The hawk dad observed several potential kills on the small green patch from 200 feet up in the grey summer sky. His instincts told him though, that this would have to be quick. There was activity around; a car moving, small humans playing on other green patches, alien noises. Why did humans like noise so much?
It would be a pick-up, rather than an engulfment, as his dad used to say. Tricky. He always preferred to eat-in, for a while at least. He widened his orbit slightly to give himself a shallower trajectory.
As his intended prey came towards eleven o’ clock in his line of vision, just giving him sufficient clearance through the trees, he feathered his wings and started his full-speed dive. He ignored the other two small birds, pecking at the white gooey stuff humans called food. With about fifteen feet to go he partially arrested his descent, wings fully outstretched, feet forward, talons tensed, eyes focussed on the kill.
The fledgling’s body punctured and collapsed as the big bird’s claws grasped into its flanks. With prey secured, the hawk immediately resumed the flying position, starting upwards, focussed now on the easiest way out of the green patch. As he aimed for the gap between the buildings barring his exit, the small bird somehow got its last breath and squealed loudly.
Concentrating furiously, the hawk put some extra power into his wings to avoid the large green bush suddenly directly in front of him. He felt both of his lower wing extremities clip the top of the bush.
He didn’t see the human in the smaller building look up from its labours, quizzical expression on its face as it glimpsed a flash of big brown bird swooping up and over the hedge.
The hawk’s sense of pride as he cleared the bush was tempered with the knowledge that he would have to make another kill today. It might be nice and light but this would only be a snack for the chicks. Hawk mum wouldn’t be best pleased.
He was though. It was a textbook kill. His dad would have been proud of him.
The blackbird mum and blackbird dad talked about it afterwards at the nest.
You were supposed to be keeping an eye on them, she said.
I was, he said. It was the food on the lawn. Junior couldn’t resist the easy pickings. I told them all countless times to keep by the hedges, we get the bread and bring it to them. Bloody humans – they just don’t realise the danger they put us in.
You can’t blame the humans, they keep us going sometimes, like in winter, she said.
They looked at each other, they had both survived, somehow, despite cats, magpies, birds of prey, rat-poison. It was pure luck. This was their second brood of the summer, they would have one more.
A quick worm and time for bed, blackbird mum said. You be careful.
It felt like someone else was in the garage with me. I’d only come back to the house to get some of Bertie’s dog-food from the old kitchen cabinet on the back wall. In the gloom I could see something hanging beyond the old car he was always going to do up. I picked my way around the old boxes and bits of bodywork, until finally I saw him.
His head had a strange purple hue and was at a funny angle to the rest of his body. He’d tied a wire flex around one of the rafters, the other end crudely around his neck, the black and red wires sticking out like a surreal scarf in a breeze. His polished shoes dangled a foot or so above the concrete garage floor. He always wore carpet slippers around the house; he must have been going out and changed his mind. He often talked to himself thinking nobody was around, I imagined him saying: ‘No, I think I’ll kill myself this afternoon. Don’t know who’ll be home first to find me, don’t care really.’
Perhaps that was why I was not surprised to find him there, like that.
“It’s my dad,” I said to the girl in the emergency service call centre. “He’s hanged himself in the garage. Yes, I’m on my own in the house. No, I won’t touch him. I think he may have plugged himself in as well. He is, sorry was, an electrician.”
I sat and waited for the ambulance and the police, a numb feeling washing over me. The hatred I was used to, and would never go. The vacuum of relief was something new.
I rang the contact lens factory. “Mrs O’Connor please.” The security guard grunted, they didn’t like their routine disturbed. Eventually she came to the phone. “Evelyn!” she said. “You OK, love?"
"Yes, I’m fine thanks. You’d better come home. It’s Dad."
"Is he OK? What’s wrong darling?"
"Mum, I can’t tell you over the phone, just come home please. Hurry."
"All right love," she said hesitantly. "I’ll be there as soon as I can. Hold on tight." The phone went dead.
The ambulance and police car parked directly outside the house. At the direction of the policewoman, I stood by the front gate while the paramedics went into the house. Mum parked her car along the road and rushed towards us.
The PC stepped forward, "Mrs O’Connor?"
"Yes, I am Mrs O’Connor," she said breathlessly. "What’s happened?"
"I’m afraid there’s been an incident involving your husband. My colleague will be out in a moment. He will tell you exactly what has happened and take a statement from you, although you can come and see us later if you would prefer.”
Mum looked at me warily, "Why won’t anyone tell me, Evy?"
"Dad’s hanged himself Mum," I said recklessly, wanting it to come from me.
She looked at me blankly, then over my shoulder as the PC came out of the house preceding the two paramedics carrying Dad on a stretcher, a blanket covering his whole body. "He’s killed himself?" she said. "But Evelyn…" she watched as the medics carried him past the open doors of the ambulance to the plain white coroner’s van that had just arrived. "Why would he do that?” Then, looking back at me, “Why are you so calm?"
