These men, had you seen them before?”

“No sir, never, proper out-of-towners if you ask me. They didn’t fit.”

Detective Mills continued, “And out of the six farms are there any that you think might go as far as murder?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure but old Bob Franks can be a piece of work over at West March Side. So can Brian Williams at West Docks. Maybe you need to see them all. Fred Grior at East Blygate rarely comes in ’ere. Keeps ’imself to ’imself.”

“I will have a drive around the farms. Thank you, you have been most helpful.” He got up, shook Ted’s hand and then put his coat back on. Walking through the bar he waved at Debbie as he walked out. He then heard a lady’s voice.

“Bill, Bill, Detective, I need to talk to you.” At the same time he felt a vibration in his pocket.

“Sorry, hang on, Miss.”

“Detective Mills.” Ruth watched him as his shoulders fell. She had heard about Joe Wright but had also heard rumours about a farm trade war. Now wondering what had happened she started feeling dizzy. She knew from the tone of Bill’s voice that there had been another murder. Putting down the phone, he said, “Sorry, Ruth, it’s Mr Grior at East Blygate. Found not breathing, lying in the pig pen with a very confused mother pig standing over him.” This was serious, two dead farmers. He needed to find these killers and fast.

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The last few weeks had been strained. Mum kept crying, Elizabeth was confused, and all I wanted was to be alone. Jack had been quiet, preoccupied, I suspected, worrying about the farm. Trying to be there for my family but constantly thinking about my dad was proving hard work. Jack wouldn’t discuss it and dad’s body was still with the police. Unable to start funeral arrangements and now trying to manage the farm as well.

It was a few days later that Elizabeth came running up to me with her favourite little tin pink bucket with yellow spots, asking to pick flowers for Grandad. She said that Grandad needed flowers because that’s what you do when someone dies, you give them flowers.

I hadn’t seen Jack since early this morning. I assumed he was working in the fields.

Taking Elizabeth’s hand, we walked to the nearby woods. The wildflowers waved at us as we passed by. The scents of the country. The yellow rape in the field. We stopped to watch some rabbits playing, their bobtails a shimmering white in the summer sun. Times with my little girl are special, now especially.

Being mum, putting her needs before mine. For now, it was filling her bucket with flowers. Collecting the blues, pinks and yellows. Making a beautiful arrangement. Elizabeth wanted to hang her bucket on the door of the milking shed, as you would lay flowers on a grave.

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Jack had worried enough, today was the day. The police were not doing their job properly. What had Detective Mills been doing? Why no arrests? Someone was killing farmers and they needed to be stopped. With a rifle under his arm, Jack had set off for the nearby farms. He was going to solve this. His hunch was William Tyler at Brook Farm. A beast of a man at six-foot-six and built like a tank. With a team of farmhands, he knew that he was capable of this.

Crossing the fields, jumping over a few streams, avoiding cow pats. The country smells, the stillness, and dale’s beauty surrounding him. Grateful for what he had, he didn’t want to end up dead like Joe. So what if there are too many farms. They would get by somehow and he trusted that Zoe would have ideas. Thinking of Elizabeth, he remembered how her blonde hair shined when the sun reflected on it and smiled to himself.

Hand around his rifle, he could feel its hard coldness. What was he doing? He was scared but he had to do this. Reaching Brook Farm, he crept into one of the barns. The strong smell of hay filled his lungs. Starting now to wonder where to look. He needed to find the murder weapon. Hearing voices, he proceeded to climb on the hay bales. Knowing he was in trouble if found, he began to sweat.

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Having questioned the four farm managers and the numerous farm workers, Detective Bill Mills was putting his facts together. They had been competing for years. There was no friendship between the farms. The community was not big enough for all of them. He had come to realise though that this was not as straightforward as farmer against farmer. A piece of this puzzle was missing, he just needed to work out what it was.

Farmer Grior’s wife was now staying at the farmhouse with Mary Wright. She was devastated after finding her husband swimming in his blood with the pigs. Unable to go home, they had both been grateful for the company. The last few weeks had affected the whole community. Two farmers missed, the uncertainty of a killer on the loose, and local trade. It was time now to work together. Bill could see this, but underlying feuds needed to be settled.

