It was after midnight when the three men left the public house in which they had spent the proceeding few hours. The wind had increased considerably during the night and the trees above the road swayed violently, creaking vociferously as immense gusts of air swirled down through the valley. Few other sounds could penetrate the omnificent roar of the northern wind, a suggestion here and there, like the rusted hinges of a swinging gate, the muffled yelp of an unseen dog. The men seemed to pay the wind little mind however, accustomed as they were to strong gales, a feature particular to this region during the autumnal months. A full moon washed the road in an eerie blue glow between the swaying shadows of the trees and as they passed the few cottages of the village, no lights showed in their small dark windows. Beyond the last dwelling the road gradually steepened and after a mile or so the little village was below them, dark and slumbering, like a giant feral cat.
After a time the road levelled off, passing beneath the swinging canopy of a great oak of enumerable age. The climb had proven quite an effort, and the three men stopped up to rest beneath the sheltering, Vishnu like arms of the ancient tree. The persuasive northern wind, however familiar, still proved a worthy opponent and all three had felt the demands of such a strenuous hike. The clamour about them made it difficult to communicate but in any case the men were not inclined to talk much, apart from the youngest of the three, a boy of seventeen, who, having been very reluctant to leave the public house, now wore a decidedly sour expression on his wide red face.
Soon the wind died down a little and the two older men, who had noticed in the aspect of their young companion a particular vexation as if he was struggling with some idea, now waited for the Kid to speak.
“Are ye mad or what?” the Kid finally asked, throwing angry glances at the two men, “why the hell couldn’t we just have driven up here? Awwww….. better still we could be sitting in Patsy’s now enjoying another pint! No, instead we’re out in this bloody hurricane for the sake of a few pounds!"
The younger of his two companions, a man of forty years with a black moustache and a hardened complexion, said nothing in reply. Only his narrow eyes moved, scanning the village and farmlands below.
“Anyone could have seen the lights on the road”, replied the second solemnly, an older man of sixty with soft blue eyes and a thick main of grey hair, “it’s better we‘re not seen this night, Seanie”.
Even though this was the answer the young man had been expecting, his face still twisted with an expression of disbelief.
“What do ya’ mean “anyone”? There’s no one out in this weather, ya’ mad old badger!” he yelled, “no one’s even awake at this time of night! Patsy had to close up cause we left and even he is probably sleeping by now! Who’s gonna’ see us Jim?”
The moustached man, who had been silent till now, satisfied with his survey of the village and surrounding area, suddenly turned his full attention upon the young man, catching him firmly at the elbow and yanking him violently. The Kid was very much taken aback, turned pale and began a squirming procedure in order to free himself from the older man’s iron grip.
“Right, go on your way so ya’ little bollocks” the moustached man rasped in his ear, “Myself and Old Jim here will have your money between us.”
After what seemed like a long time to the Kid, the moustached man released him with a shove. The Kid steadied himself and instinctively clutched his arm. His face flushed red with rage and embarrassment, but he kept his eyes lowered to the ground. The Old Man, who had also been a bit shaken by the bluntness of moustached man’s reprimand, broke out in a forced but kind hearted laughter.
“Sounds grand to me” he chuckled, in a somewhat lame attempt to diffuse hostilities between his companions, “these young fella’s are all afraid of a bit of hard work.”
That was too much for the Kid. He didn’t have too put with crap like that from an old man.
‘I’ll show you hard work across the face in a minute, you old bastard!!’ the Kid bellowed waving his fist at the Old Man, his fear giving way to anger.
The moustached man’s response was swifter this time. He pushed the Kid to the ground with ferocious abandon.
“Shut up and do what I say Kid, and when he gets here shut up and do what he says, and you’ll make two hundred pound for an hours work” the moustached man sneered, pointing a long slender finger at the Kid, “if you keep complaining I’ll tell him give you nothing .And you can forget about a lift home too.”
The Kid had nothing to say to that. He sat on the road and stared at his antagonist with a look of fearful contempt. The moustached man, who was starting to regret bringing the Kid along, spat and turned to resume his surveillance of the village below.
No one spoke for a time. Until the Old Man, looking up at the full moon that hung between the branches of the oak tree, spoke with a strange inference in his voice.
“It’s a bad night”, he said solemnly, the light of the moon reflecting in the mirrors of his eyes, “a night for rogues and devils, if ever there was one.”
With that, the Old Man began searching his pockets for something he seemed just at that moment to remember. The Kid watched on in silence, a look of utter distain played upon his flushed red face.
“Ha- Ha!” he exclaimed, winking at the young man before producing a crumpled packet of John Player Blue cigarettes from the breast pocket of his grimy over coat, “more nails for the coffin….if one can kill ya, I must have lived a thousand lives by now.”
The old man coughed and put a cigarette between his lips. It hung there, suspended for that moment in time, as withered and emaciated as the old man himself. The Old Man held out the crumpled box to the Kid by way of an apology for what he had said earlier. At first the Kid turned his eyes away from the Old Man, too angry and frustrated to take one, but the urge soon over powered him. He could never resist a cigarette after a few pints.
The Kid got up, walked over to the Old Man and took a cigarette from the packet. There were only two left. The Old Man gave him a light, shielding the match from the wind with a large bony hand. Immediately, the Kid’s face began to soften to a state of only mild agitation. The old man too was smiling.
“What the hell are we doin’ a job for that Prod anyway” the Kid suddenly began with renewed confidence, addressing the moustached man, “his people don’t own the land anymore! Or the big house, what’s left of it. Jesus, he’s nearly poorer than old Jim there for god’s sake! A proper weirdo as well…….; writing books about devils and god knows what. No wonder he’s broke, who would read crap like that Frank? I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see a penny from him.”
At first, Frank seemed not to have heard the Kid’s words. But just at that moment the force of the wind reduced further, making it difficult for the two men to mistake what Frank said next.
“He’ll pay up alright” he said slowly, “or he’ll be joining his ancestors down in that crypt!!”