“You’ll have to get some new shoes before the wedding…have you seen the state of your old black ones?”
“You mean the ones I got married in?”
“Yes, well they’ve had it!” John Barstow, Kentish farmer and Father to Emma – the one getting married that weekend - and her younger sister Chloe, looked ruefully at the sorry pair of cheap rubber-soled shoes in his large ruddy hand; the two half fingers reminding him again of the pain of their dismemberment in the feed grinder a week before his own wedding. Hadn’t he thought of everything for Emma’s wedding? – More bloody money!
Still half asleep, Nathan looked at his watch. It was gone eleven and he was supposed to meet Dave and Chris at the Bluebell at twelve.
“Mum, where’s me shoes?”
“Why should I know?” the reply came from the sink in the kitchen.
“I can’t find ‘em!” Rummaging in the dusty space under his bed he found his crusty old Nikes, smelled them, and pulled them on without undoing the laces. Before slamming the front door as he left he called back to the kitchen,
The walk to the Bluebell was only about forty minutes, but Nathan wasn’t going by the shortest route down the Tonbridge Road, he was going via the Shipbourne Road. With the last of his nearly dry Drum tobacco rolled into a thickish untidy tab, he set out across the damp muddy fields behind Farm Lane knowing that he would be able to get across to the Shipbourne Road without being seen; next to the Post Office; it was Thursday; pension day. Lit with a large yellow flame from Nathan’s petrol-fuelled Zippo, the roll-up was harsh and hot and he stumbled, coughing, along the soft grassy edges of the fields cloaked in acrid smoke - his eyes not leaving the ground in case his Nikes got dirty.
Like many crimes committed by pissed-off twenty-something year olds with no job, Nathan’s robbing of the little Ivy Tranter was easy. She’d come out of the Post Office and stepped slightly around the corner into the passage between the shops to tuck the small bundle of cash – £67.40 that she and Jack got every week – into her purse before putting in her handbag. She had always done it this way; she wouldn’t want people inside to see how much she had, now would she? Nathan, coming from behind the Post Office, simply walked up in front of her and pulled her swiftly and silently around the corner into a back doorway concealed from the street. Snatching the purse from her small veined hands he sprinted away around the back of the shops and she didn’t even see his face. In fact, she didn’t see anything much really. All she remembered was that he smelled of cigarettes like her Jack used to and that he was wearing dirty trainers.
Nathan was quickly back to the Shipbourne road and sauntering down towards the Bluebell. It was a quarter to twelve. The small brown purse had been discarded in a bin behind another of the shops and the contents put into Nathan’s back pocket. The two bundles of notes looked promising in the nanosecond it took for them to be secreted from the purse to his pocket. More promising, in fact, than he’d imagined; something he only discovered when he went into the toilet at the Bluebell. The first, smaller bundle, was sixty-five pounds – her pension no doubt – whilst the other was a neatly folded pile of fifteen fifty-pound notes. Seven hundred and fifty pounds.
“My round lads,” Nathan announced triumphantly.
“I thought you only ‘ad a tenner?”
“I did, but now I’ve got more – and anyway, this’ll be your last drink as a single man, loser!” His face had hardened slightly at Dave, his accuser, with the suggestion that he couldn’t afford a round but had changed as he thought of his riposte. “I did some work for a mate and got some money – alright?” No one replied. “So, what you having then?”
By three they’d had five pints each and decided to walk further down the street to The George – Chris, as always, was hungry and wanted chips. They sauntered along together in the gathering gloom – it was November and the evenings and the rain were drawing in. By three fifteen Nathan was sporting a new pair of black leather boots from Stead and Simpson – they were passing the shop and his feet were still damp from the field that morning; plus, it was starting to rain. The manageress hadn’t let Chris into the shop with his chips so he had to stand outside in the rain. They were expensive leather boots with sharp points like winkle-pickers. By three thirty they were in The George and by ten that evening they were steamed. ‘Hanging’ was Dave’s favourite expression whilst Chris preferred ‘wasted’. Whatever term they preferred, the result was the same; they were drunk. It took the landlord to finally get them out with the help of three of the more burly regulars after the barmaid had complained that Dave had groped her bum when she went to collect glasses from their table – Nathan said it was Dave’s last chance of anything so she should be grateful.