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I helped Elizabeth hang her pink bucket with her flowers on the door of the cowshed. We then held hands and said a prayer for Grandad. We asked God to look after him and make him comfortable and happy. I knew my dad would like that, I had been raised a devout Christian and my dad had always attended Church on a Sunday when he could. It made me feel calmer inside knowing that even though I could no longer be with him, he was safe in heaven now.

Walking into the farmhouse with Elizabeth, I could see that mum was worried. “Oh no, what’s happened?”

“Do you know where Jack is? It’s 4:00 and I haven’t seen him all day.”

“Isn’t he out in the fields?”

“Hmm, maybe but I haven’t seen him all day.”

“Neither have I mum, but I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Mummy, I’m hungry.”

Distracted now, I said, “Do we still have cake?”

“There’s Sultana cake in the tin. Do you want some, darling?”

“Yes please, Grandma.” Elizabeth jumped up and down excitedly.

She ate her cake and I thought nothing more of mum’s concern till much later when Jack still hadn’t returned.

“Right, I’m phoning that Detective. This can’t be right, where the heck is he?”

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Farmer William Tyler had entered the barn with two of his men to find Jack lying on top of the hay bales. Surprised at his bold trespass, he wasn’t sure what to say. “What the blazes are you doing here? Why are you in my shed?”

Jack responded boldly, “Someone is killing farmers and I want answers.” The men looked at each other and then laughed.

William said, “You want answers, we want answers, this whole scary mess is not just affecting you. We’re all concerned, who is going to be next found dead in the pig pen? Or will it be with the sheep next?”

Climbing down from the hay, Jack said, “So what now, then? Cos that policeman, he’s done nuthin‘ other than question us.”

It was then that the men heard the loud crash of a door being shut and a bolt pulled across.

“What the blazes,” shouted William. “Locked in me own barn.”

Rob Gage, tall and broad, said nervously, “It’s them, we’re done for.”

“Oh no, Agnes, she’s by herself at the house. They’ll go for her and I ain’t got me phone.”

The men looked at each other. None of them had, they were stuck.

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It was 7:00 in the evening when Detective Mills took the call from a very anxious Zoe Wright. He had his suspicions now on who the murderer was. If he was right and Jack had gone searching, then this might not end well. Radioing through for backup, it was about fifteen minutes later when three police cars descended on Brook Farm. Taking the occupants of the farmhouse by surprise, they found Agnes and a man from the village, Bob Cross, a nasty bit of work who was known to the police for brawling.

“Mrs Tyler, the jig’s up, where are you keeping the men?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Detective, aren’t they working on the farm?”

“Don’t play coy with me, I have men searching this place as we talk. If they are here, we will find them.”

The radio then started to crackle. “Sir, we have found a gun.”

The pair now started to look uncomfortable. The guilt was evident right there.

“Right, I repeat, where are the men?”

Knowing the game was over, Agnes said, “Try the hay barn, but it’s locked.” She smirked.

Bill spoke back into the radio, “The men are in the barn but you will need a hammer.”

“I’m arresting the pair of you on suspicion of murder. You don’t need to say anything, but what you do say will be used as evidence.”

The other officers placed handcuffs on them and led them to one of the cars.

As the squad car disappeared, the lock gave way on the barn. Relieved to see the policeman, William said, “Detective, thank you. Where’s Agnes, did they get her?”

“Mr Tyler, I’m afraid your wife has been seeing Bob Cross, they were in it together.”

Shocked, William said, “But that don’t make sense. How? Why?”

“Let’s all go to the house, sir, and talk.”

William led the way, not believing what he had been told. He had been with Agnes thirty years, why was she now murdering farmers?

Sitting down in Brook Farmhouse, Detective Bill Mills explained how he had worked it out. “People in the village had mentioned seeing Agnes and Bob together, which seemed a strange combination. Bob has a history of violence and is certainly not a stupid man. Did not take much to work out that the other farmers are competition for Brook Farm. Get rid of the competition and then start again. The final farmer I’m assuming would have been you, sir. She would have got the insurance and been set up nicely, her and Bob.”

Looking at Jack, he added, “The men you overheard, we are following them up as friends of Mr Cross.”

Jack looked at William. He looked like he was going to be sick.

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When Jack arrived home, I felt relief, he was safe. He then told us all what had happened and about Agnes and Bob. Finally, the murderers had been found. We could get on with our lives and now we could have funerals for our two much-loved farmers. I hoped now that the farmers would work together, find some common ground and we could all help support our thriving working community.

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