I decided some time back that I'd have to murder old Ludlow. The only trouble was that I really didn't know how to go about it.
Many an evening I propped the front bar beside him in O'Byrnes, our eyes raw from cigarette smoke and the stout, and him telling me as clear as day that he would not sell.
Would never sell.
His eldest son, Matty, was a sensible enough lad. He'd made it clear enough to me that the land would be sold before old Ludlow was cool in his box and that I would have first refusal. He wanted to be rid of it just as much as he wanted to inherit it.
And inherit it he would.
The will was drawn up and skied away in a battered old USA Assorted biscuit tin up on top of Ludlow's cupboard. It was often taken down and waved at the lad, an incentive to keep him there on the farm instead of having him sloping off to London with all his cronies.
Matty stayed for that will. He fancied sailing off on the boat for sure but he also fancied having a first class cabin on it.
"The land is yours," he used to say to me, "all I want from that old fart is his money and that big coat of his to keep me warm when I'm over there in Islington."
So the pasture would be mine someday, that was fated. The only trouble was I needed it now and, though Ludlow's cough never got any better and his drippy nose never seemed to stop running, still he gave no signs of dying. He was seventy-two years old and had enough hair on his head to last him another thirty years.
That was thirty years too long for me.
I had to murder him.
I just didn’t know how.
I took to reading books on the subject. The traveling library van was full up of them. Schemes and plots and assassinations, any God's amount, but they were all pure pie in the sky. Poisons and needles and guns, no sensible way for a down-to-earth Mayo man to go out and murder his next-door neighbour.
Without getting caught.
That was the trick, you see, the 'not getting caught' part. The plain fact was that the buggers in those stories from the library van always seemed to be getting themselves caught and strung up. That was no good to me, I had to kill him and get away with it. That land was no good to me with me hanging on some gibbet out on the bog.
No good at all.
I puzzled over it for many a greasy night. I had to kill him so that the boy could come quickly into his inheritance and sell it to me. But I had to kill him and not get caught. And if I killed him, there was always the danger of getting caught and that was just no good at all.
Even if I got away with it for a while, I might always be afraid of being nabbed around every corner. The final outcome would always be uncertain. I needed to be sure of that final outcome.
It occurred to me at the bar one night that the only way for me to be sure of the final outcome was if I let myself get caught.
I spluttered on my pint in amazement at the depth of that particular conclusion. I know I had hit on something important but I couldn’t quite get around to what it was.
Three months crawled past before I did.
My sister in law had come down to spring-clean the bedroom and change the sheets. She was gossiping and spouting like she always did and I was paying little or no heed to her until she mentioned something about something and I pulled her up on it.
"Whoa there girl, what was that you were saying?"
"I was saying, if you'd be bothered to listen, about that poor young lad run down on the road by that fool brush salesman from Drumindoo. Dead as a doornail he was and what does yon buck get for his crime except a luke-warm warning and a fine that you could pay off with your drink-money in a month."
She went on about it, I'm sure, but I never heard her. I knew how to do it. I would've kissed her, if she wasn't so bloody ugly.
Ludlow never missed a single night in O'Byrnes. He'd stay there downing pints and half-ones until the evening prayer came on. Then he would stumble out and empty himself against the wall before climbing up on his bike and off down the road for home.
He was a familiar enough sight out the lonely road on his High-Nellie bicycle with his World War One great coat flying out behind him in the night air. But if one thing really stood him out it was his reflective arms bands.
He'd had a nasty run-in with Hickey's tractor one night many years ago and had gone straight out the next day and bought himself a box of reflective arm bands for what he called 'The Visibility'. They were orange-coloured lumps of material with a thick band of garter-elastic stitched around the back to hold them up on your arm and a strip of silver reflective stuff stuck onto the orange which would light up like a fox's eye in the beam of an oncoming car.
It was a wise boy who had one of them yokes up on his outside arm when he'd be tripping the 'bothrin' late of a black winter's night. But Ludlow was never a man for moderation. He took home the whole box and put five up one arm and five up the other so that, if you came upon him on the road of an evening, it was as if a pair of shiny bumble bees was out flying side-by-side along the ditch.
There was no missing old Ludlow with those arm bands on his great-coat. That's why I had steal them off him. I sat the whole evening with him at the bar and him buying me drink and I buying him drink back until we were as even as if we'd each bought our own drink the whole night.
He told me again how he'd never sell the pasture, even though I never asked him about it once the whole night.
"You'll own that land over my dead body," he grunted and I raised my glass in a quiet little toast to that sentiment.
Before the evening prayer came on, I picked up my Connaught Telegraph off the counter and took my leave. Gripped beneath the beer-soaked paper was Ludlow's little pile of reflective arm bands. I threw them over the bridge and into the black Robe on the way home and made sure not a sinner saw me.
I stayed away from the pub the night after. I went up instead to Padraig Glavan's house to commiserate with him on the loss of his wife. I was a month or two late but it gave me the excuse I needed for not being in O'Byrnes to hear Ludlow bemoaning the loss of his 'visibility'.
It was a slow enough evening. Glavan kept me topped up from his big bottle of Powers and I poured every drop down the neck of his Bizzie Lizzie as quick as I got it. I figured I'd need the clear head to get me through the night's work ahead of me.
I stayed until the evening prayer was over and the Ruth Rendell mystery was coming on. By then Glavan was stretching and scratching his big arse and wishing I'd go off home for myself so that he could get to his bed.
I took my leave, saying how she had been a fine and lovely woman even though she had been a big heifer of a one with greasy hair and pimples round her chin.