“Fuck you, we’ll be back later,” was Chris’s leaving threat; one which the ‘puny short-arse’ (as the Landlord referred to him) had neither the means nor the will to deliver out but felt was worth saying anyway. They were a sorry, drunken threesome. As Chris and Dave decided to piss in the doorway of Woolworths, Nathan looked up and down the street. He was still feeling potent with his pocket full of cash. The three young lads coming towards him knew that something was amiss.
“Got a smoke mate?” said Nathan as he staggered towards the tallest and thinnest of the three.
“Sorry, don’t smoke.”
“Yes, you do – give us a fag or I’ll smash your face.” The youngster started to move away but Nathan grabbed his jacket.
“I haven’t got any mate – I don’t smoke.” He sounded too cocksure to Nathan so he punched him hard in the middle of his face. The lad sunk to the rain-soaked pavement with blood oozing from his nose as his friends started to run away up the street. Nathan kicked the body hard in the middle where it lay groaning.
“Come on Dave, I’m hungry, let’s get a chinky at the Rising Sun.”
The Chinese restaurant was empty so they were served quickly. Coming out an hour later with another couple of pints in them, they were confronted with a downpour. As Nathan lit a Benson under the porch, Dave, who lived closest, announced,
“Why don’t you two come round mine – I’ve got some porn?”
“Nah,“ replied Chris, “we’ve seen it all before and it’s shit. I’m off, see you’s two later.” He wandered off in the direction of the Station.
“Yes, mate, he’s right, it’s shit – thankfully you’ll have to ditch it after this weekend anyway.”
The prospect of walking for forty minutes in the pouring rain didn’t appeal to Nathan and he decided that with notes still burning in his pocket he’d get a cab, if he could find one.
John Barstow rose early, as usual, on the Friday morning. He’d do the feed, get back early for breakfast and the try to get into to town to pick up some shoes for the wedding the next day. It was still pouring down and he donned his wet gear before venturing out and firing up the noisy mini tractor, the feed already loaded in the large bucket at the rear. The drive would usually only take ten minutes or so but he knew that the night’s rain would make the lane and the trip across the fields very muddy. It was. The forty-five Saddleback sows with the Large White boar were still in their arks spread around the big field. Driving to the middle of the field in the half light, John was surprised that they weren’t, as usual, all waking at the sound of the tractor. He lowered the bin and, standing in it, ripped open the sacks of feed. Just as the sows started to emerge from their arks, he noticed the boot. It sat, its new leather sole facing the heavens, label still stuck to the instep and top buried in the mud. Looking around, he saw another identical one; approximately four metres away – albeit for a left foot rather than the right. This one was the other way up and sporting a sharp, shiny pointed toe. Scrambling from the bin and around the group of seven sows who were now hungrily munching into the feed, John pulled the boot from the mud. It was heavy; too heavy. Turning it over, he immediately stopped. The foot was still in the boot and the tattered muddy stump of the lower leg sprung apparently bloodless from the finely honed leather.
Nathan hadn’t found a cab. He’d also decided that as there were so many police cars around he would retrace his steps across the fields. He’d gone wrong. He’d surprised the Large White boar and frightened him. The boar charged him and he tried to run but the boots had no grip and he slipped. Kicking the boar’s snout didn’t work and the hurting it just made it wild. It didn’t last long. The wind and rain drowned out Nathan’s screams.
The heat of the boiler room had dried the boots by lunchtime, whilst the Large White boar had disposed of the feet. Nothing remained of Nathan. The wedding day turned out to be beautiful with the sun giving an unexpected display of autumnal brilliance for a November Saturday as Emma and Dave stood for their photos on the green grass in front of the yew tree. Everyone looked their best. John’s new boots came up a treat.