I held her as she broke down. I could feel the pain in her shaking body. We went slowly in to the house and sat on the sofa holding each other. "He’s dead, he’s dead," she said through her tears as she looked around the house as if it were new, unknown to her. "Evy, why? Was he unhappy? Didn’t we look after him? Was someone after him? Had he done something wrong? What, darling? Tell me."
"Mum, shh," I said, stroking her hair.
"He may not have been your real dad, Evy, but I loved him." She blew her nose, "Believe me, I did."
"I know you did, Mum."
She looked at me then, directly, as if something had come back to her. "Tell me why he did it, Evy."
"Mum, I can’t. Not now."
"Tell me," her voice was harsh. She was glaring at me.
"He knew, Mum." I said looking down at the carpet.
"Knew what?" she demanded, abruptly.
"Because I’m living away now with Colin, with my own life and my own aspirations..."
"Are you saying he was jealous?" she was looking at me, incredulous.
"Especially with Colin being a social worker and everything…"
"But your Dad respected Colin, there was never any problem."
"But Colin specialises in child abuse cases."
"And how does that affect…" she stopped speaking and stared at me. Our eyes locked. After a while she stood up and went over to the mantelpiece. She turned suddenly and shouted, "He’s brainwashed you hasn’t he? Because your Dad sat you on his knee a few times when you were young, you’ve analysed it together, and all of a sudden it’s cruel abuse. That’s it, isn’t it?"
"No, Mum.” I said, oddly calm again. “Colin knows nothing, we don’t talk about things like that. He’s not allowed to. I’ve never told you this before because… well, I just couldn’t."
She shouted louder this time, viciously. "You expect me to believe that my husband abused you and you never said a word to anyone? Because if you do young lady," she said pointing to the front door, "you can leave this house now and never, ever come back!"
The moment I had been dreading most of my adult life had arrived, it felt like I was listening to somebody else saying the words that had been so often repeated in my head. "He knew. He knew that ten years of abuse was going to come out sooner or later. I couldn’t tell you. He threatened to kill me first, then himself if I told anyone. When you started at the lens factory on night shifts, that’s when it started. Tucking me in at nights, a caress here, a little feel there. He wouldn’t leave me alone when you were gone. Then he’d get me to touch him and as I got older he’d get in the bed with me and he’d put his disgusting thing inside me every night apart from Guides and I couldn’t tell a single person. Ten years - that’s how long it went on for, and he never once said anything to me about it. I had to live with it. He had to live with it. That’s how I know why he killed himself, Mum. That’s how I know." I sat down on the sofa and my silent tears were an aching flood of release.
We held each other until darkness fell, my cries gradually subsiding, hers coming and going. "It’s all over now, Evy," she whispered eventually, her hand caressing my cheek. "Ring Colin, we’re going to the police station to make that statement."
The Clerk of the Court read out the proceedings. "Case number thirty-seven, Mr Rodney Jones, accused of theft."
The oldest Magistrate sat in the centre of the bench, flanked by two colleagues. “So, Mr Jones. As I understand it, you had a legitimate reason for being in your victim’s house. You were invited to be there, were you not?"
"Yes, your honour. The owners asked my firm of estate agents to value the property. I believe they wanted to put it on the market."
"So once in the house, you decided to help yourself to the victim’s belongings."
"I did not take anything from the house, your honour."
The old magistrate looked down from his bench over his half-moon glasses. "Mr Jones, may I just remind you that you are under oath here?"
"Yes, your honour."
"Take a seat, Mr Jones." The magistrate gestured to the Clerk. "Call the victim please." He drummed his fingers on the bench.
"Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie!" The Clerk called out.
The imposingly elegant figure of Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie stood up, straightening her camel-hair coat and flicking her bouffant of blond hair over her collar.
"If you wouldn’t mind telling the court what happened on the day of the alleged theft, Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie?"
"Thank you, your honour. My husband and I had split up. We needed to sell the house so we called several estate agents around to value the property." She glanced across at the defendant with a look of disdain. "It was after Mr Jones’s visit, that I noticed the items were missing."
"How many Estate Agents did you have round that day?" The Magistrate said, in a kindly, patient tone.
"Two, your Honour. One in the morning, and Mr Jones came round at three thirty in the afternoon."
"Were the items definitely there before Mr Jones came round?"
"Definitely, your Honour. I checked."
"Why?" he looked at her with a quizzical expression. "Did you suspect the first Estate Agent had stolen something?"
"No, your Honour," she replied, a hint of a smile crossing her lips. "I always check my linen basket just before lunchtime. In case I need to do any washing in the afternoon."