It was spitting rain and the wipers were screeching and groaning as I started down the road that Ludlow always travelled. I went a good long way along it without meeting him and I started to worry that I'd started out too early and that he was away back the road somewhere behind me.
Just when I was decided to give up and go back, I saw a small shift in the darkness up ahead of me. As I pulled nearer, I saw the tiny red light of his rear reflector as it peeped out intermittently from the flying flaps of his coat.
I slowed and drew up behind him until I could see the outline of his back toiling against the hill and then I bit hard on my lip, said a quick prayer to Lucifer, and slammed down on the accelerator pedal with my boot.
I hit the bike from behind and it was like I pushed it right out from underneath him. It shot on ahead up the road as he fell back onto the bonnet and flew up and slammed against the windscreen. The weight of him threw great cracks across the whole glass and gave me such a fright that I stepped hard on the brakes and sent him flying forward and under the front wheels of the car.
Then I was stopped and he was lying there on the road in front of me, not moving.
He lifted his head, I saw his cap move.
I knew I had the finishing of him then. I went back onto the accelerator and hit him as hard as I could. It was an awful feeling, running over him like that. I thought of rabbits and badgers I'd seen on the sides of the road and knew I'd made an awful mess of him.
After I stopped I got out and ran back to where he lay face down on the tarmac. He was dead all right, no need to roll him over to prove that. The neck and arms and both his legs were at angles that no living man could maintain and his back was flatter than the rest of him in the place where I'd rolled over him.
It was time to cover my tracks.
I rubbed dirty water from a puddle over my face to show how upset I was and then I hurried up the road to the nearest house.
The little bungalow was in darkness but my hammering and shouting soon brought the man of the house staggering to the door in his vest and sagging yellow underpants.
Before he could say a word I was into him with my story.
"It's awful, terrible," I cried, "I've hit a man out on the road and I think he might be dead."
The man pulled on his trousers and lead me to his phone. I phoned Castlebar Emergency and got the local Sergeant, a man called Wallace, who I knew.
"Go back to the scene," said Wallace, "and wait there for me. I'll be along. And, mind, take no drink to steady your nerves or anything else. If you've drink on ye when I get there, you'll go down for it, do ye understand me now?"
I said I did and was glad of all the whiskey I refused up at Glavans earlier on.
The man of the house, whose name was Reape, insisted on going back with me up the road. I didn't want him but I couldn't put him off so he came.
The crumpled body was just as I had left it on the road. Reape got down and inspected the features intimately then ran off to get sick in the ditch. I smoked a Sweet Afton and stayed calm and waited for the sergeant to arrive.
Wallace was a bony miserable fecker with a GAA head on him. I knew him fairly well from the outside of mass and he greeted me civil enough when he finally arrived in his car.
"A bad job," he sighed, "very bad."
"I'm shook," said I, "playing the part, "I was watching out for the arm bands and they weren't there."
He sniffed the air just out of my mouth.
"So, have you drink taken?"
"Not a drop Sergeant."
"Unusual for you, isn't it?"
"Tis, I suppose"
"I’d a sick stomach, 'was giving it a rest." Then I added, "Poor old Ludlow."
To which the sergeant said something very odd.
Very odd indeed.
"Poor Ludlow is right", he said, "how will he manage the farm now?"
I looked at him.
"Manage the farm? Sure he's dead… isn’t he?"
"Indeed and he is not! He's right there standing behind you."
As soon as he said it, I knew there was someone at my shoulder. I turned slowly and my blood froze in my arteries. It was Ludlow, glaring at me mournfully.
"But but…," I was at a loss, a complete loss.
Ludlow sniffed the drip up off his nose.
"I wouldn't venture out at all without the arm bands but he insisted he'd take a run in for the pint or two. He took my old coat along with him against the rain. I told him to walk but ye might as well have been talkin' to the wall. Now look at him."
Behind me Sergeant Wallace was peeling the corpse's face off the road, it made a noise like Sellotape being pulled off a roll.
"I drove out by Ludlow's to pick up the boy on the way." Said Wallace, "I found himself there instead."
The body landed over on it's back. Behind the blood and blackness there was no mistaking the youthful features. Poor Mattie would not be seeing no Islington in this life.
"He needed 'The Visibility'," sighed Ludlow, "I told him but he didn't listen".
Then the Castlebar ambulance rolled up with it's blue lights flashing at us all.
Of course, I got away with it. An inquest, a court case, a fine and a bit of a write-up in the Telegraph was about all it amounted to.
For a long while, I was afraid to go back into O'Byrnes for fear of what Ludlow might say to me. We'd got over the funeral all right. I'd said my 'sorry for your troubles' and he'd nodded and snuffled. But the pub was different. There was no rules laid down about what to say in a public house.
I crept in one might and sat at a little round table by myself, a thing I'd never done before. He was up on his usual perch at the bar, watching 'Eastenders'.
He called Hughie over and, in a loud voice so all could hear, said "send a pint over to that man there and ask him to sit up here with me."
I took the pint up beside him and sat down. It was a good thing that it was stout on account of the fact that it didn't register the shake in my hand.
"T'wasn't your fault," he said and he offered me one of his Silk Cuts.
We drank late that night and talked mostly about football. We agreed that Mayo had been nothing but donkeys on the weekend. At home-time, when he confided that he'd given up cycling on account of 'you know', I offered him a lift which he accepted gladly.
We neither of us said anything about the big dent on my bonnet or my cracked windscreen.
I dropped him home safely to his own dark lonely house up in the hills and, two days later, he called and asked did I want to buy the land.
Now where's the justice in that?
© Ken Armstrong 1998
from Castlebar Writers
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