It was about three in the afternoon when Michael first considered opening his sandwiches. Peanut butter. Chunky organic. Michael knew how to live.
He decided to wait a bit. Karen wasn’t expecting him home for three hours, and he’d already eaten his biscuits. Besides, he’d hardly seen any birds yet- a couple of sparrows, a blackbird; nothing worth writing down. He might miss something.
It was a good hide, in a good spot. By the old Bellamy farm, now shut down, was a large wooded area stretching for a mile and a half before the motorway cut it’s ugly scar through the countryside. Between farm and woods was a large, wild grassland. This was what the hide looked out on, from just inside the encroaching woodland. Between green and farm was a narrow track, only used now by fellow birdwatchers. There’d be none today, Michael had the place to himself.
He’d just put the binoculars down to open the sandwiches when he heard an engine. Squinting through the narrow window, he saw a dirty white van come up the track. Michael snatched his binoculars back up.
The van parked, two men got out. The driver, on Michael’s side, was a middle aged, overweight white man with hair cropped close to his skull. He was wore a football top, tracksuit bottoms flecked with paint. Tattoos on his arms, but Michael couldn’t make them out. Michael decided this man was a workman of some kind. A builder. To Michael, all workmen were builders.
The other man was taller, slimmer, younger. Better groomed, in a pink polo shirt. Carrying something, but the van blocked Michael’s view. He looked like an estate agent. Michael decided they’d come to look at the farm, see about getting it ready for sale.
Builder opened the back of the van, stepped back to let a third man climb out. This man wore jeans and a crumpled brown blazer. Long hair. This made him a musician in Michael’s mind. Estate Agent came back into view, now Michael saw what he was holding in his hand.
He pointed it at Musician. Builder gestured towards the green, and Musician walked the way he’d pointed. Didn’t look happy about it.
In the middle of the green he stopped, stood with hands raised. Builder walked briskly over and punched him in the face. He fell to the ground. Builder kicked him several times. Estate Agent was sauntering over towards them, the end of the gun staying on Musician, as if connected by an invisible string.
Builder stepped back and let Musician get to his knees.
It was too far to make out the words, but Michael could tell Builder was shouting. Builder gestured directly at the hide, and for a terrible moment Michael thought he’d been seen- but then realised it was an instruction, for Musician to face the woods.
The man on the ground turned to face Michael. Builder reached behind himself, pulled something from his waistband.
There was a loud crack, and Musician disappeared.
Michael realised Builder was holding a handgun; he’d shot the other man. Musician hadn’t disappeared, he’d fallen out of sight in the grass.
Michael was very clammy all of a sudden.
Estate Agent walked back over to the van and put the gun away, returning with a shovel. Builder walked to the van, and sat half in, half out of the driver’s side, lighting a cigarette while the other man began to dig.
The digging went on for a long time.
Michael didn’t know what to do. All he could think of was to keep watching and remember as much as he could. He couldn’t see the number plate from here, the grass was in the way. He considered trying to film them on his phone, but the camera didn’t have a zoom. He doubted it’d be usable.
The sun was getting low when Estate Agent climbed up out of the hole he’d dug, which came to his waist. He bent over into the grass and pulled up the body, hands hooked under the arms, and Michael got a quick glimpse of the damage the gun had done. For the first time in over two hours Michael looked away. He saw his phone, habitually left on silent, the screen telling him that he had six missed calls from Karen. He realised she had expected him home twenty minutes ago, and would have expected to hear from him an hour before that. He considered texting her, but he couldn’t focus. He had to keep watching.
When he looked back Musician was gone, and Estate Agent was shoveling earth back into the hole. Then Michael heard another engine.
Karen’s car was coming up the track. Builder stood, gun in hand.