"A creature of habit eh, Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie?" The magistrate appeared to be holding back a chuckle. "Would you mind describing to the court, the exact nature of the missing items?" He looked at her, eyebrows raised expectantly.
"Underwear, your Honour," she said bluntly. "Panties to be precise. Extremely expensive designer label panties. Seven pairs.
"Care to put a figure on their value?" he said, pursing his lips.
"At least five-hundred pounds," she said, unflinching. "And the sentimental value, of course. Many, many memories." She cast her head down for the first time. The silence in the courtroom was palpable.
The Magistrate blinked. "I take it, Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie, that these garments, being in the linen basket, were, how shall we say, in a pre-washed state?"
"Soiled, your Honour. Yes, they were."
"Quite." He shuffled some papers around the bench, then looked up as if a Eurekamoment had occurred. "Do you think this was the reason for their disappearance? I mean as opposed to, ahem, unblemished items of the same type?"
"I couldn’t say, your honour." She looked across at the estate agent. "Who knows what goes on in the minds of filthy deviants like him…"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie. That will be all." He gestured to the clerk, "Can we have the investigating police officer please?"
A fresh-faced policeman strode forward, cap under his arm, notebook to the fore.
"Now Sergeant, can you tell us what your investigation has revealed?"
"Yes, sir. The statements from both parties corroborate the events. A warrant was issued to search Mr Jones’ house and we did find a huge quantity of ladies underwear."
"Huge, you say?"
"Yes, Sir. Every room, cupboards and drawers overflowing. We counted five hundred pairs and estimate there are probably four times that quantity in the house. Unfortunately we came up with nothing that matched Mrs Axelrod-Hastie’s items. There was nothing that expensive there, seemingly."
"These, erm, items. Were they all clean?"
"Mostly all barely-worn is the description I’d use, sir."
The Magistrate shook his head and looked at his colleagues in turn. They conferred briefly before he addressed the young policeman again. "Is there anything else arising from the statements that this court should hear about?"
"Yes, sir. We spoke with Mrs Axelrod Hastie’s former husband yesterday and he informed us that his ex-wife was dating an area manager of a local estate agency; Fleece, McGonagall. A rival firm to Mr Jones’ agency."
The three Magistrates conferred. "Thank you, Sergeant. Mr Jones?" He gestured to the Estate Agent to come forward again. "Now Mr Jones, I think you know what I’m going to ask you."
"I don’t like publicizing it, but in my spare time, sir, I am a Tom Jones lookalike act. I perform at pubs and clubs in the region. That is why my house is full of women’s undergarments. They’re mementoes really – I can’t bear to throw any of them away. The whole knickers-throwing thing fascinates me. "
The Magistrate looked at the Estate Agent over the top of his half-moon glasses with his mouth open. "How many?"
"In total, probably a couple of thousand like the policeman just said."
"No, in an act I mean."
"Oh, it averages about fifteen to twenty."
"And tell me," the Magistrate looked around, absent-mindedly scratching the back of his neck. "How do they actually reach the stage? A pair of flimsy pants typically wouldn’t get very far would they?"
The Estate Agent laughed, "Oh you’d be surprised how far they go when they’re wet, Sir."
The Magistrate grimaced. "Thank you, Mr Jones. Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie, would you care to indulge the bench with your presence again, please?"
She came forward. She had removed her camel hair coat revealing a sharply cut black business suit with just a glimpse of silk camisole beneath.
“So, Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie,” the Magistrate said, one eyebrow raised. "The smalls identity parade seems to have drawn a blank. Also, it seems Mr Jones would not have much need for your underwear. Perhaps you could enlighten the bench as to how your new lover and you planned to sink Mr Jones’ estate agency with, as the court has heard, your patently obvious, false allegations?"
For a second or two, she looked defiantly back at him. Then she looked wildly around, her eyes eventually settling on a smartly-dressed man in the second row. Slowly she turned round, glancing at the accused Estate Agent, then to the judge. "Forgive me your honour, I have been foolish. I was at my most vulnerable. All I could see was a lifetime of destitution, until Mr McGonagall came along and offered me a way out. By God though," she looked at the man in the second row with a lynx-like, carnivorous smack of the lips, "he’s destined to be a bloody eunuch if I have anything to do with it."
The Magistrate flinched, "Mrs Axelroyd-Hastie. Please! You will control yourself in this court. I take it from this that you are dropping the charges and pleading guilty to a charge of wasting this court’s time? There is also the matter of police costs. Also making amends to the good name of Mr Jones."
"Yes, your honour. I’ll pay anything you ask me to.’ She glanced at the Estate Agent in the dock with a superior half-smile. ‘I’m sure Mr Jones will be happy enough to continue with his Primarks for now." Then, with a look of dark, savage contempt, she stared at the suited man in the second row. "I’ll be happy too. As soon as I get my designer undies back, that is."